by Roger Mock

Recently I chanced to hear a Gospel song called Joy Comes Back, sung by blues singer Ruthie Foster. It’s a rollicking good one, and you’ll be singing it with us at Unity sometime soon, I hope. Here’s the simple chorus:

I wanna be ready
I wanna be ready
I wanna be ready
when joy comes back to me

It’s a sentiment I can easily get behind, not because of any particularly trying times I’ve been going through, thankfully. Rather, my tendency is to experience extended times of flatness every now and then. I think most of us have just come through a collective one we like to call winter. (I know some of you revel in this frosty five-month season. And I’m being nice here when I say “five-month.” I give you lots of credit and applaud your joie d’hiver.) So perhaps my malaise is partly due to old man winter having overstayed his welcome by a good four months this year, but I think it’s more a season of the soul for me. (And really, I’ve got some gall bringing this up at all as I sit here typing on a steamy 80° early May morning. Did someone just accidentally open up a box of Suddenly Summer?)

But getting back to my recent listless demeanor, because I know you wanted to hear more about that. You see, the thing is, I know why it happens. I know it’s because I’ve stopped paying attention. And because I’ve stopped paying attention, I’ve forgotten to be grateful. And gratitude is the engine of joy. That’s all it is, and it’s just too darn easy to lose track of, isn’t it?

Attention > Gratitude > Joy.

It’s a wonderful circuit that, allowed to spin freely, continually increases its voltage as joy spills over into generosity, into good will, into love.

So what do I mean by paying attention? It’s being present to whatever is in front of you at any given moment and allowing yourself to be a little amazed by it. You wake up from sleep and notice that you have been given another day of life on this good earth. That’s a big one I somehow manage to miss most mornings. You pour a glass of water, drink a few sips and feel the wetness on your tongue and marvel at the easy availability to you of this miraculous substance without which you would soon perish. You notice the cat birds have found your front hedge again, as I just did, and you take a moment to listen for their raucous spring song or their gently mewing. You look at a friend or loved one’s face and try to see it as if for the first time.

That’s paying attention, and it easily, effortlessly leads to gratitude when we allow the circuit to run just a little. The poet Mary Oliver has been teaching me about this lately, thanks to my daughter, who recently gifted me with a lovely compilation of her work. Let me share some lines from her poem To Begin With, the Sweet Grass.

Eat bread and understand comfort.
Drink water, and understand delight.
Visit the garden where the scarlet trumpets
are opening their bodies for the hummingbirds
who are drinking the sweetness, who are
thrillingly gluttonous.

For one thing will lead to another.
Soon you will notice how stones shine underfoot.
Eventually tides tides will be the only calendar you believe in.

And someone’s face, whom you love, will be as a star
both intimate and ultimate,
and you will be both heart-shaken and respectful.

And you will hear the air itself, like a beloved, whisper:
oh, let me, for a while longer, enter the two
beautiful bodies of your lungs.

Later in this four-page revelry, she bluntly inquires:

Let me ask you this.
Do you also think that beauty exists for some
fabulous reason?

And, if you have not been enchanted by this adventure—
your life—
what would do for you?

Ouch. That one brought me up short. It is also helping me to reconnect the circuitry, leading me back to joy. The cat bird is helping too, and the forsythia and whatever those flowering trees were I passed yesterday in Schenectady. Spring is constantly throwing all this glory in our faces, right? Hey, dude, check this out! Look over here now and gasp, you fool; I’m dancing my @$& off here!

So my advice? Notice what disconnects you, be they thoughts or things. And then just put your attention elsewhere, and by elsewhere I mean in this present moment. Something is calling you back to joy. It might just be the breeze on your forearm. It might be the meal you are forgetting that you’re eating. Please join me in noticing, in paying attention, in allowing the enchanting adventure that is our life to lead us easily back to joy.

Love and gratitude,