Joy Through Sacrifice


Watching an interesting TED talk today about a young Arctic surfer (yes, you heard me right, that was Arctic surfer), he said something that really struck me–not about surfing, but about sacrifice. As you can imagine, someone who surfs in frigid waters does a fair amount of sacrificing.  He does it in part to get away from the normal tropic crowds, but also to take these amazing photographs. To paraphrase very loosely he said something like: most things worth any kind of real joy usually involve some kind of sacrifice.

That gave me pause.

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I began thinking about some of the things that take sacrifice but bring joy:

  • 9 months of carrying a baby: the worrying, the weight gain, the hormone shifts, the vomiting, the swelling, the potential dangers involved…
  • being in a relationship: any kind really. It’s constant ups and downs, bargaining (with the kids, partners, co-workers, family members), tears, give/take, compromises, giving away parts of yourself at times
  • having a dream or goal: these can take huge amounts of time, money, changes in lifestyle and re-evaluating ourselves for the final outcome
  • moving somewhere new: leaving friends and family behind; leaving a career or job, doing something scary, taking a leap of faith
  • starting over (with a job/a person/or alone: leaving your comfort zone, stretching parts of yourself you may not know you had, or totally remaking yourself
  • helping others or someone else: living with less than normal, learning about other cultures (which maybe is uncomfortable), focusing less on “me”
  • giving up something completely: getting used to life “without”, feeling what it’s like when others perceive because we are now “different”
  • changing our point of view for the greater good: getting into arguments (political/family?), battling within ourselves over the old point of view, reconciling what’s right/wrong
  • coming out: about our sexual orientation, addictions, mental health, illness, abuse, political view or anything else we’ve been keeping inside for fear of judgement, shame or condemnation
  • sharing our home with animals: limiting our work day, getting up in the middle of the night, cleaning up hair, poop and vomit off the floor
  • Waiting: for anything you want, it can be excruciating at times because we are a culture of wanting everything now, having patience is like hot iron swirling in our bellies…the loss of precious time while we wait
  • standing up for what you believe when others around you don’t agree: this can be going to rallies or being a vegan, it can bring agitation or arguments from others, confrontations or simply tiresome questions
  • sharing our home with children: never having peace and quiet (or rarely); suddenly realizing you have to sacrifice so much and become a very good teacher when you hardly know yourself (or much else for that matter…)

There are so many more things…what can you add to the list? And it all comes down to mindset like anything else really. We give to get. Nothing comes easily really.  It seems like many things feel like work these days, and trying to pick out the little pieces of joy can be tough. But when you think about the sacrifices we make all adding up to something beautiful–that it’s the wrapping surrounding the gift inside, then it doesn’t feel quite so much like drudgery. 

So when you are climbing that next mountain and it feels like hell: the boots are giving you blisters, the sweating like a banshee and the mosquitoes buzzing around your head: remember that when you get to the top you will see this incredible view of the world below. Every step you took to get there was worth what lies before you as you look out. See it as you breathe the joy and try to remember that you couldn’t have experienced the splendor without a bit of pain.

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Turn Around


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This is one of my most favorite pictures that I’ve ever taken. I’m not exactly sure why except for me it epitomizes a lot in my life: much of it has seemed kind of tattered and worn down. It has been beaten by the elements of time and I wear the scars to prove it. I’m rough around the edges, yet I’m still standing. I show many signs of age, but that’s because I’ve lived. To many, I look old and maybe not that beautiful, but I know inside I hold many secrets–only the ones really brave enough to enter will know. And although I’ve weathered many storms and darkness has followed me, there is always hope and beauty that seems to linger right near by. All I have to do is summon the courage, step away from the edge and turn around.

Living Now


How much of our life do we spend looking forward or back? Countless moments wishing about the ideal new future we will have someday or ruminating endlessly over all memories we wish could be do-overs. The hands of the clock just keep spinning as our minds play these scenes in our heads; it doesn’t hold still saving those precious minutes for a later day. No, it marches on ahead in its endless walk toward the end of time, our time at least–and what have we really gained during these memory visitations?

It’s true, there are certain positives that can be created from walking away from the present down our other time zones. Going back in time can prevent us from making the same mistakes (hopefully) by learning what felt wrong to us. And going forward can help us plan so we don’t create some huge disaster in our lives by simply going blindly.

But too much of either maybe isn’t good, is it? Making mistakes is hardly completely preventable and thinking too much about them can fill us with deep feelings of shame and guilt. And maybe taking leaps of faith into future plans may not be such a bad thing–it’s called trust. Trusting your intuition will know when something is or isn’t good for you.

It seems to me the only really effective way to be able to survive with any sense of contentment and ease, is then not to spend quantities of time in the past or present. Rather to live most fully in the present.

“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.”
Henry David Thoreau

If one truly commits to doing this, and it is no easy task as the mind is constantly aiming to pull you off task, then life begins to open up before you with crisp alertness. As each sensory organ gets tuned in to the world around us, everything becomes heightened. Noises leap out, smells drift under our noses, scenery becomes more illuminated and our sense of touch more sensual.

As our mind tends to drift away from the now, which can happen every minute with the distractions of every day life, we can pull it back to this minute by asking it to notice: what do I hear? do I see? what am I feeling right in this second? It is giving us back the gift of time, and while the clock is still moving, it is our lover instead of our prison guard.

“Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that’s the stuff life is made of.”
― Benjamin Franklin

So if we can wed our mind and time, and bring this union to one beautiful moment, then the child created stands still in bliss.

Benches


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As she sat quietly on the bench, she recalled so many times of reflection. Times of stopping, of sitting still to breathe and think of her life. It wasn’t always easy to create these moments, to stop the moving train that was her life, long enough, to simply see what was around her.

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These benches were everywhere. Even if people were around, they could cradle her; let her thoughts roll through her mind, easing the turbulence with the help of the surrounding landscape. They were guardians, givers and saviors.

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Sometimes she would be present, sometimes drift off to another place.  Somehow they were conduits of time travel: as though a space had opened up and she slipped into it and could go forward or back, depending on her mood. Because of this, she walked in places long forgotten, places of lost love or deep pain. The remembering, though, somehow put it in an ethereal plane, so the visitation became moments of healing.

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Some places to sit weren’t really benches at all, but still created for her the right second to watch a sunrise. Just the act of seeing one could erase months of chaos in her soul.

She remembers now these sacred vessels and can recall far into childhood how many she has visited. From cities to the middle of nowhere, the times she took to just stop and sit–to contemplate, meditate and be quiet.

And now she wonders: where are all the benches yet to come?

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Jewel


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Now it is just long gone memories where we walk together, still close, feeling those moments nearby again. As we speak, the recapture, bringing present the feelings shared in a time of love and family. The falling into each other and the brave actions of daring to create, to take on labels that we each feared had forsaken us from the past. To love was to move outside, to step into something beyond the confines of our own mistrust and give. There was much there, in spite of youth, so much depth and connection. Much was formed, both in me and around us. The union spawned beauty and burned brightly.

And for this I give thanks. Searching the catacombs of the past, all is now just treasure. This will be kept, like an Emperor’s jewel, in the museum of my mind.

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