Your quarterly inspiration - November 2019
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News & Events
  • What is joyfulness?
  • Getting in the way of joy
  • Developing a capacity for joy
Book reviews
Thank You
Photo by Miles Tan
Hello, friends,

As you know, we’ve begun a series in which each Communicator issue is dedicated to one of the ten “Qualities of a Sage in Service” identified many years ago by Sage-ing leaders. In May 2019, we explored Deep Listening; in August, we dove into Compassion; this issue, we’re immersed in Joyfulness. Good timing – completely serendipitously – for the holidays: a time when joy is both de rigeur and often elusive.

Thank you to Sage-ing leaders Elizabeth Bell, Mary Anne Ingenthron, and Minx Boren for your wonderful contributions to my knowledge about joyfulness!

Our February 2020 issue will be dedicated to Peacefulness. If you have a resource, whether you’ve created or found it—poem, essay, book, meditation, film, image, anything—please share it with me at [email protected] .

Thank you in advance. I hope you enjoy this joy-filled issue.

--Theresa Reid, Editor
Photo by Dario Valenzuela
Message from Co-Chairs

Dear Friends,

As we look to the closing of our 2019 leadership year and begin looking to 2020, we eagerly anticipate an amazing conference year! Please “save the date” for November 5-8, 2020 to attend our biennial conference, Elders Transforming the World: Connecting Courage, Culture, Community. Our conference chair, Caroline Blackwell, and conference co-chair, Cindy Siemers, will be leading us forward to this remarkable event. Watch for upcoming details in months ahead.

In addition to looking forward to a new conference year, we are always keeping keen eyes on the mission of Sage-ing International (SI), and focusing on three strong elements—belonging, learning and service. In an ever-changing world, it is essential that we, as elders, have a “home” in which to belong, a place that supports continued learning and offers positive ways each of us can serve in contributing to a better world. This important goal is integral to the daily, dedicated daily work of our SI leaders. Come and join us in leading forward courageously. You may contact us at our email addresses below with your questions or inquiries about how to become more involved.

Considering how essential it is that elders around the world be leaders of excellence in their personal lives, in their communities and beyond perceived boundaries, we are reminded of Shelly Francis’ statement in The Courage Way, “At its core, leadership is a daily, ongoing practice, a journey toward becoming your best self and inviting others to do the same.” We look forward to seeing you along the way!


Marilyn Loy Every and Jerome Kerner, Co-Chairs of Sage-ing International
Calling all techies!

We are increasingly relying on the internet to reach elders who don’t have access to our live programs and circles. Can you help? SI’s Tech Team is seeking volunteers who can provide support with the following tasks:

  • Managing Zoom during video conferences.
  • Website management.
  • Power Point creation for online programs.
  • Webinar hosting.
  • Webinar post-production editing and YouTube posting.

Whether you can contribute a few hours a month or several hours a week, SI needs you! Some training is also provided. If you’re interested in serving a vital function for SI, please contact Cindy Siemers, Service Team Leader at [email protected]. Thank you!
What is joyfulness?
The most important feature of joyfulness is its lack of attachment to any external thing. Although the words are often used interchangeably, many people distinguish between happiness, which is often dependent upon getting a need or desire met; and joy, which is spontaneous and free. Joy might be spurred – is often spurred – by something outside oneself – a spider web glinting with dew, a child’s wide-eyed giggle, the rustle of bright leaves in Fall – but joy is a genuine surprise, unrelated to perceived wants or needs, an upwelling rush of warmth and freedom. 
“It is what we are here for,” writes Roger Housden , in Dancing with Joy: 99 Poems . “It is wholehearted, full-bodied, all-encompassing. In a moment of joy, you are no longer a kingdom divided—between right and wrong, this way or that way, should or shouldn’t.” He goes on: “Joy can free us from our character altogether, at least for a time. It can take us out into the wide world beyond our own self-preoccupations. It can join us to the air and the trees, to other people, to cows and to stones and to the living spirit of humankind itself. It can join us to the china mug of tea in our own right hand.”

How very lovely. That evocative language in itself brings me joy.

And yet . . . .
Getting in the way of joy
Housden’s book is by far the most beautiful I’ve discovered about joy (thank you, Elizabeth Bell). In his introduction, Housden, a poet himself, writes about an odd phenomenon: that sometimes, some people resist feeling joy. One reason he susses out for this resistance is our knowledge of the grief of the world.

“Could it be that we live in such a difficult, tragic world that it can seem a betrayal or denial of our common darkness to jump for joy?” Our knowledge of the wretched miseries of the world, as well as our own suffering—from painful childhoods, from trauma, from shattered love, from compassion with the grief of others—can make it seem almost impossible, if not immoral, to experience joy.

Also, joy can be fear-inducing for some people because it summons its opposite. To experience joy – to experience life, and love – is also, with certainty, to lose it. In individuals traumatized by any number of life experiences, a hint of joy can trip a deeply-laid defensive maneuver to shut it down pre-emptively, before its loss can hurt us by surprise. Psychotherapy offices are filled with people who have been so hurt that they flinch away from a hint of joy.

Another reason we may resist joy, Housden writes, is that “Melancholy, despair, and depression are not only everywhere, an integral part of many people’s experience, but they also have cachet. The demon of despair has always seemed more interesting than the angel of joy.” Housden quotes a few of the countless examples in literature of starry-eyed romance with poetic melancholy. One of the most famous (which Housden doesn’t mention) is Tolstoy’s opening sentence of Anna Karenina : “All happy families are the same; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” If this were true, then of course unhappiness is far more interesting — at least, novelistically — than happiness.
By this point in our lives, many of us have outgrown the conceit that the greatest artists are miserable; but the idea that our seriousness is a measure of our depth is hard to shake. And these other obstacles to joy – guilt for feeling it in this broken world, fear of losing it as easily as it arose – can be persistent blocks.

Photo by Huyen Nguyen
Developing the capacity for joy
Happily, those who struggle to allow themselves joy can learn to let go into it, and those who readily experience joy can learn to open themselves further to it. Certified Sage-ing Leader Elizabeth Bell wrote me this insightful note:

“An important step that can move us into joy is to Let Go – in all the ways that can happen. For me that shows up in letting go of control, in thinking I have to control and ‘work’ at life to have it happen; letting go of expectations that life look and turn out a certain way; letting go of attachments that can stop me from moving forward – many beliefs, old stories, circular thoughts that hold me captive and keep me from the essence of who I truly am."

“And all of this asks me to Trust – trust that I am always on the path even if it may not seem so in times of darkness, trust that the path is always leading me, moving me, calling me toward wholeness; trust that I am held in love, always and no matter what.

“And what calls each of us to joy may differ. One of the surefire ways for me to access joy is to DANCE – with abandon – becoming one with the music, Spirit moving my body, in a way letting go into the arms of Spirit.

“And there is of course Nature, the beauty of which can bring incredible joy when we are mindful and present in it.”

Photo by Luca Bravo
Elizabeth’s wisdom is classic: to let joy flow, release your old conceptions and need to control, trust that the path you’re on is the right one for you, immerse yourself mindfully in nature, and dance – or lose yourself in another form of creative expression. Author and master coach Minx Boren offers similar advice in a charming story. (This is excerpted by me from her essay, “Happy Mess!” which you can find in its entirety here .)

“My husband Mel and I have a favorite toast. Whenever we are having wine with dinner, we raise our glasses and clink them in a toast to ‘happiness.’ When our son Reid was about four years old, we were all out sharing a family meal one evening when he raised his juice glass to toast with us. What was so adorable, and revealing, was that the words that came out of his mouth were ‘happy mess.’ I was about to correct him when I stopped myself, realizing that his toast was absolutely perfect. If we could learn to accept and live with — maybe even celebrate — all the inevitable happy messes along the road of life, we would be well on our way to enjoying a wonderful life.

“What very young children, and those of us who have learned a bit along life’s journey, know is that things do not need to be perfect or pristine for joy to be present. The most powerful happiness strategy in our human tool box is our capacity to apply thoughtful consideration, perspective, and compassion to whatever is happening when life is not going according to our idea of how it should be. By doing so, we reframe whatever is taking place in the most positive and inspiring ways possible.”

I’ll smile about “happy mess” for a long time. What a smart lesson to take from a child’s sweet error. It echoes a major definition of joy: that it doesn’t depend upon getting expectations or needs met. Joy is a free-flowing, spontaneous gift.

But for many of us, knowing that “letting go” is key to unlocking joy is different from being able to do it. The two books in review in this issue give clear, though very different, instructions for opening oneself to joy.

Photo by Robert Collins
Book Reviews
Awakening Joy: 10 Steps to Happiness
by James Baraz and Shoshana Alexander
Reviewed by Theresa Reid

James Baraz has taught mindfulness meditation since 1978 and is co-founder of Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California. Shoshana Alexander is a Buddhist teacher and writer. Their book, Awakening Joy: 10 Steps to Happiness , is a stand-alone companion to Baraz’s popular and longstanding course, Awakening Joy .

Right in the introduction, they tackle one of the biggest obstacles to joy, identified by Roger Housden and many others: in the face of the vast suffering in the world, “Awakening joy might seem like a frivolous endeavor.” The book and course are not about denying “the hard stuff,” they write. But ignoring all the beauty in the world is blinding ourselves to half the truth: in Taoist terms, it’s succumbing to the 10,000 sorrows of life while ignoring its 10,000 joys. That is a crime against the wholeness of Life itself. They write, “Cultivating our goodness, aliveness, and joy not only feels good, it also helps us express our love more and awaken it in others. Our own joy becomes a gift to everyone we meet.”

Just as compassion is contagious , so is joy. When we recognize that fact, cultivating joy almost becomes a moral imperative

Awakening Joy is beautifully organized and written. Baraz writes in the first person, and liberally shares stories from his own life, stories which are sometimes almost startling in their honesty. As you might expect but still find surprising (as I did), Baraz is not a teacher who will hide any wrongheadedness or wrong actions to gain putative authority. Baraz tells stories on himself, in print, that some people wouldn’t admit in a confessional. Of course, this transparency confers great credibility on his lessons.

The lessons are the “10 steps” of the title, each of which earns a chapter whose headings are nearly irresistible invitations to read further: 1. Inclining the mind toward joy. 2. Mindfulness: Being present for your life. 3. Grateful heart, joyful heart. 4. Finding joy in difficult times. 5. The bliss of blamelessness. 6. The joy of letting go. 7. The sweetness of loving ourselves. 8. The joy of loving others. 9. Compassion: The natural expression of a joyful heart. 10. The joy of simply being.

Each chapter offers stories and practices to build the reader’s capacity for joy in the contexts named. A generous appendix of titles for further reading introduces readers to complementary approaches.

The power of Awakening Joy , like that of any other “self-help” book (the debased label does not do justice to the book in this case, as in so many others) , will be determined by the effort of its users. But the quality of the raw material here gives seekers of joy a superb assist.
 by Henry Emmons, Susan Bourgerie, Carolyn Denton, and Sandra Eacher. Reviewed by Theresa Reid.

As its long subtitle indicates, The Chemistry of Joy Workbook is for people suffering from depression, whose blocks to experiencing joy are much more fundamental and resistant to change than those of seekers without depression. Consequently, this book is structured quite differently than Awakening Joy . In The Chemistry of Joy Workbook , the science underlying the self-administered treatment plan is explicit, and self-evaluation measures, explanatory tables, and frameworks for written, skills-based plans feature strongly in the book.

The authors are self-described as “a team of healers trained in holistic psychiatry, integrative nutrition, and the psychology of mindfulness.” They ground their approach in the concept of resilience – the ability to return to a wholesome, healthy state after a blow or series of blows. They explore nine pathways to resilience, three each in the interconnected domains of body, mind, and heart. The authors note that in each of these domains, both internal and external forces can threaten our resilience, and hence our ability to experience joy.

  • The body can be imbalanced both by environmental toxins we can’t control, and by our own diet and lifestyle choices.
  • The mind can be imbalanced by emotional or physical trauma, others’ expectations, disturbing news, and personal loss, and from within by our own mental attachments and patterns of belief.
  • The heart can be imbalanced through loss of loved ones, isolation, and social upheaval and conflict, and from within by our own tendency to shut down and withdraw when threatened.

The first self-evaluation invites readers to examine and rate their current level of resilience in each of these domains. Having completed the evaluation, readers are instructed to tally scores and assess areas of greatest need. Rather than ask readers to plow through the whole workbook, the authors invite readers to move straight to the chapters that provide detailed guidance in further exploring and then healing their areas of greatest vulnerability. Advice includes highly varied and specific suggestions for diet, physical exercise, and nurturing mental and emotional practices.

Taken as a whole, the book can be almost overwhelming. But taken in small doses, as intended, according to your need as diagnosed by the book’s self-evaluations, it can be extremely helpful. Like any other book in this genre, The Chemistry of Joy will proportionally repay dedication and effort. It’s not as exciting as Awakening to Joy , but in its close attention to the nitty gritty details of well-being for people who are especially resistant to joy – which includes so many Americans today – The Chemistry of Joy can be enlightening and freeing.

Photo by Andrew Spencer

One of the greatest of resources for awakening joy is simply immersion in the arts – music, visual art, theater, dance, film. Those resources – and immersion in nature – you can seek out on your own. In addition to the resources cited throughout the issue, a few more stand out.

The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World , by the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Carlton Abram. (Thank you, Mary Anne Ingenthron, for this suggestion and for Awakening Joy .)

The Creative Age: Awakening Human Potential in the Second Half of Life , by the late Gene D. Cohen, MD, PhD, is a wonderful primer on how we come into our joy creatively in our later years.

The Joy of Living course , through meditation master Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche.

The wonderful website, Spirituality & Practice , provides a rich list of books on joy.

The Soweto Gospel Choir
This is the first poem in the superb collection by Roger Housden , Dancing with Joy: 99 Poems .

A Brief for the Defense

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.

May you be happy, healthy, and whole.
May you have love, warmth, and affection.
May you be protected from harm and free from fear.
May you be alive, engaged, and joyful.
May you experience inner peace and ease.
Sage-ing International
Coordinating Circle
Marilyn Loy Every
Jerome Kerner
Georgeanna Tryban
Nancy Gray-Hemstock
Bob Coulson
Don Adams
Elizabeth Bell
Gary Carlson
Gayle Dee
Mary Anne Ingenthron
Brian McCaffrey
Cindy Siemers
Rains Cohen
Sage-ing International
Program Leaders
Rosemary Cox
     Education Coordinator
Jeanne Marsh
   Certification Coordinator
Karen Clementi
Administrative Coordinator
Anna Wisehart
  Website Assistant
Theresa Reid
Penny Clark
Editor, The BULLETIN

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