Joy as a Spiritual Birthright

Spirituality, let alone religion, often seems like a lot of work. Or at least, we’re not usually taught that it can be a space for joy, lightness, and fun. We’re told to be disciplined in our practice. We must meditate once, even twice, a day. And we have to keep our thoughts pure and intentional, lest we send the wrong message to the universe!

Lately, this idea of spiritual labor keeps coming up for me. Like many women, I’ve got a full life and a packed schedule. I almost always feel like I’m falling short of the spiritual practice I want or feel I “should” have. But I’ve been thinking that the message of spring, at least in part, is simply being, enjoying, and receiving. There are so many gorgeous flowers and trees in bloom, and the light here is lovely. The earth gives us so much pleasure at this time of year. For all of the planting/sowing/seeding metaphors attached to the season (work that was not metaphorical for our ancestors), I feel like there is more spiritual labor inherent in other seasons, particularly autumn and winter, when we strive to connect with ancestors and place an emphasis on inner work and healing. The spring just seems like a time for ease and enjoyment. But this too, serves a spiritual purpose. Divine connection shouldn’t be reserved for times of suffering or struggle.

I keep coming back to the idea that the simplest route to deep connection is joy.  

This notion was affirmed recently when I read Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert. She talks about enjoyment, fun, and spiritual and creative exploration. She says, “Only when we are at our most playful can divinity finally get serious with us." I love that! Spiritual work doesn't have to be work. It should be a party! 

I read this book on the plane to and from a dear friend’s wedding. My life and geography are such that I don’t get to spend a lot of time with my closest friends. But I had a wonderful weekend connecting with two in particular, and I thought more about the simple notion of joy.

Now in my forties, one of the greatest joys of adulthood has been friendship – deep, true, lasting friendship. I have a well of gratitude for relationships that have stood the test of time, some even thirty years or more and counting. I’ve reconnected with women I knew in childhood, and we easily picked up where we left off. I’m profoundly thankful for friendships with loving, hilarious people who wistfully connect me to times past, like the slog through grad school. Or, even if it's only every few years, I get to sit with friends that I wouldn’t otherwise have but for our shared, quirky interest in ghosts. Yet when we are together it feels like pieces falling together from other lifetimes.

What is magic if not that?

These are experiences I couldn’t have predicted when I was young, nor would I have even known to hope for them. Our culture is so obsessed with romantic, sexual love that we aren’t told of the great romances that are possible with good, true friends. When I am in these spaces – laughing, reminiscing, confiding – I am the most joyful and content that I ever am (well, other than at a Bruce Springsteen show). These times take me out of the stress of everyday life and remind me of the abundance and blessing that is showered upon me.

In the nineteenth-century, deeply affectionate, passionate friendships were common among women and among men. These attachments became suspect when modern notions of sexual orientation newly defined the "homosexual," creating an inherent distance within friendship. These days, I count amongst my closest friends both women and men. But the place of friends is expected to lag far behind sexual relationships. 

But these are important spaces of sacred connection. This is spiritual work, but it’s the easiest kind. The labor is in receiving these connections with awareness and deliberation. Awareness that these souls match mine for a reason and are an endless blessing. Deliberate intention to carry that peace, joy, and contentment back into my day-to-day life, and to try to stay grounded and grateful in the understanding that this is exactly what the universe wants for us – joy, fun, and hilarity.  

What if we allowed ourselves to see spiritual practice as simply living and enjoying life - rather than trying to transcend it? If we allow ourselves to see the divine in everything, in everyone, then it’s not really work, is it?

What if joy is a spiritual birthright? What if joy itself is sacred?