One day, deep in the clutches of despair, I dragged myself to Maria’s. A petite lady, she was eccentric and a most unlikely mentor, but I credit her with saving my life. She could always tell when I was vulnerable. I fondly called her studio the torture chamber. On this day she had me stretch out on my back over a padded barrel, then she placed ten-pound weights in each of my hands. She pounded her fists on my chest. I felt my defended heart opening.  Maria’s tactics were unorthodox but led to emotional breakthroughs. She looked at me and said softly, “Al, the way out of grief is through it. Feel it in every cell. Acknowledge it. Welcome it. Come to know it intimately. Make it an ally. Consider it to be the rich black soil out of which will grow the greatest joy you will ever know.”

“When will I feel joy, Maria?”

When you relax your willfulness and allow your life to unfold naturally.”

I could have continued spiraling down the rabbit hole of despair, but I trusted Maria. Her methods were part psychological, part shamanic, part dance and always in my best interest. Above all, they were loving. She introduced me to the idea that my psychological agitation can be the prelude to profound “aha” moments. She taught me to use my mind, my body and my emotions to open my heart. She helped me see my battles with dualistic rights and wrongs as opportunities to know myself more deeply. Maria assured me that as I did this inner work, joy would come to reside in me one day.

Maria was right, of course. One day joy did arrive. I heard birds singing. A child in his mother’s arms smiled at me. I thought of my sons at that age. The cloudless blue sky and sun embraced me. I felt alive.  My heart overflowed with joy. My body seemed too small to contain it, like I might burst.

Friends who have known me for a long time have asked, “Al, what happened to you? You used to be so angry, but now you seem mellow. Did you take a miracle pill or a potion? Did the cosmic kaleidoscope shine a special light on you?” I tell them that I’ve been working to  discover a sense of neutrality within. That requires me to be mindful and honor all things. I’m less swayed by the turmoil of external events. I trust in my authentic self, my soul’s guidance and the divine nature of all people and all things. I explain that these practices have begun to dismantle my sense of separateness so that I’m more open to seeing Creator everywhere.

Sometimes I smile for no apparent reason all day long. I’m discovering joy even in my challenges. They present me with opportunities to see the silliness in incidents of separateness, mine and others.  Whenever I see this illusion being played out in my life and in the human drama, I can laugh now. Not at it, I will not mock it. That would feed it energetically. I honor it by seeing its folly and saying, isn’t Creator amazing! 

Maria once said, “When you feel joy, share it with others.” I’ve learned that joy is abundant, and when we share it more will come. I promise.


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