Choosing Joy

“But let us be convinced of the fact that we will never be anything else but beginners.” – Thomas Merton.

I’m a beginner. This exactly articulates how I feel today. Like I’m standing at the edge of a mountain yet to be climbed, but I can look back at the trail I’ve taken to get here. I’m gone so far, and yet there’s so much ahead. Life is so weird lately, and I’ve had trouble articulating why.

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I’ve quit my job, so I’m working on my internship from home. I have time to enjoy cooking, cleaning, sleeping, watching TV, and being around people. Finally. Finally. Phew. The flexibility and dictation over my life is wonderful and I’m soaking it in all that I can.

I’m finding that restlessness and negativity are a root. My life has become much simpler and free, and yet it’s like these two things have woven their way deeper because they’re too afraid to be cut off. They’re clinging on for dear life.

Despite all the good, I’m finding myself freaking out about big picture stuff. The what-if’s and when’s of life. Like graduating. Continuing to find what I’m passionate about. Searching for jobs that line up with that. Continuing to build a community. Possibly moving again soon. When do we have kids? Will Nathan go back to school? Will I ever go back to school?

So, now I’m asking myself, at what point will I be satisfied? What is “enough” that would make me happy? In many ways, I think happiness is a choice. You can choose to smile through situations and choose to be joyful in the midst of difficulties. But sometimes, honestly, that’s really hard.

From the research I’ve done recently for my counseling internship, very practically, people who experience depression have a harder time filtering out negative thoughts. Everyone has positive and negative thoughts. But when you experience depression, it’s like there’s a filter that removes all the positive ones, and leaves only the negative.

Imagine the frustration. You want to get better, you want to choose joy over sadness. But. How do you actually do that without just suppressing your feelings and burying them deep? Cognitively, it’s takes a lot of work and practice to filter those thoughts. To identify what you’re feeling, evaluate why you’re feeling it, and find alternative ways to view the situation. And then adapt to those alternative perspectives instead.

We usually completely accept our automatic, immediate thoughts in a given situation. But sometimes our automatic thoughts aren’t based on any real factual evidence, and we end up causing ourselves a lot of emotional distress for no reason. For example, if a friend passes by you without saying hello, you could think, “He’s ignoring me. I must have done something to upset him. He doesn’t like me anymore.” Instead, what about something like, “I wonder what’s going on with him today? He doesn’t seem like himself.”

For a tired mind, challenging these thoughts just feels impossible. And I feel lazy. I hear myself saying, “Just do it. Just get over it. Just feel better.” And to someone who may not have ever experienced this before, you’re probably thinking the same thing.

Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul.” – Thomas Merton

Growth takes time. I’m choosing to accept the fact that all I will ever be is a beginner. Beginnings are exciting. Beginnings mark new adventures. New growth. New learning. New people. And all that has come before helps make me who I am.

So, one foot in front of the other, I’m going to strive to choose joy in every situation over sadness, anger, frustration, or whatever else. And it’s going to be difficult. But I’m also going to be honest with myself. And honest with other people without shame or guilt. In the midst of all my own fears of graduating and moving on to what’s next for us, I know that where I am is a great place. Full of experience, love, joy, and purpose. Cheers to what’s next.

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