Rabbi Robyn Ashworth-Steen
We are currently, according to the Jewish calendar, in the month of Adar. It is known to be a month of Joy, the Rabbi’s said that when the month of Adar enters, joy increases. I don’t know about you, but I find sometimes Joy not to be that easy to find or cultivate, especially now in this time of restriction and lack of social contact. It seems, for many of us, when we are not okay, it feels impossible to laugh and to be free when we are suffering, or when those around us are, or when things feel completely overwhelming. I think also, being a woman, finding joy in this world can be hard, because joy means being wild, being free, it means being loud and taking up space. For us in our capitalist society, it is maybe something we do not feel comfortable with, we are always striving to be productive and to be effective and to ‘have’. Maybe, letting go and being wild and having joy isn’t something we try to cultivate.
The wonderful scholar, Brené Brown, has defined joy, and she wrote…
“Twinkle lights are the perfect metaphor for joy. Joy is not constant; it comes to us in moments. Often ordinary moments. Sometimes we miss out on the bursts of joy, because if we are too busy chasing down extraordinary moments, other times we are so afraid of the dark, that we don’t dare let ourselves enjoy the light.”
What I love about this quote by Brené Brown on ‘Joy’, is that it’s not about the extraordinary moments, joy is not this huge thing, it can be those ordinary moments. But she also talks about the blocks of why joy can be hard to cultivate. I think what I hear in her quotation, is this idea that we hold, this dangerous and destructive idea, that we can only have joy if we are deserving. We often compare our suffering to those of others, and say “well it’s not as bad as…” or “other people have it worse than me… I can’t be happy in what I’m doing…” Because in some way we feel it’s saying something about us not honouring where they’re at. That really is not fair to us, or other people around us, because joy is a key part of what it is to be human, and it is a deep need.
So, what would joy look like? Marie Kondo, wrote that
“when something sparks joy, you should feel a little thrill, as if the cells in your body are slowing rising.”
In Jewish tradition, joy is crucial. We always balance both joy and pain. A good example is a wedding, a Jewish wedding. We smash a glass at the end, this moment of happiness, a ‘Simchah’, is to remember that things are broken. We are very used to holding in both hands, and in one hand, joy, and sorrow. In the book of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), you will know the saying perhaps “a time to weep, and a time to laugh, a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” They really are two sides of the same coin, dancing and crying, weeping, and laughing. As you know, sometimes it can be so close between whether we have a fit of laughter or whether our tears are rolling down our faces.
So, in Judaism, in this month of Adar, we build in joy intentionally and that is especially because we have the festival of Purim, which is a festival of carnival, of masks, of drinking and of fancy dress. Obviously at this moment it can feel harder, but I would say its more necessary than ever that we give ourselves a release. We have all got ways for finding joy, for me it’s celebrating drag queens, watching RuPaul’s Drag Race, loud music and care-free dancing. We know even for those people who are in times of real sorrow, and Rabbi Nachman of Breslov is a kind of role model of someone who had deep depression. He wrote “constantly bring joy into your life, even if you have to resort to silliness.” He taught us that cultivating joy was key to holding and working through the pain that we feel. In our book of Deuteronomy, it says “I set before you, life and death. Choose life, so that you may live.” So, whether we can look to children or to pets to really understand what unadulterated joy can be, just letting go and being in the moment, whether it’s that little thrill that Marie Kondo spoke about or those ordinary moments, those bursts of joy that Brené Brown talked about. Maybe now is a time to build in some joy into our lives. To find what it is that brings us joy and smiles and humour. Allow ourselves to really talk to that deepest need of what it is to be a human and to live our life full of dance and joy.