The Pursuit of Joy

The Pursuit of Joy

I'm a fan of joy. But that's not saying much, because everyone likes to be happy. It's a natural human instinct. So how do you get there in a genuine, lasting way? This is something we're not very good at describing in Western culture. Happiness usually involves the accumulation of more stuff, more intense experiences, and quality time spent with loved ones. Usually, these things are achieved in combination with one another. I felt that there was something deeper getting in the way of my pursuit of joy, however. It took me some time to recognize the signs of trauma in myself. Peter Levine describes trauma as, "(an) incomplete physiological response suspended in fear." It's a state of unresolved tension in the body that prevents a traumatized person from being complete; shamanistic healers referred to this as the soul being separated from the body." Although we all have an innate capacity to heal this trauma, modern humans tend to overthink the process of healing:

"Modern life offers us few overt opportunities to use this powerfully evolved capacity. Today, our survival depends increasingly on developing our ability to think rather than being able to physically respond. Consequently, most of us have become separated from our natural, instinctual selves— in particular, the part of us that can proudly, not disparagingly, be called animal ..." (Peter Levine, "Waking the Tiger")

We also lack the supportive community environment conducive to healing, and reconnecting with our internal selves:

"To move through trauma we need quietness, safety, and protection similar to that offered the bird in the gentle warmth of the child’s hands. We need support from friends and relatives, as well as from nature. With this support and connection, we can begin to trust and honor the natural process that will bring us to completion and wholeness, and eventually peace." (Peter Levine, "Waking the Tiger")

Levine suggests some specific methods to heal trauma, which involve reconnecting the mind with the body. He states that one of the signs of a successful reconnection is the experience of very strong emotions being unleashed, in concordance with visible signs of the body shaking or otherwise strongly responding to this release of emotional detritus. I don't entirely agree with Peter's theories and methods, but reading his book did help to clarify my thoughts on how to take the next step in my healing. I decided that my next step to stop overanalyzing things, reduce distractions (like listening to podcasts while hiking), spend some time connecting with my 'primitive' self, and actively seek out deep wells of emotion within myself. So I headed off to Colorado on a long road trip! :)

The first few days in Colorado, I was very stressed out. The change in elevation was stressful, driving on winding mountain roads was stressful, the travel was stressful. I wasn't do a very good job of clearing my head. A few days into my exploration of self, however, I came to a revelation. All of this trauma -- all of this stress -- all of this work I had done to retrain the damaged parts of my brain -- it was no longer necessary. I was already healed, and simply had to accept this fact. This unlocked a well of emotion that I didn't know what there. I cried a lot. Tears of joy at being well, tears of anguish over the pain I'd been through. The tears alternated with one another. It was pretty intense! After this, I felt a clarity and joy that was very powerful. I saw the world in 360 degrees, rather than in the traumatized and stressed-out narrow tunnel vision I had been experiencing. I was happy at the simplest things, I was happy just being myself. I understood with, and connected with myself much easier than ever before -- I felt a lot more Erik-y! To borrow a phrase from Peter Levine, I felt that I had 'reconnected my soul with my body'. I discovered joy. I discovered that it isn't something which comes from without, nor is it something that comes from within. Joy is the natural state of every human being. Unfortunately, it's really easy to kick yourself back out of this state. Your brain is very good at coming up with ways to convince you that mindfulness and joy really isn't all that interesting, after all.


Levine, Peter A.; Frederick, Ann (1997-09-08). Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma. North Atlantic Books.

Written on 2013/07/12

Written by Erik Schimek

Erik is an entrepreneur and self-improvement expert. You can learn more about Meliora Meditation at Infinite Chorus.

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