“Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.” ~ Karl Barth.
You don’t hear the word ‘sulking’ much anymore. I am not sure what the current term is for holding on to anger in a silent, brooding way. I clearly remember a couple of episodes from my childhood where I milked a good ‘sulk’ for as long as I could. I was probably no more than five or six, and I was mad at my mother (no idea why). She had taken us to see the movie ‘Calamity Jane’ (a kick-ass cowgirl with a complicated past, but I didn’t learn that until quite recently) and I was sulking so seriously that I refused to sit in the cinema seat but stood with my back to the screen for the whole show. I must have enjoyed it though, for at the end I dared to ask my mother if we could stay and watch it again. If you know my mother you can guess the answer was a hard ‘no’.
The next episode I remember was several years later. I was between ten and eleven and the family was visiting the UK from Jamaica. My parents had rented a home in ‘Golders Green’ London, and we were taking in the sights. It was a typical English summer’s day (overcast and cool, back before global warming!) and I was again mad at my mother (no idea why) and sulked all around London town. The evidence is in a photograph where I posed with my siblings in front of some famous sight, my head held down, refusing to smile for the camera.
I suppose the point of the sulk is to get others to respond and try to cajole you out of your foul mood. This is, again learned much later in life, a passive aggressive move, where you try to influence others without being direct in your wants and needs. Assertive communication requires being straightforward in letting others know why you are upset, and how you are feeling. ‘When you do…it makes me feel…’ Or, ‘I need you to…’ rather than slamming dishes in the sink hoping ‘someone’ will get the hint and say ‘let me wash up, dear’. Unfortunately, we learn unhealthy ways of communicating by example, and it may take years to undo those lessons absorbed in the childhood home.
Another difficult lesson to learn is how not to be manipulated into trying to placate others. The disorder of codependency manifests in people-pleasing, worrying more about the feelings of others than your own. It may take years to recognize that the only person’s happiness you are responsible for is yours. And that is freedom.
This week I was meditating on clouds. I had been sharing with another lover of mountains how, when you live in an area as mountainless as Florida, you gaze at clouds and make them your landscape. Unlike mountains, clouds are constantly changing form, creating all manner of imaginative pictures. As I write that I realize that mountains change also, responding to the time of day; early in the morning trails of mist and cloud may tickle the ridges and folds. Later on sunlight cast from different angles can bring out different colors and shadows; rain can glisten or hide completely the folds, the foliage, the flow.
It takes maturity and time to recognize the joy to be found in the every day. As I was musing on clouds I remembered a phrase ‘The hills were joyful together’ and had to google it. Was it from the Bible? Was it a book? It was both. I had forgotten the book written by the Jamaican author Roger Mais in the 1950s, set in a tenement (slum) yard in Kingston, full of characters and voices of Jamaican life. But the title came from the 98th Psalm, ‘let the hills be joyful together’. What a beautiful thought!
The art of finding joy in whatever life brings you takes intention, for there is so much in life to throw you off. It can happen in traffic on the way to work; or the student (for teachers) who once again has to be reminded what was due three weeks ago; or the Starbucks drink not exactly to your taste; the list can be endless. But all it takes is a hurricane to blow these miniscule problems into proportion, and remind us that sometimes electricity and clean water are all it takes to make life worth living.
In our need for things and possessions, we lose sight of those things that should make us joyful. And the beauty of being joyful is that it is more contagious than monkey pox! I have a friend who persistently finds so much joy in simple items, in acts of kindness, in the feel of the early morning air on her skin, that you feel her joy too. And she writes about it in her blog, https://audreypeterman.substack.com/ wanting only for others to share her joy in the act of merely being alive.
I must have grown out of sulking, or else my mother’s ability to ignore and be unmoved by it rendered it powerless, but I have learned instead to look for joy in small moments. A glimpse of a multicolored sunset; the first hint of coolness and low humidity in a Florida fall morning; the call of a bird through the trees; the way the sunlight breaks through the clouds in the first rays of morning; the sound of rain pattering on the window on a lazy Saturday; the list is endless when you look with intention.
This Friday morning, I am hoping we can by joyful together, like the hills, like the clouds, like the birds. And if your child decides to sulk – just ignore them! Allow them to wallow in their feelings until they learn to shake it off by themselves, so they learn that joy, happiness, must come from within.
Have a joyful weekend, Family!