Sunlight, joy, and expectations

This morning I was out walking Very Bad Dog and thinking about this blog post. The bitter temperature and the melancholy sky that’s hung low over my weekend had me sniffly in more ways than one. I was silently bemoaning the lack of sunlight and the still abundant snow, a disagreement with a loved one, and the heartache of a close friend who I want very much to help, but cannot.

The further I got into my walk, and the more I thought about this blog post, the more I was troubled by…me. My last couple blog posts have been less than cheery, and I wanted to rally to write something more positive, something that isn’t so woe is me. It remains to been seen if I can pull it off.

It’s an ugly time of year

The end of a Michigan winter is gloomy, the snow gray and dirty, the streets so punctured with pot holes that driving becomes a risky game. Artificial heat and dimly lit rooms make me want to pull the covers over my head for days at a time. When out shopping, I’m taunted by displays of flower seeds, beach chairs, and flip flops. My skin is dry to the point of pain. It’s a true hardship to wriggle into yet another pair of tights. The puffy winter coat I wrestle myself into feels an awful lot like what I imagine a straight jacket feels like. Very Bad Dog becomes Extra Bad as his cabin fever reaches new heights. Winter leaves us both feeling very confined and constrained.

I’m as tired of my whining and of me as I am of the weather.

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve gone looking for light. Practice enough yoga and you know how to go find the internal light. A number of winter yoga classes revolve around chest openers and back bends in an effort to unblock some chakras and set forth your own soul’s luminosity. When I’m done writing this post, I plan to go chase a little light with my yoga practice. It’ll help some.

In these last days, when the sun peeks out, I throw the curtains back and make sure there’s time in my day for a walk. In spite of the snow, the sun entices me outside even if it means boots, an itchy hat, and gloves so thick I can hardly hold the dog’s leash

Music helps, too. I favor Latin tunes, which transport me to far-away beaches and imagined comfy chaise lounges where I station myself to read trashy magazines and sip icy drinks. The scent of carefully chosen coconut shampoo sends me to a July beach on the Michigan shoreline where my guy is applying similar smelling SPF to my shoulder blades.

I ‘ve also gone into honeymoon-planning mode. I’ve researched cruises and have looked at countless photos of Mediterranean sea water so clear and blue it’s nonsensical. And, a couple days ago, glossy photos arrived in my mailbox, pictures from this winter’s Mexican vacation.

Pouring over those images, I recall with vivid detail the sun. The sun that never hid during all the daylight hours I was on the Yucatán Peninsula.

Joyful conditions

In an effort to combat my general sense of disquiet, I try to remind myself to find not just light, but to also grow a little joy. Many people, experiences, and even things bring happiness and pleasure into my life. But joy, by definition, is more spiritual than happiness and pleasure. And, joy is certainly more fleeting.

Very occasionally, I’m stopped in my tracks by joy. The very realization that joy is within me and surrounds me, and my attempt to capture the elation, sends joy on its way. I’m okay with that. I’m grateful for that breathless moment that’s so full of grace. I take note, add the joyful moment to my growing list, say a silent thank you to that confusing universal power.

My latest moment of joy came to me outside the terminal of the Cancun International Airport. I’ve never aspired to earn big paychecks or spent time wishing I’d been born into family money.

But if I were to pick the magic lottery numbers, travel is how that windfall would be spent.

A couple months ago, my guy, Joe, and I landed in Mexico to spend a week with friends on a Caribbean beach. After we touched down in Cancun, we had an hour or so to kill before our friends arrived and we could take off for the resort.

Joe and I found our luggage and meandered to the appointed meeting spot – the bar outside the terminal. I fished my cut offs and sandals out of my suitcase and headed to the nearest restroom to change. When I was done, Joe and I traded places by our pile of luggage so he could ditch his Midwest winter apparel. It was then that I took a seat on top of one of the suitcases, tipped my face to the sun, and opened all my senses.

The air and sun on my bare legs and shoulders felt like warm hands massaging away the last of Michigan’s winter chill from my body. A bottle – a real glass bottle – of Coca Dieta sweated in my hand. Cigarette smoke, all but banished from American public spaces, drifted over to me and I didn’t mind. Rapid-fire Spanish mixed with other languages sang in my ears. The chaos of the vacationers and taxi drivers thrilled me. Then it struck me. Pure joy.

And it was gone.

Sure, the happiness and pleasure remained, but that rapture vanished nearly as soon as I recognized it.

My list of what brings joy is actually very short, but it’s a list wrought with circumstances. I can only work to provide conditions that lend themselves to joy. Joy sneaks in the back door when I’m least expecting it. It appears when stars I can’t see align and forces I can’t name work together. As much as I try to figure out how to cultivate more joy, I believe the beauty of joyful moments come about exactly because I’m not expecting them.

Regretfully, my expectations have weighed me down lately.

Ungrateful expectations

Like a hand to the throat, expectations can choke the life right out of you. Expectations that are mine, yours, and others are a balancing act. People want and need time, energy, emotion, whatever. Not wanting to disappoint those I love or those who count on me, I try to meet all the expectations and to do so happily. I know a lot of people who operate the same way, and it can make all of us prey to being taken advantage of. It’s hard to speak up and kindly say when you think this is the case.

But, what’s worse, is when my expectations of others are out of line. When I’m not mindful of how others care for me and love me – and when I’m made aware of my thoughtless words or actions – it’s a bad, bad feeling that sits with me for days.

I read this recently on The Buddhist Blog, “Expectations are like fairy tales and myths; they are alluring but ultimately leave us disillusioned and disappointed, which are the fore-bearers of suffering. Today, I am letting go and it couldn’t be more liberating.”

A lovely thought. Even if I could let go of expectations of others, could I let go of the expectations I place on myself? I’m a bit of a control freak, as many know. I plan and organize. I generally don’t do well with loose ends. But, if I could release the stranglehold and tangle of expectations of others, wouldn’t that lead to more joy?

Yoga teachers, books, friends who are therapists, and (probably) Oprah all agree expectations lead to disappointment. There’s a whole other blog post in here – best written by someone more spiritually or therapeutically inclined than I – about expectations not being met and the ensuing disappointment.

For today, it’s obvious I have no answers. My thoughts are as disjointed as this blog post. I’ve not left for you anything positive, nor have I left you with sunlight or happy thoughts. I’m still a little too woe is me for my comfort. But, a development in my afternoon may offer something else.

Out of the blue (sky)

In the time it’s taken me to write this post, the sun has fully appeared. The curtains are thrown open and Very Bad Dog is snoozing in the sun’s rays. I’m warmer than I was earlier. There’s less chatter in my head now that I’ve made room for my thoughts. The dog is certainly feeling a bit calmer.

As I was writing, kiddo, a near man, came into the sunlit room and said, out of the blue, “I love the month of March.”

Disconcerted by the timing of his statement, I asked him why he loved it. He told me he loves the smell outside, that everything gets all melt-y. Maybe kiddo meant he likes that change is in the air and that soon the sunlight will be with us for more hours of the day. Maybe he meant that as we shake off the weightiness of these winter months new things seem possible. Maybe I’m reading too much into his statement and he meant exactly what he said. No matter what he didn’t articulate for me, he seemed, without expectation, very pleased with the temperature and light both inside and out.

I could learn a couple things from that kid of mine.

As I take leave of this post to go enjoy what’s left of the sun and to enjoy a few Sunday moments with my only son (you like that alliteration?), I offer you not positivity, but hope that both sunlight and joy are within grasp. For me, at the very least, this seems a good time to go cultivate some good growing conditions.