By Esther Russell
President and Founder
Joy Breaks Barriers Coaching and Training Workshops
One of my favorite parts of coaching people who are looking to discover their joy is seeing the delight in a client’s face when they uncover that “aha!” moment.
You know what I mean, right? It’s when something deep stirs inside and you start shifting the way you see yourself or your reality. That second of discovery when you find something that has been either unknown, covered, or transformed.
That is the alchemy of joy.
I know this experience well, for I am a quintessential seeker. I’m not sure it was even my choice; it seems that I was born searching. There was something I knew I was missing, and I was determined to find it.
I wasn’t sure where to find it, or what it was, but I was convinced that it had once been there. That it was only temporarily lost.
My goal in this column about joy is to help you have that transcendent moment. To get us started on that path, I’m going to begin by sharing my story with you. My guess is that my story is not that much different than yours.
In fact, I believe that my search is the same quest that led Alice down the rabbit hole and Dorothy to Oz.
As an undergraduate at CU in Boulder, I tripped in the Rockies, found God, then lost God as I trekked my way through Hollywood as a producer on Robin Leach’s Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.
Later, I became a comedy improv actress at the Groundlings in LA, and spent my fair share of time as a struggling screenwriter. Yes, I wrote numerous screenplays that I thought were brilliantly deep and funny — but they never sold.
Escaping the soul-sucking “city of tinsel” by the skin of my teeth, I ran for refuge to the Himalayas, meditating on a mountaintop day and night, hoping to re-introduce myself to God or reach nirvana. Neither happened.
Barely alive, with hepatitis and dysentery, I dragged my 90-pound body back to the United States, aware that I might looking for something that didn’t exist. Not knowing what else to do, I enrolled in a master’s program in theater at NYU. I figured that if I couldn’t find God in Hollywood or the Himalayas, she or he must be hiding in the experimental theater wing, or maybe on Bleecker Street in the Village.
It just didn’t seem fair that I was plagued with this chronic existential crisis while so many of my friends were satisfied with status quo.
Just when I came close to abandoning my exhaustive search, the Universe heard my secret call and sent me a mysterious messenger in the guise of a Chassidic Rabbi. Before I knew what hit me, my dear friend Nadav (a kindred seeker, street musician, and now successful hedge-fund guy) invited me to a lecture on Jewish mysticism and Kabbalah.
Realizing that I needed to be more open-minded, Nadav convinced me to look past the dogma and the costume. After all, I had learned life’s wisdom from monks in orange robes, and gurus on a mountaintop in Rishikesh, why not a mystical Chassid in a long black coat from Brooklyn?
After all, it was the wisdom grounded in my own backyard.
The problem with searching so relentlessly is that it’s hard, almost impossible, to be happy. I had surveyed the mundane as well as the transcendent, yet the harder I searched, the further away I was from my true destination. I needed to coach myself to my own joyous “aha!” moment, but I didn’t have those tools yet …
Fast forward 20 years.
I was finally forced to stop and catch my breath. As a middle-aged, suburban-mystic mom, I had birthed five magnificent, rambunctious, and demanding teenagers; accumulated financial calamities up the wazoo; and survived a near-fatal car accident, a foreclosed house, a dog attack, and a rocky marriage to a Chassidic comedian that had totally unraveled.
Needless to say, my life felt like no laughing matter. I had reached a breaking point and was desperate to get out of my situation, but there was nothing else to seek that would save me from myself. My life had become beyond messy and chaotic, and I was in a worse existential crisis than I had run away from.
I was scared … there was no magic formula, system, relationship, or panacea outside myself that would ever be the balm for my soul. I was depressed. And to add insult to injury, my favorite comedian, Robin Williams, had killed himself.
As I look back, I see now what I didn’t see at the time — that I been thrown a major life-line.
Because of my background in comedy improvisation and theater, I began giving workshops on the healing power of laughter and comedy improv to friends in my community and then to business people who invited me to their businesses to lighten up their workplace.
In just a few years, I had built a thriving training and coaching business bringing joy and laughter into the corporate boardrooms of stressed-out business people, overburdened nurses, seniors in retirement homes, developmentally disabled adults, Chinese diplomats, and Nigerian entrepreneurs. I was flown around the globe to bring joy to people’s lives and generate laughter.
In my training workshops, I use the metaphor, “Life is like walls and doors.” Walls are the limiting beliefs that keep us stuck, and joy is the door that opens us to possibility. “Joy breaks barriers” became my mantra and the name of my training company. Yet while I was bringing joy to others, I was a stellar improv actress. My personal life was in serious crisis mode and falling apart — I was grasping for straws. I had no choice but to look within.
The Sufi mystic Rumi says it most eloquently: “What you seek is seeking you.” I hadn’t realized that what I was truly seeking didn’t even have a fighting chance to find me. I had been looking in all the wrong places.
To tell you the truth, joy isn’t something you suddenly discover.
It’s who you are and who you’ve always been. It’s a state of being that doesn’t fluctuate because its source isn’t dependent on external factors. I finally discovered and understood that joy is a blissful state that’s cultivated from within.
It’s an inside job, a highly personal journey — and I had been all over the universe trying to find it.
My story needed to change drastically. I had to stop seeking and start listening. I needed to _be_joy, not search for it. It sounds so simple, but so few of us have mastered this art in our noisy, noisy world.
So what is the Alchemy of Joy?
It is an inner transformational process of deep listening and uncovering the limitations, barriers, veils, and concealment that prevent you from knowing your true self. Similar to the alchemists of old, alchemy is the metaphysical transmutation of lead into gold. The lead holds the potential for a more precious and valued material. This is the alchemical mystery of life. It’s soul work. It’s the transformational shift into this limitless and boundless state of being where possibilities and new templates for living are born.
That is why “aha!” moments are so exciting.
Joy is not an intellectual or existential construct; it emanates from the heart and truly does break barriers. It allows us to break past the constructs of our egos, past the veils that separate us from each other, and it offers a deeper, more profound connection.
- Joy dissolves negativity by re-contextualizing it rather than attacking it. It sees the good in all of life’s situations, even when they are painful.
- Joy is an expansive expression of self that is inclusive rather than separating or off-putting.
- Joy is the expression of unconditional love. This is how it’s actually possible to be “one with another.” With shared joy, there are no longer any barriers. Heart to heart, soul to soul.
- Joy creates true unity, peace, love, and compassion within oneself, and in relationships, families, communities, organizations, businesses, and on our planet. When we see another person through this lens, we see them for who they truly are, and their needs become our own.
Here’s what I’ve discovered.
As I’ve practiced the alchemy of joy, my inner joy continues to grow into a deep state of inner contentment, gratitude, appreciation, and love that I bring to everything I do. I wake up in a state of grace excited to greet the day.
Joy arises from within each moment of existence.
The truth of our lives is that it doesn’t get any better than this moment, so pay attention to how you feel right now. Ask yourself: “How do I feel right this very instant?” I always ask my clients that question, because their answer reveals how their life will unveil itself.
Either you are connected to your own inner bliss — or your mind has hijacked you somewhere else.
Are you ready to find Joy?
Here are a few simple exercises for you to practice until we meet again in next month’s column:
1. Know that joy is accessible to you at any moment, all the time. It’s a matter of being aware. Take time throughout the day to sit quietly and close your eyes. Imagine the universe pulsating with joy and love. What colors come to mind when you think about joy and love? What kind of music? What does it taste like? With practice, you can actually become a tuning fork for this high level energy. Focus. Be present. Feel your joy.
2. People who have attained a high level of joy have a tremendous capacity to lift others and accomplish great feats. It’s because their motives are pure. And we all want to be around people who embody this gift. They walk onto the stage and enrapture the audience; they enter a boardroom and shift the dynamic of the meeting. This is the hallmark of a great leader, someone who is capable of a high-vibration and expansive presence.
So take a page from their playbook. Like these leaders, hold a prolonged, open visual gaze. Look everyone in the eye and make a deep connection with them. Feel confident and comfortable in your own skin, and let that feeling radiate to everyone you come into contact with. Try it this month when you are in a meeting, leading a workshop, talking to a colleague, or having lunch with a friend. Notice how your state of mind influences others. Remember, energy follows thought. Be effective and influential as an agent of change.
3. Now take these ideas to a global level. More than ever, society is placing high value on joy as something we all need in our lives — in the workplace, the government, the classroom, the boardroom, the bedroom, and the planet. When you are doing your daily meditation about being more joyful, radiate the joy you tap into to every person in every spot on the planet. Now raise the vibration one more notch and hold onto it for 1 minute. As you come out of the mediation, know to your core that joy is a deep, essential element of our souls. It is a calling that is growing louder. Listen and you will hear its voice. Make it your voice.
About Esther Russell
Esther Russell, MA, is the president and founder of Joy Breaks Barriers Coaching and Training Workshops. She has traveled the globe assisting leaders and laypeople to break through their limiting beliefs and create lives and businesses of joy and possibility. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.