Beach joy

Beach joy

It was the perfect beach afternoon.  There was a cool breeze coming off the cold sea, mixed with the warm winds from the sand and mountains behind us.  The beach was packed with people playing ball games and chatting happily with family and friends.  There were hundreds of children enjoying the sunshine.  Three of those kids were mine, running in and out of the water, trying to beat the end of the waves.  My youngest daughter tripped over her little feet and crashed down into the soft, wet sand.  I expected tears and a cry to follow, but all that came from her smiling face was a screech of joy, as her siblings tumbled down around her.  I could have watched them for hours.  They were so happy.  Pure, fully in the moment, concentrated joy.

It got me thinking about the last time I felt the joy that they were experiencing.  It’s been a while.  Why, I thought.  Why did it look like the children on the beach were enjoying themselves more than the adults?  How did they focus so intensely on what they were doing right there and then, running into and out of the waves, as if nothing else in the world mattered more than that?  I have a theory and it has two parts.  One is that we think about too much, too much of the time.  Two, is that we think thoughts that create limits to how and what we feel and how and what we do.

My eyes were watching them and my heart was loving that sight.  But my mind was thinking about dinner plans and packing for our drive the next day, between about twenty other thoughts that floated through during that time.  Do they need more sunscreen?, argh my legs feel wobbly, I shouldn’t have had that rusk this morning, I really must drink more water, who’s watching the bags, we should go before they get too cold. Most of the time, my mind is a hurricane (the type you see in the movies, with flying plastic chairs and roofs coming off) of thoughts that involve some sort of planning, thoughts that are cautious or of warning, thoughts that hold me back or dilute the contentment and joy that could be in that moment.  As adults, I think this is what we do.  We learn these behaviours over time.  Our minds evolve from those of the kids playing undistractedly in the waves, to minds that think too much about too many things, usually at one time.

These thoughts then hold us back and distract us from what could be.  We take the safe road, the safe option, the path that stays well within our comfort zone. We begin to limit ourselves within the confines set by our own red danger tape.  And then, we lose out on what’s out there beyond the boundary.  We lose out on the joy of running into and out of the waves because we’re too busy thinking about dinner or what could go wrong if we fall or stay on the beach until we’re cold.  We miss the moment because we aren’t in it.
There’s also no room to lean into the joy because we are too afraid of what that space may be or bring.  We’re scared to truly feel the emotion because we know that it will fade, it will change.  It’s not a constant.  So, we choose to not even go there, to avoid the disappointment that could come when the moment passes and we move on to the next event, the next responsibility.  It’s so sad, because what we’re doing is creating our own limitations on our own happiness and joy.  We’re choosing, maybe unconsciously, to miss out on the moments that bring full meaning to our lives.

So how do we undo the patterns we’ve taught ourselves over the years and start thinking more freely, as we did as kids?  How can we grab onto the abundance of our lives and lean into the moments that matter?  Here are a few ways that have helped me.

It starts in our minds, the thoughts we think manifest into the actions we take and how we behave.  From the moment we wake up in the morning we are bombarded with thoughts – our own and those created by what we see and hear.  So, before your feet hit the floor, before you unlock your phone to check your messages or emails or how many new likes you have, take a moment to check in with your thoughts.  Sometimes we actually need to trick our brains into having a great day.  Literally telling ourselves, “Today is going to be good.  I’m alive, it’s sunny outside and I am grateful.”

We need to get intentional with our thoughts too.  Not just every now and again, but regularly throughout the day.  When a negative thought flutters through, catch it and ask yourself why you thought that.  Is there any truth in that thought?  What specific examples contradict the lie you’re trying to make yourself believe?  Then intentionally flip the script to tell yourself the truthful side of that story rather than the story that’s putting you down.

How we end our days matter too.  If we fall into bed, desperate to end the day, without consciously debriefing our day in our minds, taking time to highlight what we’re grateful for and noting what we’ve learnt, we quickly forget about the good that surrounds us and focus only on what gets us down.  This, I believe has a big impact on how well we sleep.  If I’m distracted at bedtime, without thought of the day that’s passed, I’ll sleep restlessly.  A calmer, more grateful end to my day sets me up for a calmer, more peaceful night’s sleep.  I believe it’s true, give it a try.

The thing is, what we give power to, has power over us.  If we give power to our thoughts that hold us back from growth and joy, they will do exactly that.  If we intentionally remain aware of what we think and how those thoughts impact our actions, we can then intentionally flip the script and start leaning into the moments that bring meaning to our lives, moments that matter the most.

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