Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Alacrity and Joy

One cannot overstate the emphasis Chassidic philosophy places on the concept of simcha (joy).  It is lauded as a force for good – an active energy that produces a youthful urge forward, drawing others toward us and helping us to successfully do our part in making the world a better place.

Atzvut (depression and dejection), on the other hand, is the worst possible “sin” to a chassid because it takes away all motivation and energy and leads to a type of black, numbing lifelessness that separates and isolates one from the rest of humanity, shutting down all engagement in life. 

According to Kabbalah there are many different worlds – or levels of reality.  The world we live in is called Asyiah (world of action).  That is, we live in a world defined by movement.  We are never truly at rest.  Even when we sleep, we dream.  Our hearts are constantly pumping, with blood coursing under our skin.  Our minds wander and daydream.  Our feet tap.  We explore and travel.  We work and produce.  We love and pursue.  Life always flows and our challenge is to position ourselves so that we flow joyfully with it.  We need to jump into the stream of life courageously – with both feet – and take part in the cosmic dance.

The urge to boldly join with this stream is described by the Hebrew term, z’rizut (alacrity).  Alacrity, which is a prompt and eager liveliness, is a trait intimately linked to joy – joy leads to alacrity and alacrity leads to joy.  Small children fully engaged in play have a lot of alacrity - and a lot of joy.  They just can’t wait to get to the next toy.  They reach for it with eager, chubby hands, absolutely delighting in the moment.  Life is surging through them and their play is its natural expression.  

As we grow older, however, we are taught to temper this eagerness – to “tone it down.”  This is not necessarily a negative thing because many adult pursuits demand focused and deliberate attention.  We cannot impulsively jump from one activity to another if we are going to finish a job well.  There is a danger, however, of toning it down too much – to the point where we are lifelessly going through the motions with no inner zeal or excitement.  If this has become our usual disposition – if we find that our lives have become one giant rut – then we need to “unplug” the joy of our youth.  We need to get moving with alacrity and get back in the habit of grabbing life with both hands.

I have found in my therapeutic practice that the best way to tap into the latent, joyful energy hiding underneath our grown-up malaise is to challenge ourselves to grow in four different areas:  our bodies, emotions, intellect, and spirit.  Consciously pushing ourselves forward in these four fundamental dimensions automatically breaks up the log-jams that restrict our alacrity and joy.  It moves us out of narrow and restricted points of view and releases a new energy into our lives.  Each dimension adds a different type of force that combine into a joyous, galloping whole - triggering a huge, synergistic leap forward.  

Here are some easy things you can do to start this process. 

Body work:  reduce your intake of the staples of the modern diet – fat, sugar, and salt; exercise more; practice deep breathing; take a dance class, etc. 

Heart work:  reconnect with an old friend; do something special for your spouse; visit a nursing home; mentor a child; read poetry; write poetry, etc.

Mind work:  read a book that forces you to use a dictionary; take a language class; meditate; read news sources that challenge your point of view, etc.

Spiritual work:  walk in nature; contemplate; pray; sing; connect to something larger than yourself; read topics that challenge you to look beyond the five senses, etc.

The four additions to your life do not have to be huge and monumental.  Any movement forward is good and has the potential to remove hidden barriers.  I have seen time and again how little changes can get the ball rolling and we start to re-experience the wonder of our youth.  Eventually, we build up an unstoppable momentum for growth that tears apart blockages inhibiting our excitement for life.  I urge you to activate elements of these four areas for yourself.  You will be amazed where it will lead you!

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