THE New Year diet is going well, but I’m not starving myself or sweating it out at the gym. This year I’m on the Joy Diet, it’s the new meditation and it’s going brilliantly, especially since learning tap dance appeared on the menu.
Since the age of four I’ve envied Shirley Temple, the Billie Barry kids on the Toy Show and the wonderful Maureen Potter for their tap dance abilities. Tap was a childhood dream, but when I was a kid there were no classes nearby and later on I found adult classes impossible to find, but I never gave up on my deep yearning for something I’d never tried.
Over the years I’ve also been a fan of American life coach, Martha Beck and her books, Finding your North Star, Steering by Starlight and the Joy Diet. One of her ‘joy’ exercises involves writing down anything you missed out on in your past and, if it’s legal and it won’t hurt anyone, to do it if it still feels true. Tap never moved from my wish list and I was delighted when I finally found adult classes running in my hometown — my dance instinct was right. I love the feel of the shoes, the noise of the taps and the sense of joy. Having talked to Martha personally earlier this month, she told me why finding our personal joy is so important.
“There’s a Buddhist saying; because death is certain and the hour is uncertain, what is the most important thing? The only thing that really matters in the end is how much joy you experienced and how much love you created,” the author explains from her Californian home. In her books Martha outlines a technique for helping people move towards joy by reading their body signals.
Briefly, think of a time when you felt really good in your life, notice how your body feels; for me it’s light, warm and expanded. Then think of a distasteful memory, a task or event you didn’t like or a job you hated and assess how you feel. For me, my jaw starts to clench and my stomach feels nauseous. In a nutshell, gravitate towards activities that make your body read as nourished regardless of how you look or what anybody else thinks, and move away from the stuff that your body reads as poisonous.
I tell Martha that personally I find taking part in joyful activities far easier than trying to meditate, but Martha reminds me that ‘play is the optimal state of being’ and that happiness studies show when,’ you’re in a state of flow when you are right at the edge of what’s difficult -that that is the highest level of satisfaction.” As regards meditation, which so many of us feel obliged to excel at, she tells me meditation should never be a ‘task or about doing it right’.
Although she sometimes sits quietly and says a mantra such as ‘let go’ she finds blissful stillness in other ways. “Recently I drove to town with my son who has Down Syndrome and there was just peace, we didn’t say anything, just being in itself is a state of bliss,” she explains.
Beck, who has a Phd from Harvard, believes we should cram as much joy, big and little into our day as possible. It can be five minutes of playing with your cat or painting your nails or going for a walk; joy doesn’t have to cost money. “It’s important to give something to yourself everyday as a gift, it can be really simple. I decided one day to wash my sheets because I love the smell and feel of clean sheets, but I did it very consciously, everything can be joyful.” These days ‘simple’ is Martha’s mantra as well as never doing anything out of fear.
“I live in a house with four rooms and I used to live in a larger house, but I get to walk in the forest every day now, what I’ve wanted to do as a child. When I care for myself and I tap into the universe’s infinite love for everything I don’t have any fear,” she says.
As a world famous life coach who has sat on Oprah’s couch, Martha says we shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking wealthy or famous people have more joy in their lives than us. In fact, she’s coached people from very privileged backgrounds who sometimes do not have any joyful memories at all.
She tells me of one client, a daughter of famous parents who had only one joyful memory she could think of from childhood. In such joyless cases a person might first have to reach for relief which they might do just by allowing what is hidden below to surface.
“As well as being the sufferer you can be the witness or watcher to your own suffering and this watcher can have compassion and if you can sit with things, even if your mind is running in circles it always eventually calms down.”
Another acclaimed international life coach, Anita Moorjani, came to realise after a near death experience that life is all about experiencing joy. The author of Dying to Be Me, Anita’s three golden rules for joy are; love yourself, laugh more and be yourself.
“When I make any decision I ask myself, is this out of fear or love? Whether it’s getting married or changing career, behind every decision is fear or love. If you’re thinking of making a change, visualise the thing you want to do; does it make you feel excited or happy?
Now visualise the situation you’re currently in and visualise that you’re there for the rest of your life, if that feels better for you than stay.” Every day Anita says we must ask, ‘what would I do today if I loved myself? This is not selfish. If we don’t take care of our own needs we will be resentful and drained and our joy will ebb away.”
How do we get to joy? Anita, like Martha, says we definitely don’t need to master medication techniques to experience bliss. “If meditation techniques are too hard, don’t do them.
The purpose of meditation is to get to a particular state, if you can get to that state some other way that’s fine. For example, some people are meditating without even knowing it by being by the sea or walking in nature.” However, living a joyful life is a habit. “I tell people to do little things every day that give them joy .
So I am — following my heart as best I can, and next year when you watch the Toy Show don’t be surprised if you see a forty-something woman elbowing all those kids out of the way wearing big size tap shoes!