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  • Annelisa MacBean

Choosing Joy

Depression has lowered its heavy weight over me periodically since I was a child, but never has there been a period in my 65 years in which the collective grief has been so staggering as it is now. Under today's circumstances, I am pressed against the limits of my being, pressed against the elemental fact that no matter the outer atmosphere or circumstance, I must lift the suffocating, depressive weight by my own intentional action, or die beneath it. While, at a higher level of understanding I can know I make the choice to live with and in the grief and torment of our times . . . in the moment of moving, shifting and lifting myself out of depression and into life, it feels more like survival instinct than choice.


Nevertheless, from the vital and transformative compost of lost ideas, beliefs, imaginings and identities, choice does emerge as a central feature in my current learnings . . . I live more intentionally now, noticing where I am placing my attention . . . noticing what I am focusing on. I have increased willingness to be responsible for my experience and for the consequences of my choices.


I want to develop and mature the capacity to live as a chooser . . . with the attitude of easy willingness and intentionality that a child chooses the shoe to put on the right foot, the crayon to paint a sky. I notice that at first, awareness of, and then choosing what is true for me, is conscious and effortful. I feel like I am pressing against the weight of a world laden with reasons for misery and self-denial, restless with expectation that I perform various duties and activities. I notice I can feel this collective sorrow and misery, while also taking the actions the world requires of me . . . and at the same time I can also choose to keep pressing the weight of my joy against the distractions and demands of the world. With focus and some faith, as time goes by, my authority as a joyful chooser of truth is increasing and less effortful, like gravity pulling the stream down its course; periodically I realize that feeling and choosing based on my inner experience has always been a law of my inner nature.

If Viktor Frankl can exclaim “yes to life, in spite of everything!” — and what an everything he lived through — then so can I choose the life I am in, again and again, amid the rubble of my plans, so trifling by comparison.

Joy is not a function of a life free of friction and frustration, but a function of focus — an inner elevation acquired on the fulcrum of choice. Where am I choosing to place my attention? Where is yours? On what am I focused? So often, it is a matter of attending to “the little joys”; to the "simple things" from which I can draw those slender threads that weave me a lifeline to the Divine.

Am I delighting in the aged homeless man on the street corner, his ragged old dog beside him, each leaning toward the other with absolute devotion?

Am I noticing the little girl zooming past on her little bike, her fierce focus and direction headed toward a future I can't see, tassels flying from her handlebars and beaded braids poking out from under her helmet?

Can I see the snail taking an entire afternoon to cross the sidewalk to get to a tiny blade of grass?

Have I enjoyed the tiny leaves, so new and fresh that are sprouting from the crooked stem of the neglected plum?


So few grains of happiness measured against all the dark and still the scales balance.

from Jane Hirshfield’s poem, The Weighing

Yes, ultimately the scales balance . . . and most importantly, I furnish both the grains and the scales. I alone can weigh the blue of my sky, you of yours.



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