Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.

Joseph Campbell

At first this quote was a boon of comfort to me, a reminder that somewhere there is joy niched inside me, that all I need to do to avoid my pain is nestle into that spot. But after a while I had to accept that we can never run from the pain and still expect to heal. That was a lesson I learned well. We must take on the pain, and live in it.

But clawing through my gored insides for that morsel of joy was the only hope I’d been able to cling to. If the pain was the path, if the pain was the way to truth (which my Jungian analyst reminded me over, and over, and over again), burning it out must be a cop-out. Or worse, pure escapism.

So I bought into pain. I reminded myself this is what healing was, and so when something hurt I pressed so deep into the cut that blood gushed up. The more pain, the more healing, that was the logic.

It should have been no surprise that what came next was a full relapse into depression. And as many of you may know, when you go into those depths of depression, it’s impossible to make a U-turn. Crawling down in the den of lovelessness is a debilitating exertion, but it takes ten times the effort to climb out.

So when I re-encountered this quote, I paused. My instinct was to dismiss it, insisting on affirming my own masochistic, painful experience. But at the same time I knew what I was doing was obviously not right. I know I must hurt to heal, but shouldn’t I also be able to light that joyful flame?

To live, I’ve since learned, we cannot live only in sorrow. We cannot live without that measure of joy. The consequence is living out in a black desert, alone and devoid of love, dying from the dehydration of joylessness. Life – the journey – is about balancing its inherent duality, and it’s about experiencing its essential glorious nature right now. Together, that means being available to our pain, but also in pursuit of joy.

And joy is always available to us, even when we’ve wandered out into the desert. It is tucked up inside us. We do not need a thing to justify joy. We do not need to punish ourselves by denying it, nor earn it, nor hoard it, nor force it out of ourselves. It is there. It is the essence of living. It is your birthright.

We can find joy, wherever it lies in us, and let its flame burn; and it is the flame of life itself.

 

Photo by Dmitry Kichenko

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