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  • Keith Abraham

The Principles of Joy

How acknowledging, focusing on and practising activities that bring me joy leads me to peace

These Principles of Joy are my own. I do not believe in collective dogmatic approaches and it’s not my intention to introduce another spiritual dogma here. We each have our own process that works best for us. Here, I share my own, with the intention of highlighting just how transformative this process can be.

High Quality Rest. For many many years, I have been an insomniac, sleeping at best 5 hours a night and at worst 2-3 hours. For far too long I simply accepted I did not sleep well and tried my best not to be irritable and perform well regardless of how tired I felt. My ego kept me from seeking help until I finally embraced the power of vulnerability and accepted the fact that I needed help. After consulting a Herbalist, I have now slept straight through the night every night for over a month and it has helped free up some much needed energy with which I can work with.

But high quality rest isn’t limited simply to good sleeping habits. Intellectually, we all know the importance of high quality rest but we still so often sabotage ourselves by working too hard (as discussed in my previous blog), staying up late too often, binge watching Netflix or prolonged attachment to our electronic devices and, for a growing number of us, punishing our bodies through harmful physical exercise regimes like binge gym sessions. High quality rest involves allowing our minds time to settle, free of over stimulation, while being gentle on our bodies. It is so important that we respect our bodies and rest our minds by disengaging from our work and, perhaps most difficult, our social media accounts.

The Morning Pages are a creation of Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, a book that helped entirely transform my life for the better. In her own words, “Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. *There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages*– they are not high art. They are not even “writing.” They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page...and then do three more pages tomorrow.”

I write my morning pages every day and they help me dump all my anxieties, bitterness, anger, frustration that I may feel on any given morning. Another great benefit of the Morning Pages is that they also reflect back at me just how much great progress I have made and how grateful I am for my life and the people in it. If, for some reason I miss out a few days, I really notice it in how active my mind becomes. Instead of releasing my mental chatter and noise onto the paper, it stays inside me, racing around with no outlet which can manifest externally in some very unhelpful ways.

Home Cooked Food. Being self-employed, it is easy for me to get carried away with my work and ignore my diet, which I am often guilty of. Thankfully, my Principles of Joy (and my wife) help remind me of the importance of a healthy, balanced diet. I am also guilty of not drinking enough water, which is never helpful and only ever causes my body undue stress. So now I make time in my day and in my finances to eat healthy, home cooked food as often as possible and keep my water bottle near me because I’ve found if I have it I drink it. As with my Morning Pages, if I eat processed food or dehydrate myself for a few days in a row, I really notice it in my body, which also negatively affects my mental health.

Meditation. As I lead a physically active lifestyle, sitting still and allowing my mind time to settle is incredibly helpful (and challenging!) for me. It is through meditation that I have found answers to some of my greatest problems, received wisdom and insight, guidance when I felt lost and stillness when erratic. It always brings me a sense of calm joy and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone.

Rewarding Work empowers us, inspires us and benefits not only ourselves but our families and our wider communities. After a fulfilling career in the military, I worked for J.P. Morgan in Canary Wharf. While I enjoyed my time there and learned a lot of valuable lessons, I soon realised I was not fulfilled through this work. I felt a little worthless, as if I wasn’t contributing to society in any meaningful way and I wanted to feel like I was. So I left, listened to my heart and started my own Tai Chi school. Introducing people to the benefits of Tai Chi and seeing the progress and personal growth of my students is incredibly rewarding. You don’t have to quit your job if it would create more pressure for you. Finding rewarding work can simply entail volunteering in a community project. Whatever work you feel would benefit you, outside of the purely financial, do it as often as you feel able to but remember to note how it makes you feel. It may not pay well but it may reward you in other ways.

Spending Time in Nature is our natural state. I believe most of our health issues stem from poor diet, overstimulation and a lack of time spent in nature. Living in England, it’s not always so attractive to be outside, but even in the rain and the wind, our spirits can be easily raised by some fresh air, gentle exercise and a far horizon. While it strikes me as an innate truth, there is increasing scientific evidence for the benefit of time in nature, particularly in uncut woodland/forests. Forest Bathing, for instance, is becoming increasingly popular after doctors in Japan have begun prescribing it to their patients to treat all sorts of illness and have found very positive results.

Creativity allows us to perform free of judgement. As we become older, our inner-censor becomes stronger and it can be hard to create in spite of this self judgement and criticism. Allowing ourselves to be creative in whatever way that means to you helps us combat our own self-doubt, skepticism and ego. We are so often afraid to allow ourselves to be beginners. We see all these talented artists and performers and think we can never be that good and so don’t allow ourselves start to be creative. But the purpose of creativity is not to be talented at something, it is simply to create. Judgement is the business of the observer. The business of the creative is to create. It provides a way for us to dissolve our ego a little and act from the heart, free of fear and have fun. I reiterate, the purpose of creativity is to be creative. The purpose of creativity is not to create something good.

Service to Others is what I believe we are all here for – to help one another. When we become self serving we become blinkered to the needs of others but we also become invulnerable and resistant to the idea of receiving help ourselves, which leaves us feeling alone and isolated and leads us to fear and to judgement. In whatever small way we can, however often we can, service to others introduces us to the vulnerability and interconnectedness of all things. Helping someone or something in need, even in a very small way, instantly brings a sense of great joy and achievement. Conversely, just think of that feeling when you deny yourself help offered by someone else. By accepting their help you will not only help yourself but you will also contribute to that person’s sense of worth and value. It’s a beautiful thing!

And finally, Play. What an important thing it is to be able to play. Life can often seem so terribly serious and painful. I often get carried away with my spiritual growth and can take myself far too seriously from time to time. I can easily forget to allow myself time to play and be silly. It is why I called my Tai Chi school Playful Dragons – to remind myself of the importance of play. While dragons are symbols of longevity, wisdom and power, it is through our playfulness that we learn most quickly and have most fun.

So, I’ve found that by resting properly, eating healthily, meditating, enjoying my work, spending time in nature, creativity, helping others and being playful all combine to bring me a great sense of calm joy and for this knowledge I am truly grateful.


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