No, not Beethoven’s. Yours. Mine. Ours.

A friend once asked if I was “happy.” I responded that I found that word shallow and pursuing it not worth the effort. Fulfilled? Yes. Satisfied? Yes. Content? Yes. Life demanded something more substantial, more meaningful, something bigger than being “happy.” Happy is like “nice.” You don’t aspire to be “nice.” You expect it. It’s the bare minimum. So where’s the high bar?

Ludwig van Beethoven

You could try “Joy.” That’s a word that needs explanation.

“When stuff, people, and the problems they bring fall away, there is stillness. Only in that stillness can we ever find the joy that resides in each of us, dependent on nothing external in order to exist. As such, joy comes when you make peace with who you are, where you are, and why you are.” (Sandra Brown, Psychology Today, 2012)

Years ago when I owned a cabinet shop on Marion Street in Oak Park, I was sitting at my desk near the open front door when two couples walked by. “They do some really nice things here,” one person said to the group. When I heard this, there was this immediate, incredible flush of warmth completely surrounding my heart. It lasted for only a few seconds but the memory has lasted decades. It was a feeling of complete peace, contentment, and joy. My “heart light” had burst into full radiance.

I’ve had this same experience maybe three of four times in my life, under similar circumstances. I cannot summon or re-create it. And there have been a lot of similar circumstances that did not provoke it.

I asked a cardiologist/customer about it, but he decidedly ignored my question. Years later, I mentioned it to a friend who practiced Reiki and talked of chakras and similar things I considered nonsense.

“That’s your heart chakra,” she said. “You were connecting with that person.”

My background is science and construction and my tools are saws, drills, and hammers. Things some consider nonsense — ghosts, miracles, UFOs, Bigfoot … and chakras — remain nonsense until we experience them personally, visually, viscerally, firsthand in a way that shocks the system. Then denials dissolve. Our world expands. Our minds open up. “Stuff” falls away.

The satisfaction of a job well done, a difficult problem solved, a day well spent, a good deed done — these give me that internal sense of joy. Here is where I “make peace with who I am, where I am, and why I am.”

What gives you joy? What produces that warm glow, that momentary feeling of peace, acceptance, stillness for you? Maybe it’s a walk in the woods, a long run, an intimate conversation with a great friend, photographing a scene at the exact moment the light is right, following a new recipe where the results vastly exceed your expectations, working at a food pantry.

ET’s heart-light lit up when he realized the mothership was coming back for him, and when he felt the love of his earthly friend. For each of us there is a switch that turns ours on.

I will never forget a conversation with another local business owner about how best to go about hiring a new person: “I always ask them to tell me about their hobbies,” he said. I thought that was odd, but he explained that someone without a real hobby, without something that took them away from “stuff, people, and problems,” was just too self-absorbed in life’s demands or career opportunities to be a complete person. They would not play well with others.

Think about it. What activities fulfill a deeply personal interior need or desire for you? What brings you that “stillness” where you are at peace with “who you are, where you are, and why you are?” Inside of each of us there is a Ninth Symphony waiting to be experienced. When we discover it, we can each sing our own “Ode to Joy,” and maybe, just maybe, experience the intense warmth of our heart-light.

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