From the moment I saw this one, I knew I wanted to title it, "Foreboding Joy." This boulder measures about 4 feet by 6 feet, and rests lodged in a steep 10 foot diagonal chute than must be climbed by rope, awkwardly grappling over the massive boulder mid-climb in order to progress up the canyon. Every time I take people through this spot, the subject of Aaron Ralston (and the movie, "127 Hours") comes up.
Here we are, all having a great time canyoneering and doing photography, or pursuing other joyful pursuits in nature, having a great time, and then as soon as we see a boulder everyone starts worrying about losing their arm and having to saw it off with a dull multitool, or falling and breaking an ankle and being stranded out there for days.
Of course, the conversations are usually fairly lighthearted, but it's nonetheless a good example of how we allow fear to seep into our lives during the most joyful moments in so many areas of life. Fear can be useful, but is usually toxic. Faith and gratitude are the antidotes to fear. I've seen and heard so many people use fear as the excuse for why they don't do more interesting and enjoyable things in life. They are always afraid to lose something, and so they don't go out on a limb, they stay inside their comfort zone, and they stick with what they know. They throw away the best things in life all because of the mental fear that something could go wrong. I really like what Brene Brown has to say about this concept in her book, "Daring Greatly:"
"While I was initially taken aback by the relationship between joy and vulnerability, it now makes perfect sense to me, and I can see why gratitude would be the antidote to foreboding joy. Scarcity and fear drive foreboding joy. We’re afraid that the feeling of joy won’t last, or that there won’t be enough, or that the transition to disappointment (or whatever is in store for us next) will be too difficult. We’ve learned that giving in to joy is, at best, setting ourselves up for disappointment and, at worst, inviting disaster. And we struggle with the worthiness issue. Do we deserve our joy, given our inadequacies and imperfections? What about the starving children and the war-ravaged world? Who are we to be joyful? If the opposite of scarcity is enough, then practicing gratitude is how we acknowledge that there’s enough and that we’re enough.
I’d argue that joy is probably the most difficult emotion to really feel. Why? Because when we lose the ability or willingness to be vulnerable, joy becomes something we approach with deep foreboding. This shift from our younger self’s greeting of joy with unalloyed delight happens slowly and outside of our awareness. We don’t seem to even know that it’s happening or why. We just know that we crave more joy in our lives, that we are joy starved. In a culture of deep scarcity—of never feeling safe, certain, and sure enough—joy can feel like a setup. We wake up in the morning and think, Work is going well. Everyone in the family is healthy. No major crises are happening. The house is still standing. I’m working out and feeling good. Oh… This is bad. This is really bad. Disaster must be lurking right around the corner. Or we get promoted, and our first thought is Too good to be true. What’s the catch? We find out we’re pregnant, and we think, Our daughter is healthy and happy, so something really bad is going to happen with this baby. I just know it. We’re taking our first family vacation, but rather than being excited, we’re making plans for the plane to go down or the ship to sink. We’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop."
Brown, Brene Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (Kindle Locations 1528-1538). Penguin Group. Kindle Edition.