Welcome to Joy Lab!: Welcome to the Joy Lab podcast, where we help you uncover and foster your most joyful self. Your hosts, Dr. Henry Emmons and Dr. Aimee Prasek, bring you the ideal mix of soulful and scientifically sound tools to spark your joy, even when it feels dark. When you're ready to experiment with more joy, combine this podcast with the full Joy Lab program over at JoyLab.coach
Henry: Hello, I'm Henry Emmons.
Aimee: And I'm Aimee Prasek. So, welcome to Joy Lab, where we infuse science with soul to help you uncover joy. To do that, we focus on creating positive emotions that become the building blocks for a joyful life. So the theme of this episode is love. And though I really do like a cheesy rom com, we're not talking about that sort of Hollywood image of love, but really the genuine, deep connection that we all long for.
Henry: Shoot. I, I'm on board with that, Aimee. I was actually planning to use a cheesy Hollywood image of love just to start us off. Are you, are you okay with that?
Aimee: Yes, yes, the more the merrier with those.
Henry: Okay, okay. So, I'm just going to describe for you the opening scenes of the movie, "Love, Actually." And probably a lot of you have seen this, so you might remember that, it opens with looking at people in an airport terminal and they're just greeting each other so warmly and, you know, with hugs and laughter and kisses and talking and then over that you hear Hugh Grant's voice, I'm not going to try to do It's true.
It's true. A British accent here, but this is what it said:
" General opinion is starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed. But I don't see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often it's not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it's always there. Fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives.
Boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers on 9 11, as far as I know, none of the calls from people on board were messages of hate and revenge. They were all messages of love. If you look for it, I've got a sneaky feeling that love actually is all around."
I knew it. I knew rom-coms had great wisdom in it, so thank you, Henry! "Love is all around" though that quote.
I love that. It's not rare. Love is not hard to find. It's everywhere, like the air we breathe.
Yeah, it reminds me of an image that I first came across in the work of Pema Chodron, who's a beloved Buddhist teacher. And she referred to the heart as the organ that allows us to connect, and she compared it to a sea anemone. I think a sea anemone is a marine animal that just kind of attaches itself to the ocean floor and sits there waiting for the nourishing little morsels to float by.
And I think that's a great way to think about love, that we are literally swimming in it. We just need to keep our hearts open so that we can draw it in.
Aimee: I love, uh, the reminder there that love is always there. Again, at the same time, though, I sometimes resonate more with sort of the stingers on the anemone, like, don't come near me, love, or vulnerability.
I'll sting you. I don't have time for you. I don't trust you. Right? So, I close up. And there are just so many things that can cause us to close up. To close the heart. And it can be really hard, at least I find it to be, to open back up again.
Henry: Yes, I think that's a, just a perfect description. And so why don't we devote this podcast to how to open up again and how to keep the heart open.
Learning to love well might just be the most important thing any of us can do in this lifetime.
Aimee: Yeah, I need this episode right now. I think a lot of folks, um, feel closed up. And, uh, I like what the Sufi poet Hafiz wrote. "Love is the great work, but every heart is first an apprentice." So love, like, you know, all of the elements of joy is a skill.
It can be learned, and each of us is a learner. So... Let's learn to open up more, sting less, and let in more good stuff. Let in more love. And we'll do this through something that Henry calls the five lessons of love. So, Henry, you want to start us off?
Henry: Absolutely. So, we're, we're going to enter this with that image of all of us being apprentices.
We're all learners. So, the first lesson is to learn to love yourself first. I have taught a lot of courses over the years to try to help people with depression or anxiety to regain their resilience. And I have observed two things that seem just crucial to gaining that freedom from depression. The first is self acceptance, and that's what this lesson is about, and we're going to actually talk about the other one a little bit later. So let me try to get at this with a story, a teaching story that comes from the Muslim tradition. There are a number of these teaching stories about a character that was known as Mullah Nasruddin. I don't know if there was ever a real Mullah Nasruddin or not but he just sort of embodies in these stories a lot of our human foibles that we all can relate to.
So there's this story about Mullah Nasruddin trying to become a better gardener, and his concern specifically was that his garden was overrun with dandelions, something I can totally relate to, and probably a lot of us can't. So he was really frustrated and he was kind of a novice gardener. So he knew that he had to learn how to deal with this.
So he went to his neighbors who were more experienced and he asked them, you know, I've got this problem with dandelions. What do you do? What can I try to do to get rid of them? And he followed their guidelines and did everything he was told to do that he could think of to a T. And it didn't work.
The dandelions were still there and they kept coming back. So he took it up a notch. He went to the local, gardening club and talked to the master gardener there and asked them for the recommendations. And again, was given a number of suggestions that he hadn't tried. So he tried them and they didn't work.
So finally, after several iterations of this, he ended up getting a meeting with the king's master gardener. This is the best gardener in the land. And he told him his troubles and the gardener suggested a number of things to try. He said, "well, I've tried those, I've tried those." So he gave him a list of new things to try, which he did.
He worked and he worked and he worked. And then he got mad. Because it still didn't help. So he went back to the King's Gardener and was complaining to him. And the King's gardener said, "Well, did you try all these things?" Yes, I did. So then he just... Gets quiet. He thinks for a moment. He's stroking his beard and he says, "Well, there is only one thing you can do. You can learn to love the dandelions."
So, I see this as a story about self-acceptance. And I just think that there is a huge difference between self-improvement, which is what Mullah Nasruddin was trying to do, and which is what so many of us try to do. Between self-improvements and self-acceptance.
Many of us still hold the notion that if we want to be happy, we first have to weed out all of our flaws. And just like Nasruddin's dandelions, this is a never ending quest. Now, of course, we can all use a little improvement, but it is an illusion to think that we need to fix ourselves first before we can love well or even be happy.
You have to learn to love yourself first, then your apprenticeship can continue.
Yeah, let's continue to lesson two. So, learning to see the innocence in others. So at least for me, this can seem like sort of an impossible grand gesture when we encounter so many people in daily life and it's really easy, or at least I find it to be, um, it's easy to make harsh and unfair judgments on folks.
So I want to share a story, um, and a strategy that has helped me, I think as, as Dr. Leo Marvin would say, to take baby steps with seeing the innocence of others. So I hope others find it helpful as well. Alright, so here's the story. I was giving, a talk at a respiratory health conference and we had a listening session for folks, so that they could share some of their daily struggles with having a respiratory illness.
And someone stood up and shared how they used to be a marathoner, you know, super active, super healthy. But out of the blue, they got really sick and had to have a double lung transplant. So after transplant and lots of PT, they had those strong legs back, but they couldn't walk further than about 100 or 200 feet without having to stop and catch their breath for a few minutes.
So of course, they had a handicap sticker in their car. Alright, so now imagine a person with a handicap sticker pops out of the car, 50 feet from the entrance and heads into the store with their strong legs. Sort of jogging in even. But once in, they have to sit down for like five minutes, overcome with exertion, needing to rest.
But you just saw those first 50 feet. And so if you're like me. I would sit in my car and start like this angry monologue about that terrible person, right? What a jerk. Taking a handicap spot, they didn't need it. You know, et cetera, et cetera. Sort of down this path, . So now this person wouldn't hear my hateful words, but maybe catch that mean stare that I was giving them, or just feel my terrible energy toward them.
And as we've all probably encountered, some folks would yell out of their car windows, like some really terrible stuff. So, no matter if it was audible, this person felt these assaults daily or heard them. So, as the person was sharing the story, they were crying, just weeping in front of all of us in the audience.
And then I started crying, and I'm realizing at that moment that I've caused or contributed to this unfair pain that this person had and to others for no good reason and probably thousands of times. And that when I do it, it also infuses my day with anger and then and then I spread it by telling someone else about this jerk who parked in a handicapped spot for no good reason and then we go down this rabbit hole together about all the terrible people in the world and how the world is going to pot and things like that, right?
So the downward spiral takes hold and everybody's a little angrier for no reason. So it was on that day, after listening to that person's story, I did not stop judging people, cold turkey, I'm still working on this, but I chose to stop judging people who parked in handicapped spots that I thought shouldn't be parked there.
And so that might seem kind of silly, but this small little scenario, I chose to see their innocence, to assume that they were doing good. They should be parked there. That they were doing the best that they could. It was just one easy thing for me to do to stop a pattern of unfair judgment and anger that would build on itself, stew in me, you know, and then I'd transmit it.
And what's interesting by changing just this one pattern, now here's the upward spiral in action, and after a few successful encounters with that change, I wanted to choose another simple pattern in my life where I was quick to judge and that would cause me to hold on to unhelpful anger. Then I chose another, and another, right?
So right now I'm working on mom shaming. But like all of these little moments all these little shifts they add up and they help me open up.
Henry: That's a great story and I I believe, I really do believe, that every one of us is doing the best we can at any given time. Even when it doesn't look that way. And I think that when we can see others for who they really are, it also sends a sort of reflection back to them. It helps them to better accept themselves.
As somebody once said, life is so hard, how can we be anything but kind? So you have to learn to see the innocence in others. So, lesson three then, is learn to be vulnerable. And I want to share, uh, personal story that taught me a lot about vulnerability. This happened about, oh, 12, 10, 12 years ago, um, after my mother died.
And she was quite old and, she was, probably had been ready to die. It was, it wasn't a particularly difficult or sad death and I had a really kind of clean, good relationship with her. So I wasn't filled with a lot of the feelings that we sometimes struggle with. It was a relatively clean sense of loss. But it just so happened that she died two days before I was, Uh, supposed to give a retreat. And there were people coming from all over the country who had already bought their tickets.
Some of them were already here in Minnesota. And I just was struggling with what do I do? Do I come and facilitate this workshop or not? And so I was really trying to figure that out. And I talked to my co facilitator and I talked to my wife about it. And then I thought, what would my mom have wanted me to do?
And I know, without question, she would have wanted me to go ahead and do this. So I did. I made all the arrangements I needed to for her body being taken care of, her funeral arrangements, and then I went to this, uh, retreat center. And I got there a little late, so I missed the opening session, but I came right after supper that night, and we had another session, and my colleague had told everyone why I wasn't there initially, so they were, weren't surprised and I think they were happy I was there. So I just sat down in front of this group, there was about 40 people, kind of forming a big circle. And I sat right in the middle of this and I started to share my story, much like I just shared with you. And then, I started to cry. I could not speak anymore, and I just sat there.
I hadn't cried yet since she died. And I didn't think I was going to. I didn't realize that was there. But once it started, I could not stop. And I sat there just with the tears flowing for probably, you know, five to ten minutes. Seemed like a long time. And then, finally, someone in that group stood up and said, Something about when their mother died. And then another person stood up and shared a story of their loss, and it was Just such a remarkable, deep opening of all of us in that circle.
And I didn't know these people. I was clearly vulnerable. I was open with a group of people I had essentially never met before. And it was beautiful. It was magical, really. And the entire weekend kind of stayed that way with a sense of depth and openness and sharing that I have had never experienced before in a retreat. And I don't think I have since.
So, you know, we don't always have an experience like that to open us up. But we do have a lot of things that are capable of doing that if we can allow it. And when we can be open, when we are permeable, it deepens us, it softens us. And I think if we can let it, it can even wake us up. So, you have to learn to be vulnerable.
Aimee: It can be hard to be vulnerable.
Your story is good inspiration though, Henry. To sort of step into that vulnerability. And actually we have some really great experiments in the Joy Lab program that work with vulnerability, um, particularly for this element, but in many of the other, other elements as well. So there's so much there and Henry, your story connects also sort of with this next lesson of the heart.
Which is learning to listen deeply. And your openness and vulnerability after your mom's passing really created this great opportunity, I think, for you to be genuinely seen and heard. And I wonder if that's why the experience was so magical. You know, it's interesting too, how, how deep listening affects both those who take it in and those who are sharing.
I really love how also poet Marilyn Nelson sort of discusses this. She proposes this idea of communal pondering. Which I think connects with this idea of learning to listen deeply. Uh, that we connect with one another, that we create as we listen. And she talks about that in that deep listening, poetry arises and I see poetry as ritual and healing and connection that all arises as we listen. And so really, you have to learn to listen deeply. And we'll do some practices as well for that in the Joy Lab program.
Henry: So that brings us to lesson five. Learn to create a House of Belonging. So I mentioned earlier that there were two factors that I thought made the biggest difference in those who really, really changed their relationship with depression compared to those who weren't able to. And this is the other one.
It is that ability to get outside of ourselves to connect more deeply with others and to create a deeper sense of meaning within ourselves. So the phrase, A House of Belonging, is actually from a poem by David White. And I'm not going to take the time to read the poem right now, but I think it's a really beautiful image for how to create deeper connection.
And one of the things I like about the image is that this notion of building a house, if any of you have ever done that, there are so many parts to it that kind of flow from the preceding part. So it's a process and it begins really with an idea, a thought, an image in your mind of what you want to create.
And then that becomes a blueprint that is followed very, very closely. So I had an experience of this, a really direct experience of this. Some years ago, my family and I bought a piece of property in northern Minnesota and it had no buildings on it. So we decided to build a timber frame home. And for those who aren't familiar with that, if you've ever seen like an old fashioned Amish barn raising, that's timber framing.
It's creating the structure and then raising the these posts and beams up sort of together. A whole wall comes up and you need a lot of people to do this. You need a community to do this. And so we, uh, we started this process with building the, or cutting the timbers to fit with each other without using any metal.
So the joinery, it's called, has to be cut very precisely and it's, these timbers are big if you're building a house, and so it's a really big job. And we had no skills, and we'd never done this before, we had no ability to do this on our own. But we went to a folk school in northern Minnesota, a really great place, and invited friends to come help us.
We had two weeks to do this process and then invited people to come. And we ended up, we counted a total of Over 50 people who came for at least a few days and sometimes the whole two weeks to help us with this. And I think one of the reasons for that, that great outpouring of help and support is because people long for this kind of thing.
We, we just long for doing something together as a community to, to be able to not only build something literally with our hands, but to build something that's kind of intangible and really beautiful that happens when people come together with a shared goal and purpose. And it was truly one of the most remarkable experiences I have had in my life.
And I think my two sons and my wife would say the same thing. It was just an incredibly, um, rich and meaningful and fun experience to share this with people.
Aimee: Henry, you said that, uh, we had no skills. And that just struck me for a moment, this idea that we sometimes don't feel equipped. But that's why we learn. We're apprentices. We can all build a house like that. And again, in the Joy Lab program, we work on some experiments around doing that. And so, I think these lessons of the heart, they are all built in all of us, but they, they don't happen quite so automatically, right? If you don't feel equipped.
We know them, but it can be hard to practice. And we often, like, try everything else before to see if those things will make us happy. Will bring us joy. But again, that's why we practice these things at Joy Lab. So in the program, we're just apprenticing. We're working through these elements. We're working through these lessons on how to love. And we know them, but we need to practice them.
So I want to share a closing poem here, from Stephen Levine. And it's called, "If Prayer Would Do It."
" If prayer would do it, I'd pray. If reading esteemed thinkers would do it, I'd be halfway through the patriarchs. If discourse would do it, I'd be sitting with His Holiness every moment he was free. If contemplation would do it, I'd have translated the periodic table to hermit poems, converting matter to spirit. If even fighting would do it, I'd already be a black belt. If anything other than love, could do it, I've done it already. And left the hardest for last."
Henry: What a beautiful poem. So let's not leave the hardest part for last. Let's remember that love is the great work. And become real apprentices to learning to love well.
Thanks for joining us!:
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