WHAT REBECCA TAUGHT ME ABOUT THE MAGICAL POWER OF JOY
“Life is full of possibilities and you must always dive in,” said Rebecca.
From the moment I met Rebecca, I knew she was a diver. We were 24 years old and we met at the BBC, where we both worked, on her first day. I had one of those supremely rare and inexplicably certain moments that she and I were destined to meet. We were soulmates.
Rebecca – without being in any way flamboyant or over-the-top – expressed the most literal interpretation of joi de vivre I have ever seen. She exuded joy, without waiting for the conditions to be right. She could light up a darkened room in neon.
She had a technicolour appreciation for the simple pleasures of life. These were her pleasures: good friends, Prosecco, sunny days, the reddest red lipstick, clothes, shopping for clothes, dressing up in lovely clothes….. When she didn’t love something, instead of getting dark about it, she infused it with what she knew she did love. So when her work situation got her down (as happens to all of us) she instinctively ramped up her contact with the things that connected her to her inner joy, which gave her light and faith and perspective.
One of her biggest joys was writing. That first day I met her, she told me that. It was something she and I shared. Unsurprisingly for someone so focussed on their loves, she left a very successful career at the BBC to pursue an even more successful one as an author. “Do what you love” is a motto many of us uphold, but how many of us really follow that guiding light of what we love, with the courage and trust and passion that Rebecca showed?
She gave birth to three delicious, abundantly joyful children – her son and twin daughters – and she infused them with the spirit of joy, of course she did, she could do no other. And they gave it straight back to her. Hers was the household you went to when you needed a bit of cheering up.
She was intimate with joy. Her dominant vibration was joy. There is a Sanskrit word anandarmta – “joy-nectar”. That was Rebecca. Of course, she was also connected to all the other vibrations of life – to frustration, weariness, bewilderment, pain. She was the most human of humans, making her so genuine and compassionate. She wore no masks. Her bright red lipstick was an expression of her vibrancy, not a piece of armour, as lipstick can be.
Something I still find unfathomable happened about 18 months ago. My beloved ray of light, my dearest friend, was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She lived for about a year from the initial diagnosis. We talked every day. Her suffering is unimaginable but it was visceral. She was full of grief because she loved life – “I don’t want to die, Ali!” I remember her crying in a desperate, almost-begging tone. Every moment she looked at her children, filled with love and pride, she was equally filled with grief and fear. Bad news after bad news came her way – the hope of a new drug made her elated, she felt as if she had been given her life back. The same drug nearly killed her. Throughout her whole journey, she remained full of light. She remained completely herself and more so. She continued to wear her favourite red lipstick, to exercise the plastic in the online shopping community, and she love, love, loved spending time with her friends and family – often with a glass of Prosecco.
It was the joy and the vibrancy of that joy that kept her – and actually, everyone around her – going. And it wasn’t a fakely mustered, “I’ve got to put a brave face on this”; it was the true spirit of joy. Yes, it went alongside these horrible feelings of grief and fear and anxiety and sadness, but her vibrancy went so deep, all of these could be held by it, be infused by its healing and energizing current.
And when we – her friends and family – talk about Rebecca…when I remember her, if I just bring her to light…what I feel is not pure sadness. Amongst the sadness I feel the joy, buoyantly rising up inside me. I can hear her throaty chuckle, warm against my shoulder. I can feel the very vibration of joy, filling me up.
The practice of connecting to joy is a necessity. It is a life changer. Where we place our attention trains our inner compass. Joy is not just for the good times. Joy can be a satellite, a homing signal. Maybe joy is a literal survival instinct? But like all instincts, to truly keep them honed and useful, you need to keep using them. Maybe joy is like a muscle – if you stop using it, it loses substance, and it becomes weak so that when you most need that muscle to strengthen you, you collapse. Rebecca’s practice of joy was uncomplicated, but it was frequent. She exalted the little things, the simple things. She worked out in the joy gym. When she most needed it – it gave her supreme strength, foundation and support. It was so powerful, it held all of us up too.
And here’s another very important thing. Rebecca was not in any practices of life denial. She did not get into inner conflict about whether she could have a slice of cake or a glass of wine or whether that new colour in the red lipstick range at Mac should not be hers. She loved what she loved with her whole heart and without conditions, which is why we – her friends, her family, her husband, and her children – have been so lucky. To be loved that unequivocally and freely.
Meditation is an opportunity self-connection and connection with that “deeper” “higher” that expresses to itself to us in ways which are personal and individual. When I teach meditation, I always say the fastest, most direct route to thriving in your meditation practice, is to invoke what you love. * And to approach meditation in a life affirming attitude, which can be challenging for people in life denying practices – but keep practicing and it gets easier and easier, especially when you see how deep and delicious it makes your meditation practice become.
Rebecca is a stunning example of how the practice of joy is in fact a necessity. And it’s the same in meditation, too. It’s important because it makes meditation delicious and we want meditation to be delicious and inviting, so that we keep doing it. And it’s important because it makes meditation about us – you – as an individual. And we want meditation to be about us as individuals – about our personal connection.
But it’s also important because it’s about harnessing a power: a strength that we sometimes really, really need, and we would struggle to get it if we are either out of practice or have a practice of doing the opposite. If we have a conscious practice of eradicating joy from our lives, from our meditation practices – and there are lots of ways we can do this, accidentally often – then we are in trouble when we really need to call on something powerful and vibrant to keep us going through adversity in life. It’s a problem to disconnect from joy because it’s a disconnection from self – what we love and what makes us feel joyful to be alive – it’s us receiving the elixir, us receiving the abundance.
I am very clear I am not advocating a “Pollyanna”, spin it, make it happy, approach. Because that doesn’t hold when life gets tough. It wouldn’t have held Rebecca. It’s something else. We already have this current of joyful connection. When babies smile and laugh, they are expressing this. We’ve had it since birth. It is hard wired into us. It’s the flame that doesn’t go away. But we can suffocate that flame, we can leave the fire untended so it whittles to embers, and we want to be careful about that. Equally, it’s our fire and we can keep it burning, sometimes just by remembering it. (Below this blog are some meditation practice suggestions for connecting to joy, and “remembered joy” is one of them and a powerful one.) It’s keeping it alive in the midst of everything else, not spinning everything to pretend that there aren’t certain tragedies in life, you can’t spin them into a joyful thing but you can somehow keep going and find your joy.
Rebecca danced the dance of life so perfectly, so gracefully, authentically and with compelling magic which drew us all in. She knew how to keep her inner flame burning, before the time came when she really needed to know. She stayed close to her inner vibrations. She lived in the practice of joy, in every tiny bite sized taste of it (her lipstick, binge watching Sex in the City), as much is in the huge heart expanding explosions of it (the birth of her children, her love for them and her husband every single day).
“Life is full of possibilities and you must always dive in” is the quote on the handout from the celebration of Rebecca’s life which was held in December last year.
Today is her birthday. She would have been 50. Now she is eternally whatever age she has picked (she will have had fun with that one). The best thing of all about her embodiment of joy, her being the vibration of joy, is that her vibration truly is eternal. There is another Sanskrit word nityanandarasa – “essence of eternal joy.” That’s her. Happy Birthday, Becca. Lifting my glass of Prosecco toward the sun.