Posted: March 12, 2021 in: Pain-2-Power, Personal Empowerment


A friend of mine named Howard Strauber sent me a quote early this morning from Jeanette Jenkins, a fitness trainer.  It’s simple enough, but I initially took exception to it.  Here it is:

Never give anyone the power to take away your joy.

My first thought was that those words seemed naïve, given that “anyone” could be your jailer or someone who robs you, assaults you, burns down your business or curtails your liberties through misguided legislation.  But then I thought more about the words.  And I realized that each of us really does have the ability to summon joy, by intention, no matter the circumstances.  It’s sometimes very, very hard.  It’s sometimes next to impossible.  But it is not impossible.  And that was my minor moment of epiphany this morning.

Can a person who is sentenced to prison, where all manner of horrors can unfold (trust me, I know; I’ve visited dozens of prisoners in jails, including federal prisons) still find joy?  How?

The answer is yes.  That person is still breathing, for instance.  Breathing alone is a miracle.  It is also a tool to achieve peace and focus through meditation.  That person can still read—receiving ideas via written characters on a page being another miracle.  That person can still love freedom, perhaps even more passionately, while being deprived of it.  That person can still create, if only on a scrap of paper, with a dull pencil.  That person can still be willing to receive kindness (though it may be in short supply) and can still be looking for ways to bestow kindness upon others.  That person can still recognize that unexpected, glistening pages and chapters of his or her life story can still be written.  A friendship, a new or renewed or sustained connection with God (or the universe, if you prefer), new and startling creative or intellectual or philosophical insights.

A squirrel by the window of one’s jail cell is both a melancholy reminder of one’s imprisonment or an exhilarating reminder that no one can keep life from finding each of us, no matter where we find ourselves.  The hearts that beat in our chests should remind us of that.

So, what does it really take to deny anyone and everyone the power to take away your joy?  It takes intention.  Joy is with you, in fact, in just the way your pulse is.  Most of the time, you don’t pay attention to it.  Sure, when there are bursts of joy you do—just in the way that you notice your heart racing when you’re startled or working out.  Otherwise, it takes the decision to take your pulse or get very quiet and sense your heart beating in your chest.  The latter seems very much like what is required to feel the constant presence of joy, too.

Take a few moments right now to think about a situation you would find very distressing.  Imagine you’re in that situation and then also imagine that, at the very same time, you remember that you are breathing, or not in terrible physical pain, or still able to think of someone you very much love, or still about to think about love itself.  Maybe even think about putting two fingertips on your wrist and actually feeling the miracle of your pulse—evidence of your immeasurable, mystical, miraculous connection to . . . everything.  No matter what.  Would there not be joy in that?

Dr. Keith Ablow


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