Photo by Alice Zheng

By Alice Zheng, Columnist

(700 words)

April was brutal. Not a nose-to-the-ground-back-to-the-sky kind of brutal, but with different shades of relentlessness.

At first I was too busy. I was busy from November to March and barely had room to breathe. I was choking with stuff to do and deadlines to meet.

Then I reached a breaking point. I had to set down some boundaries to institute discipline around my schedule, and all of a sudden I had free time.

It felt very strange to have that free time, and my first instinct was to pick up more projects. Luckily my manager stopped me, wise woman that she is, saying:

Remember two weeks ago when you were in my office telling me you had no time for anything? Why don’t you back off for a bit? I’ll tell you if you’re not working hard enough.

So I sat with my weird free time and twiddled my thumb. I felt nothing. No busy-ness, no adrenaline rush, no deadlines, no meetings.

I became bored. Days went by without drama, and I felt like I accomplished nothing. My free time gave room to doubt. Am I on the right path? What am I doing with my life?

At some point I realized that freedom, or at least free time, did not give me joy. And if I didn't have joy, then perhaps I was depressed.

In my tumultuous twenties and thirties, life was full of drama. Love was month-long sex-crazed co-dependent pure ecstasy. Depression was dark-pit-of-hell down and out. The emotional highs and lows were equally exhausting.

The last few years have been a reset. I did a ton of inner work. I went through waves of cleansing and deconstruction. I've arrived at a point where my life is refreshingly drama-free.

So, for a while, I didn't pick up on the lack of joy. I thought my lack of feeling was just an outcome of lack of drama. But, then I had a realization. Perhaps, if I am not in joy, then I'm depressed. If wholeness equals joy, then lack of joy indicates less-than-wholeness. Our natural state is a state of joy, of fullness. If we're not in joy, then we are in lack, and that is, in a way, depression.

My expectations required recalibration. Extreme ups and downs are not my desired end-state. Lack of joy just won't do, either.

I thought that perhaps joy came from meaningfulness. If I led a life of meaning, if I knew exactly what I was doing and why, if I was clear about my goal at every single moment, then I would be in joy. Right?

I asked my energy healer and she said, hmm, is that true?

Where does joy live in your body? Is it a mental satisfaction of having meaning? Or is it a heart-fullness of exuberance?

"I see where you're going with this." I said.

I'm too obsessed with goals and meaning. I measure the quality of my life with how much I've accomplished, how far I've progressed on the path. I agonize over my path. I second guess my progress.

None of that has anything to do with joy.

Joy is...carefreeness, a lightness, an exuberance, a fullness of the heart. It's bright eyes and bushy tails.

Joy is not what I think of as meaning. Joy is a living experience. It's something we feel, not something we think.

So here's my new plan. (My scheming, thinking self still needs somewhat of a plan to feel at ease.) If I want joy, I'll have better luck doing things that are completely meaningless, that don't help me achieve anything, that don't even make intellectual sense.

Instead of aiming for meaning, I’ll aim for silliness. Fluffy, carefree silliness that makes my heart sing.

So far, my silly "accomplishments" include: writing Facebook posts that make me chuckle for hours, drinking tea and eating chocolate for four hours with an old friend while stroking soft, soft kitties, a hair-brained scheme to create an operetta on psychotherapy (thanks Gillian!), climbing a 1,500 foot cliff for the sheer enjoyment of it, visiting national parks in southern Utah (okay that was so easy it was almost cheating), recording my mother singing a song from her youth.

And you? What's your silly today?

Alice Zheng is an author, photographer, meditation practitioner, and senior research science manager at a large e-commerce and cloud computing company in Seattle. She is a recovering perfectionist and over-achiever. Her life's mission is to be a bridge: between science and spirituality, between technology and business, between the inner and outer worlds. Alice shares glimpses of her quest for more beauty and ease as a regular contributing columnist for Lucia.