Grief at Christmas and the joy that isn't happiness

"From joy all beings have come.

In all joy beings are sustained.

To joy all beings return.

This is the highest teaching.

This is the highest teaching."

—The Upanishads*

We are now on the eve of Christmas Eve. This time of year is supposed to be filled with joy but for many it isn't. Many experience sadness, grief, loneliness, fear and anxiety and can especially struggle with those feelings during a season of expected festiveness. This I know.

For 19 years, my experience of Christmas has been overshadowed by my feelings of grief and loss and aloneness.

19 years ago on the 19th of December my mum died. I not only lost my mum but also Christmas as I knew it.

As the years have passed, our family has expanded when Dad remarried and nieces and nephews have been born, and contracted as people have left this world. Papa, my mum’s dad, died the day after the fourth anniversary of mum’s passing and Christmas was overshadowed by yet another loss and more grief and sadness. For a long time I felt lost within a larger family and I grieved the loss of old way of traditions.

There can be so much expectation at this time of year by others and ourselves that we should be happy and festive and joyful. It can be even more painful when no matter how we try we can’t find that joy within ourselves. Pain and grief and sorrow cannot be commanded away. defines joy "as the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying."

But I no longer believe in that definition of joy because I have experienced something different. Joy is not the result of external experience. It is there always it’s just not what we think it is.

In his book, "The Presence Process," Michael Brown writes, "We confuse joy with the outer changing experience called "the pursuit of happiness." But experiencing authentic joy isn't just about feeling good. It's about feeling everything, which requires emotional inclusiveness."

He also says, "Authentic joy isn't an emotional state, but a state of being in which we accept all of life's offerings as required, especially challenging moments."

These last few months have presented me with many challenging moments. There have been a lot of tears as I have lay on the floor struggling to cope with pain, frustration and helplessness wondering when the pain would end, when I would be able to move freely again. I wanted to be somewhere in the future where I was healed and healthy again.

I realised that wanting to be anywhere other than where I was—fighting my reality—wasn’t helping me that it only made me more upset.

When I dropped my resistance and just accepted this is where I am right now I became peaceful because everything is allowed and included I was also able to see the positives of my pain and injuries: becoming more embodied, exploring how I move in my body, learning a new way to hold myself and walk in the world, my strength and resilience.

I noticed how my spirit beyond my small self was revelling in this experience as it revels in all of my life experience. This revelling is what I know now as a state of joy. It’s just not the kind of joy I thought of in the past.

It is only my mind that labels experiences and emotions as good and bad. My soul loves them all.

This Christmas season there are people I love who are missing from my physical world. Christmas of old is forever gone. And I am sad about this.

I don't feel delighted, light-hearted or frivolously happy anticipating the approach of Christmas Day. Maybe one day I will but how I feel right now is okay.

I don't have to love Christmas. I don’t have to pretend to be happy.

However you are feeling right now about Christmas and your life is okay. All feelings have their place in our human experience. It is all of our human life not just selective experiences or emotions such as passing moments of happiness that contribute to authentic joy.

Don't shun or resist the parts of you that hurt—love them. They are beautiful too. It is through experiencing all of life, all emotions that you will discover true joy.

* The Upanishads are a collections of texts that contain some of the central concepts of Hinduisim.