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The Joy Project At Age One, or: Don’t Know Much About Blisstory

March 29, 2011

It’s been a year. I started the Joy Project in March of 2010, and I find myself at an embarrassing juncture.

I’ve enjoyed the journey, I’m proud of some of my posts, and it’s certainly been gratifying and fulfilling  to be in contact with you this way each week. But I’m at a loss as to how to continue.

I started with great intentions and expectations, sharing what I thought (and still think) to be great ways to access and perpetuate joy. In truth, I wanted the blog to morph into a book. I wanted it to go viral. Neither has occurred. Worse, I feel no closer to a truly joyful life myself. Oh my life is rich, saturated with blessings, often satisfying and sometimes happy. But joyful? Not so much.

Sometimes I feel like one of those teachers who can teach, but not do. Do I really know more about how to actually live joyfully than anyone else?

Perhaps I’ve been cursed by the blog’s title. “The Joy Project” sets up, quite understandably, an expectation by the reader that it will deliver not just information about how to live joyfully, but also an author who would himself  be, at least over time,  a shining, inspiring example of same. So the title promises more than it delivers. Further, having to perform weekly and fulfill these expectations makes me less joyful.

So what am I doing?

Today I find myself wanting to shed what I try to impress you with, like an expensive car whose payments I can no longer afford.

Writing this now, I realize that the burden I feel is the burden of a role – the role of Knower or Expert. It now feels like a straight jacket.

So I need to say that perhaps I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. Perhaps I’m not up to the task. I aim for profundity, significance, to be inspiring; but lately I feel out of steam – spent, tired, and uninspired.

Interesting — when I stop right now and think – is all this actually Charley talking, or just his ego? — I start feeling the clouds lifting. How much about my wanting to impress you, and move you, is about trying to look good? If I drop this, what (and who) is left?

What happens if I drop the role of Knower?

Says my friend Rich, “Once you give up writing about what you know, the topics are endless!” He’s also a writer.

What happens if I surrender my attachment to looking good? Or being a success? It’s helped to push me ahead in life, but it has often made me miserable, as I have continuously measured myself against what I’ve believed a man at 30,  40, or 60 should have been earning, or should have accomplished by that time.

Having aimed to always live my life on a grander scale, I’ve simply ended up living my life on a scale.

This attachment to my life’s story working out a certain way; to my ego’s investment in being looked up to; or even my thing about wanting to be attractive to young women – these are all so many sandbags weighing down my balloon. When I even think about letting them go, I start lightening up.

And embracing my ignorance feels like a relief.

But what if one makes their living by looking good, or at least looking like they know something of value? Like the role I play as a therapist: people pay me to deliver my expertise to them about everything from how to feel what they feel, to how to get along with a mate, to how to best live life.

And yes, I have some knowledge about these things. But so often I feel stumped in that room! And so often I wish I had the courage to admit it! It’s as if I believe it’s the worst thing a therapist could do: You mean I’m paying you $130 an hour, and you don’t know what to do for me?!

Yet paradoxically the best therapy often happens when the therapist drops the mask, pops out of the role, and in effect says, “Hi – it’s just me, here with you.”

Once I had an especially difficult and disturbed patient, who’d seen countless therapists before me, all to no avail. Soon I discovered why that was. When he’d describe the work he did with them, it seemed like he was trying his best to defeat them, along with himself. He proved each therapist, and each kind of approach, to be useless, and it seemed to leave him increasingly frustrated, despairing and cynical. Soon he was engaged in the same behavior with me, and I found him maddening. Finally one day, exasperated, and at a complete loss, I confessed that I didn’t have a clue what to do for him.

“No one has ever said that to me before,” he said. “Though I could tell they all felt that way.” He was so grateful! It was the one and only truly therapeutic moment we had together.

Well, you may not feel grateful for this, but I really don’t have a clue as to how to actually live and sustain a joyful life. At least not information useful enough to actually make me any more joyful than I ever was, which was not very.

Just saying this now, I feel relief, shedding the Role Of Knower like so much really good looking, but very heavy clothing.

So where do I go with the blog from here?

I don’t know.

18 Comments leave one →
  1. March 29, 2011 10:55 am

    Reading this entry leaves me feeling as if the Joy Project has gotten a new lease on life. As you entertain living a life of authenticity, of radical acceptance of what you really think and feel. and leave the realm of role playing, the potential for a more lasting and dynamic joy seems to be lurking beneath the surface waiting to be revealed. It’s a scary step, but in this blog you have already jumped into the pool with as we used to say, “The whole world watching”. If you have the courage to do that, and you are proving to be a courageous son of a bitch, then the only difficulty is the necessity to recommit again and again and again to what is truly authentic to you now. After all who within you is capable of feeling, or is it fueling, true joy more than your authentic self?

    • April 1, 2011 4:55 pm

      Thank you, Rob. Yes, “radical acceptance” — what Ram Dass calls, “And that, too.” Meaning, say you’re having a problem with a co-worker, but you know it’s your stuff. Radical acceptance would mean, yes, I accept that I’m angry at this co-worker. And yes, it’s really about me, I accept that. And yeah, that’s a pain in the butt, because I’d rather just blame the co-worker for being an asshole — yes, that too.

      I’ll try to keep in mind your supportive words to “recommit again and again to what is truly authentic”. It means always coming back to one’s center. What a pain!

      Yeah, and that, too.

  2. Dan permalink
    March 29, 2011 11:42 am

    I have really enjoyed the last year of your blog. to be honest I just love your voice……keep on writing about anything and it will be great…..

  3. Laurie permalink
    March 29, 2011 2:43 pm

    How ’bout “The Honesty Blog”?

    Thanks for sharing your struggle, Charley – I agree with the others – you have a voice that’s worthwhile hearing, and I would miss your blog visits if you stopped.

    I’m a big fan of Krista Tippett, who has a radio show now called “On Being” (formerly “Speaking of Faith”). On Being is perhaps what you are really writing about – with a sense that pure being really is joyful, but for us humans, being is rarely pure. Writing helps us sift through all the clutter that clouds the purity – often just making room for other types of clutter – that pesky, self-conscious, egotistical wind just keeps blowing — (aha! is this what Bob D. is talking about?) – but I see that the effort to keep at it does bring rewards – while just letting the clutter accumulate breeds a smothering stagnation.

    Is it joy you’re after, Charley, or truth? Joy is a wonderful color, whereas truth is painted in every shade of the spectrum….including all those colors that appear to be putrid. No matter how beautiful a color may be, its beauty becomes monotonous if that is all you look at. Perhaps it’s about cultivating an attitude that does not look away from the kaleidoscope when the colors and design are not pleasing–so that we are sure to be paying attention when they are.

    • April 1, 2011 5:00 pm

      “letting the clutter accumulate breeds a smothering stagnation”. Ah, yes. And beauty can become monotonous, unless of course we’re talking about bosoms.

    • April 1, 2011 5:01 pm

      Also, the similarity of your response and that of my nephew, Dan, below, is stunning.

  4. ellen permalink
    March 29, 2011 3:04 pm

    Charley. Now we’re down to brass tacks. The truth is, that nobody can be joyful all the time, and that the “best” joy only comes out of struggle with pain.

    Why don’t you drop the burden you have just set down and instead of trying to be “joyful” become what you already are: a seeker.

    A seeker.

    There is no shame in that, ever.

    You can continue to share your thoughts with us without the burden of “TELLING” about one particular aspect of life. You can cover the whole spectrum, all the colors, as Laurie says. And nobody can be joyful all the time, truly.

    Go back to your thinking, feeling, living, and tell us what happens. Sometimes you’ll find joy, but there will be a lot of other interesting discoveries, too.

    Write about them.

    People will want to hear as much about the struggle, about the seeking, as about the joy.

  5. Dave Abramowitz permalink
    March 29, 2011 6:38 pm

    Charley, you do have a great heart and it’s we, your readers and your friends, who take and know much joy in it. What I’ve always loved so much about you was your ability to go to and discuss all the little and large aspects of life. So many get trapped in their roles they assume, and it’s so beautiful you won’t settle for it. I’m proud of you for having the courage to see it. I do feel our true love and happiness resides in our knowing, honoring, and entering into grateful, true relationship with our Creator. The deeper we go, the more we may sense it. It’s so beautiful you see when joy becomes another form of addiction, it is not joy anymore, but how beautiful it is to see there is, in coming to know and honor our truth, and recognizing a larger truth, where our real truth-and-joy resides. I will always love you for your honesty and your great heart that cares that you would give your best and what’s most real for us, and most truly share. Thank you for being a friend. It meant so much over the years. Thank you, Laurie and others for your also heartfelt and shared and honest insights.

    Your readers and bloggers mirror and greater reflect your caring, and the joy, Charley, so many have taken in just knowing you. We can take much joy in your also owning your crotchety side, also. God bless you and Shelley, and may your circle ever greater widen, and take much joy from the fact of knowing you don’t quite know how much you are loved. I’ve got to stop. I think I need a Kleenex.

    Your buddy from the seventies, O’bramowitz, or Mr. O’bamawitz, as some of my Black college students now call me.

    • April 1, 2011 5:07 pm

      Owning my “cratchety side”?! What an idiot you are! I don’t have a crotchety side!

  6. Robin permalink
    March 29, 2011 6:48 pm


    I’m a recent bloggee (this may/may not be real term) but one who is an avid follower each week. As such I feel compelled to add my voice of encouragement to the chorus above. It’s funny to hear you acknowledge and relinquish the role of Knower. I can imagine that would become a burden pretty quickly. Personally I hadn’t notice you assume that role, to me your thoughts and stories are observational in quality, although I do often derive some learning and insight from them. I say: if you enjoy it and get something from it, keep on observing – minus the pressure to be an Oracle. And I’ll keep reading, laughing, empathizing, thinking and all the rest that follows.


  7. Diana Slattery permalink
    March 29, 2011 8:50 pm

    Feel like you just arrived at the starting line and have discovered there’s no race there! Congratulations. Keep writing. You could get a bit more terse and call it the “Oy project.” Step over the line. A whole new set of challenges, joys, sorrows, awaits in the next phase.

    Who knows what you might find if you let go the old set of goals? Good luck, and we’re listening.

    • April 1, 2011 5:13 pm

      Thank you, Diana. Last night I went for Chinese food for the first time in a while, and read your response and all the other responses to my post.

      After my meal, I got a fortune cookie. It reads, “Perceived failure is oftentimes success trying to be born in a bigger way.”

  8. Dan permalink
    March 29, 2011 9:04 pm

    Really great responses above. What you really want, Charley, is Truth, not Joy. That’s what it looks like to me, anyway. Joy is great, but Truth is Primary, and Joy is Secondary. Truth is the ground from which Joy grows.

    I would change the ladder graphic to another one, like a wheel. If growth is what you seek, the ladder is a stressful analogy. The ladder implies that the way to go is one direction. It is a moving away from earth, and the steps are set. And you can fall off.

    Someone wise told me once that true growth happens in cycles, like day and night. During the night, our lives are difficult–we are facing our demons, we are underground, digging inside the shit of our own psyche and playing it out into the landscape of our lives. During the day, we emerge with new knowledge about ourselves, and we transmute the darkness we experienced during the night and bring forth a productive fruit into the daylight. We dig things up from our dark subconscious and bring them up/let them grow into the light of our consciousness. And then, we go back down under for another period of darkness, ever alternating between light and dark.

    It’s not ascension into our personal heavens that we need so much, but rather a deep, scary exploration of our own darkness. Joy is out of the question. Joy is not for sale. You can’t explain it. You know how personal an experience it is. It can be instilled, but not given. Truth, on the other hand, can be more easily instilled.

    • April 1, 2011 5:17 pm

      Hmmm…I like your suggestion about changing the graphic! Very true about how the ladder represents the problem of Chapter One of this blog, and I’m now ready for Chapter Two..

      But I’m not so sure I can sign on to the “no pain, no gain” ethic you and Ellen (above) propose. Oh, it’s true enough. But if suffering leads to joy, that would mean most of the planet would be a joyful place these days.

  9. March 30, 2011 2:23 am

    I think you’re a terrific writer. Just keep writing about your feelings and experiences with your usual eloquence and clarity. It’s not necessary to have all the answers.

    I’d agree with Ellen, too, that it’s better to be a seeker.

  10. Ian Sherman permalink
    March 31, 2011 3:23 am

    I really enjoyed reading this blog because, as one person said- It’s authentic and I can relate as a therapist and many others, I’m sure, can relate to it as well. It think you’re right that you are not the expert on joy but I think you can bring us along on your joyful journey that brings us through some of your challenges that make you stronger and wiser. I hope the journey continues and that you never stop growing Charlie.. Great work !

  11. March 31, 2011 4:05 am

    I once heard myself say to a class I was teaching: “Fortunately being a teacher of this work doesn’t require me to be happy; it requires me to be real.” Because my reality that night was the pits. I was certainly no shining example of how the work “ought to” be reflected by the teacher, in my own estimation. I told you when you started a year ago that the title was going to trap you. At the time I suggested you call it the What Is Project instead, which is similar to The Honesty Project someone suggested above.But the title doesn’t matter, it’s really the Charley Project, for better or worse, and it sounds like your fan base makes much less harsh demands on you than you do. Keep those joyless blogs coming baby!

    P,S, If you can’t meet me after the show at the Open Center, please let me know soon.

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