A few summers ago, I attended an Off The Mat, Into The World yoga training up in beautiful Lake Tahoe. The training itself was incredible. One day of the training was focused on somatic experiences, and included a dance party.
I want dance parties to be my thing so badly. They just aren't. I don't enjoy the act of flailing around a room with strangers, gyrating to music, and looking foolish. For me to really feel it on the dance floor, I require a giant crowd and more booze than I ever consume.
As I watched the people I was in training with move all around the room, freely dancing and enjoying it, I decided to make a swift exit to the bathroom. When I got there, it was occupied, and as I sat in the hallway waiting, I starting beating myself up for not being in the dance party.
Why don't you feel comfortable?
Why do you hate your body?
Why can't you just relax for once?
One of the facilitators from the training emerged from the bathroom and could clearly see my distress. She asked why I wasn't out on the dance floor, and true to form, I started crying and muttered something about how I didn't like it and it just wasn't for me but I was going to use the restroom and then go in and try again.
I kid you not, she looked at me like this.
I was confused, at first mistaking her words and expression for not understanding why I didn't want to dance. I launched into another explanation, and she gently put her hand on my shoulder and said, "No, not why do you not like it, why are you doing this?"
I stopped talking.
She explained that it was enough to just not like something, and to stop doing it.
This was news to me. I had never considered the fact that not liking something was enough of a reason to just not do it.
I collected myself and returned to the room. I stood against the wall and clapped and did some Awkward Leaning In Time To Music and watched as others joyfully weaved around the room, and for the first time, I felt truly free to choose the things that worked for me, and to leave the rest behind.
In what feels like an endless discussion of self-care on the Internet, I repeatedly read things over and over again that are something to the effect of "I CHOOSE JOY!"
I want to choose joy. I really do. That said, my emotions tend to come crashing in like a bull in a china shop. I would LOVE to be able to "choose joy" and leave it at that. That sounds downright delightful. But for someone who feels things deeply and lives from her emotional center, I don't always have the capacity to just decide to be happy and let that be enough.
If you have some sort of potion that makes this possible, please let me know.
That said, what I learned in that dance party meltdown, and what I continue to learn over and over is that while it is not possible to always choose joy, it is always possible to stop doing things you hate.
This feels like a revolutionary act to me.
I think we are often tempted by things that seem really fun to others. Dance parties at yoga, for example. For some people, that's an opportunity to have fun and let loose; for me, it's a hellscape. It can be tempting to look at the things that bring other people joy and fault ourselves for not enjoying those things, when in reality, there is nothing wrong with having a different vision of fun.
A few months ago, I sat down and made a list of all the things I do: work and school and extra-curricular things I say yes to and workouts I feel pressured to complete and all the things that fill my time. And as I examined each one and its place on my calendar, I started to realize how few of those things I really enjoyed. I paid attention to things I knew I wanted to do and saw how little space they were occupying in my life.
What I realized in that moment is that I forgot I had a choice. While adulthood certainly brings things we must do (bills need to be paid, I have a job to do, not cleaning my house is icky) I had said yes to so many things that I'd convinced myself I had to do in order to be loved, to have value, or to be doing things "right." Remembering that I did not, in fact, have to do any or all of these things gave me the biggest dose of freedom I have experienced in a long time.
Rather than forcing myself to complete workouts I don't enjoy, I have committed to going to Team Ride for spin class a few times a week, because it makes me feel strong, happy, and capable. I've been back on my yoga mat in classes with teachers that make me feel seen and loved, rather than fighting my way through classes I don't enjoy. I took eleventy billion work things off my plate so that next year, I have room to be a joyful person again rather than feeling pushed to my limits.
It was a gift to be reminded that not liking something is enough of a reason to not do it -- no dramatics or long-winded explanations required. It's enough to not like it.
While I don't think I will ever adopt the philosophy of "Choosing Joy" what I am wholeheartedly adopting is "Choosing Not To Do Things You Hate." My guess is that they are pretty closely connected, and that's good enough for me.