I’ve always found the truth in the saying, “If you want to know the end, look at the beginning.” I’ve been unpacking a lot lately in the last 26 years of my adult life. When I think back to the young person I was in 1994 at the age of 20, the personal development work I have done encourages me to better understand who I really am at my core.
When I think of joy and how it usually manifests itself for me, I can’t help but think back to my childhood and the ubiquitous staple food that was always there in the form of black soul music. There are songs that I can still hear today – like “Sir Duke” by Stevie Wonder from his 1976 magnum opus Songs in the Key of Life – that always evoke feelings of happiness and pure joy. Listening to music from this golden age of the soul is always effective in changing my mood (s). Albums released by Rufus & Chaka Khan in the late 1970s and early 1980s; Earth, wind; Deniece Williams; the emotions; the Jones girls; and Aretha Franklin are forever in my memory thanks to my parents and the fact that soul music was religion at home.
However, my relationship with joy was anything but a straight line. After years of self-work and reflection, I now realize that I have worked with a very low vibration for most of my adolescent and young adult life. My late teenage years were marked by internal emotional struggles, problems with body image and general depressive moods. Everything that resembled joy back then was almost always related to music (e.g. a new album release by a favorite artist or concerts I went to) or vacation with my mother and other family members and friends. Back then, anything that was fun was fleeting at best.
For much of my young adulthood, my perceptions and views of love and romance mirrored those of joy – I knew it when I saw them, I could celebrate them for others, but somehow I had allowed myself to believe that it wasn’t for me was possible. So I accepted that fact and got on with my life, learning over time to prepare for the inevitable blows and never get too used to things going well. Simply put, I had become functionally dysfunctional.
A diagnosis – and a change of perspective
When HIV came into the picture in 2004, it deepened every single negative thought, emotion and fear that I had had for years. The acceptance of my diagnosis and the subsequent adjustments made an already difficult situation appear even more weighty.
However, as time went on, something else happened. I realized that my “greatest fear” at the time – infection with HIV – had already happened, and yet I was still standing. With this realization, my perspective changed. Reading the book series “Conversations with God” by Neale Donald Walsch and just about everything that was written by Iyanla Vanzant helped fundamentally change my point of view and my thinking as a whole. As I continued to set up my own business and use much of what I digested, I gained more clarity about the emotional loop I was always in.
As more points began to connect, my thinking process continued to change and an awakening began. Up to this crucial turning point in my mid-30s, I felt powerless in my attempts to get a grip on everything that even remotely resembled joy. In hindsight, I can see how all of the challenges I faced between the ages of 17 and 35 – managing my sexuality, low self-esteem, body dysmorphism, depression, growing up, and then HIV – left little room for anything but survival. This realization was sobering as it revealed to me how I had been repeating (in my own way) the experiences I had as a child, essentially doing what many blacks have been doing for ages – by whatever means necessary to survive.
It was only when there was a permanent shift in consciousness that my mind opened to a healthier and more holistic way of thinking, which then gave way to a new belief and a new idea of the need to feel and experience joy. I was slowly beginning to believe that I was worthy.
A human feeling that we all deserve
Joy arises from freedom, self-expression and many other things that I inadvertently denied myself in my earlier years on the way to find my way in this world. I can see now that all of this was part of the master plan, even though it meant spending a considerable number of years “in the dark,” without a natural, human feel and experience, so to speak, that we all deserve.
As a black gay, HIV infected and artist, I have worked long and hard to make visibility and authenticity the cornerstones of my life. Now at the age of 46, peace, ease and comfort are part of what I want to feel as often and as often as possible. Allowing myself to experience the gift of joy – even in the smallest way – is vital and revolutionary. After more than a year of living through this pandemic, experiencing joy is more important than ever. In fact, in response to much of the pandemic drama, I’ve become more willful and insistent about the easier ways I can experience joy.
Nowadays I find joy in many ways: through the artistic work that I create and present; exercise while happily losing myself in my favorite music; Spending time with my chosen family and friends; Cooking, baking and trying new recipes; and, of course, food – which would please any real gourmet like me. All the everyday things that I have built in, besides traveling and discovering new places, are examples of activities that increase my mental and emotional vibrations.
After all, I will always enjoy anything soul music – collecting vinyl albums is one of those pastimes that always make me feel sublime. As a kid, I may not have known what these songs literally meant, but I was always able to connect with the energy and spirit of the music, which always left me cheering. Because of what it all represents and how peaceful the music always makes me feel, soul music – and the nostalgia it now creates for me – is a constant source of joy.