We spend more time managing our stress than cultivating joy. As soon as these words escaped my mouth, fell into the phone and swam across the ocean, I knew I’d just self-diagnosed a lifelong disease, earning the black belt of stress management. Sounds a little bloated? Let me explain.
It started out the year my father died. Suicide. Talk about non-ideal. Our happy little curtain fell waaay down. Everything shattered in messy tatters. Wrapped my whole family up in a dirty and dusty shame shroud that insisted on following us everywhere. Into our neighborhood. Grocery shopping. On the playground. Wherever my mother interviewed. It even tried to follow me to school. Which is how I first learned to choke down my stress. I was 9.
Over the years, I became masterful at sucking things up and getting through whatever needed to be lived on Fast-Forward: Grief. Bullies. Chemistry (yes, I was a chemistry major freshman year–one epic wtf!?). Poverty. Coming to America. Founding my first company. Feeling like a total failure. Imposter syndrome. Pitch meetings in all-dude rooms. Living inside the internet belly that is sometimes NYC. I swallowed stress like a champ. Always at peak performance. Never breaking a sweat.
And then depression happened. I flunked out of the rat race. Like flopped flat on my arse. Like stopped working or socializing or wanting to be. Escaping into the recesses of my imagination was the only real thing I could do. And in case that sounds pretty—details neatly glossed over—understand it was a Baby Suggs in Beloved couped upstairs and studying The Colour Purple type of All I Could Do.
Writing saved me. In the most fundamental and urgent way that a life can be saved. In each word, writing returned me to the person I was when the only reason to do something was because of its inherent joy. I relished the delicious mouth feel of words like hearth and kith and kin; how they suck breath through the tip of a tongue and stack up into staccato song just by sitting snug on a page.
Slowly, quietly, this new and initially fragile joy helped me claim a fundamental truth about myself. I Am An Artist. Full Stop. Thirty plus years of denial and detours have done nothing to squelch this basic fact. If anything, my unmet hunger to create fermented and festered into potent dark matter, like diamonds awaiting rapture below pressurized coal. And funny thing—I knew it all along. Knew that creating worlds with my hands and mind fired the wildflower that is my heart; I just didn’t have the chutzpah to unleash the kinetic fuel of what was building inside—a loaded atom bomb thawing on ice.
And then, many years of writing and questioning and painful winters later, a very strange thing happened. I woke the fuck up. I read a book that aroused the inner God sleeping fitfully inside me. I’d long been on a spiritual quest, but something about this book and it’s wisdom pierced so deeply and so profoundly, I could feel the Divine and Infinite Being within me expand.
Was it because I was home, tethered to ancestral soil? Was it because I was in Cape Town— cocooned by majestic mountains and two gobsmacking oceans that everyday shout out our planet’s first love song? Or was it simply because I finally quit a stressful job that wanted to AmazonPrime my mental health straight back into depression? I don’t know.
What I do know is that my spiritual awakening fortified a deep wellspring of inner joy. And one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is to stop questioning the life-source of joy. My husband tried to tell me this when we first met.
I had a worrying habit of hedging my pure love for fashion with clever disclaimers and elaborate qualifiers. I was deeply conditioned by that questionable and results-driven aphorism—hard work brings true joy. There was no room in all that external achievement to pause and take the root of electrifying delights seriously. To consider the generative abundance and lightness of soul-centered work—any quest or adventure that is its own source of joy. I dismissed chasing joy. Because fashion wasn’t serious enough, because it wasn’t smart-girl chemistry brain enough. Because writing came too easily. Blah blah blah…
Working in a very shaky ivory tower cured me of all that. In the throes of a stressful job, I craved straight shots of joy juice. Blasting Beyoncé and dancing stupid. Rocking my loud, impractical and wild sequin mermaid skirt that squeals and squawks whenever I move. Wearing that fifth bling ring on a hand that already looks like heist night at your local pawn shop. Long walks with good friends. Lazy weekends stuck in stacks of thick books. Yes, yoga, eating well and sleeping sound mattered and very much helped me deal, but what really powered my soul wasn’t Harvard researched stress antidotes—it was play.
That’s how and why I’m launching a company that makes spreading joy it’s business. A friend described KYNDRED as helping artists become artists. I love this take on what is essentially heart-work. I love the joyful anticipation KYNDRED gives my Monday mornings. Waking to what really feels like making magic—helping ordinary women unleash their own latent creative superpower. Using digital tools and immersive experiences to awaken the inner and joyful child (remember her?) to play. To building a practice that cultivates joy.
Here’s what I know for sure—Joy is a practice. It’s a choice that asks us in every moment, Are you fully awake to life? Are you living in the abundance of everything there is—right now—to be grateful for? And are you willing to be vulnerable enough to truly embody inner joy? Not just because you got that fat promotion or you’re on a plane ride to Sardinia. But because you’re here. Because you’re alive. You have breath. You are an entire universe—because the stars and cosmic spirits are the cellular essence of your divine being.
An inspiring friend lost a deep love, young. I will never forget the words she chose to celebrate her beloved at his memorial. She quoted First Nation Chief of the Siksika, Crowfoot. On his deathbed, Crowfoot beautifully illuminated the deep mystery of our human experience. “What is life?” He asked. “It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.”
Living wide awake to this ephemeral beauty and living in gratitude for this abundance is the nerve-center of my joy. It is grounded in my Being and inner God. And that Woman is Love. Show me your own source of pure love and I’ll point you to the root of your joy.
p.s. The joy-factory book is A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle.
p.p.s Oprah gifted us a banging 10-part podcast to listen alongside your reading. Yes! You get a pod! You get a pod! Everybody gets a Free Pod! ;)