I started back in therapy last year and my therapist said, “I’m hearing a lot of ‘shoulds’ from you. ‘I should be farther along’, ‘I don’t know what I should be doing differently’. You feel restricted to me. What brings you joy?”

I burst into tears. I told her, “Dance. Dance brings me joy.” I listed other things too, and she said, “How about we focus on that for awhile? The other stuff will be there. Let’s focus on what brings you joy without thinking about results or shoulds.” I immediately felt lighter and more hopeful.

So, for my birthday, when my original plans fell through, I texted my friend Shawn on a whim. I’d had a flash of a picture in my head of Shawn and me dancing in Central Park. Then I had a vision of a handwritten sign, “It’s my birthday. Please dance with me.” The thought made me giddy, so even though it was pouring rain outside, I sent Shawn a text and told him my idea. He wrote back simply, “Yes.”

Hours later we were under the arches at Bethesda Fountain, dancing to a playlist that Shawn put together, holding a handwritten sign with the very words that had flashed in my head earlier that day. Various dance partners joined in — schoolkids on a day trip (their teacher is the one who REALLY got down with me), couples visiting from Cypress, tourists from the midwest who watched shyly at first, then joined in with a giggle, even a couple of people who exclaimed, “It’s my birthday, too!”

Mostly Shawn and I danced just the two of us, with a number of homeless people who were staying dry, sitting and watching us from the sidelines. It was two hours of release and joy for me. No shoulds. Just movement and music and people and friendship.

This year, when I was thinking of how I wanted to spend my birthday, I couldn’t think of anything that I’d rather do than dance again. So, I texted Shawn and he came through again. Again it was raining. This time we wound up in the bandstand across the road from Bethesda Fountain in Central Park. The park was mostly empty because of the rain, but one older guy who had been sitting quietly watching us, got up after about twenty minutes and started dancing by himself. He nodded to us when I looked in his direction and he had the biggest smile on his face.

Shawn suggested doing a short Facebook Live video of the two of us while we were dancing, and that wound up being giddy fun. Friends’ comments were alternately encouraging and wistful — “You guys look like you’re having a blast!” “I wish I was there! I’m at work.” “ Let me know the next time you go dancing!” When I watched the video hours later, I was struck by how light and buoyant I was. I couldn’t help but laugh. I looked like a kid.

I thought of my therapist and how her advice to bring the focus back to joy has been so life-giving and life-altering for me. It got me back to my true nature and out of worry, fretting, planning, forcing and ruminating as my go to mode of survival. I still have moments, days or weeks where I get mired in my thoughts and feel like everything is moving too slowly, I should be more accomplished, blah blah blah, but I now have this example of what it feels and looks like when I reach for joy. My creativity comes alive, I feel more connected to others, others respond so favorably to my energy and life becomes technicolor, fluid, and surprising. What a great lesson. Abundance.

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