The Edge of Joy

Living Yoga Yoga

“The dark does not destroy the light; it defines it.
It’s our
fear of the dark that casts our joy into the shadows.”
Brene Brown

If you like Sarah Jamieson Yoga on Facebook, you may have noticed a recent trend of posts referencing the work of Brene Brown – which accurately reflects the fact that I am a big fan!

Brene first caught my attention with her TED Talk The Power of Vulnerability. If you haven’t watched this talk, I highly recommend it (and have placed it at the bottom of this post). I have used ideas from this talk to theme a number of yoga classes, and I’ve also been to classes for which it was the inspiration. My second dose of Brene Brown was her second book The Gifts of Imperfection, which I just finished reading last week.

In all honesty, I want to share this whole book with the world! But, I will moderate myself and offer you the following paragraph on the difference between happiness and joy:

Anne Robertson, a Methodist pastor, writer, and executive director of the Massachusetts Bible Society, explains how the Greek origins of the words happiness and joy hold important meaning for us today. She explains that the Greek word for happiness is Makarios, which was used to describe the freedom of the rich from normal cares and worries, or to describe a person who received some form of good fortune, such as money or health. Robertson compares this to the Greek word for joy which is chairo. Chairo was described by the ancient Greeks as the “culmination of being” and the “good moon of the soul.” Robertson writes, “Chairo is something, the ancient Greeks tell us, that is found only in God and comes with virtue and wisdom. It isn’t a beginner’s virtue; it comes as the culmination. They say its opposite is not sadness, but fear. (79-80)

The last line of this paragraph – positioning Joy and Fear as opposite emotions – fell into my body. I felt a subtle but profound drop, which I can only describe as a deep recognition of the weight of this truth.

By nature of being opposites, fear prevents joy.

One of the most eloquent and strikingly honest examples Brene offers of this tension between joy and fear is from her personal experience. She tells a story of peacefully watching her daughter sleep, and then, suddenly, seemingly out of no where, having the love and joy she was feeling towards her child be replaced by an encompassing fear of something terrible happening to her daughter.

She articulates this experience as “being on the edge of joy only to be overcome by vulnerability and thrown into fear,” which posits a fear of vulnerability as an obstacle to joy – and, at the same time, offers being vulnerable as a path to a more joyful life (82).

I certainly don’t claim to be an expert on being vulnerable, but I have unquestionably experienced it as a source of connection and compassion. And, I’ve found that the more honest I am with others about what scares me and what I feel insecure about the less impact these fears and insecurities have on my life.

And, even though I don’t always have the courage to wear my heart on my sleeve, I am committed to pushing past the edge of joy.

Our Deepest Fear


The quote below is from Marianne Williamson (though Nelson Mandela is often credited for it).  I read this quote at the end of my yoga class today, and while I think of it as one that most people have heard, the message strikes me as one worth hearing again and again.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

What’s the worst that could happen?


For most of my life, I watched people standing on their head (or their hands) with a sense of never being able to do something like that – like somehow the headstand was out of my league.  The thought of falling in an awkward direction and hurting myself filled me with fear.  But, recently, through my yoga practice, I have found the courage to question my perceived limitations and face my fear of falling. 

I’m still relatively new to the practice of standing on my head, and until the other day, I had never done so without the support of a wall or a spotter.  It was early in the morning, and I had been practicing inversions by the wall, and I suddenly felt very tempted to try to stand on my head in the middle of the room.  I wavered back and forth – wondering if was too much of a risk.  And, then, from a grounded space, I asked myself:

 What is the worst that could happen?

I decide that the worst thing would be falling backwards, and while that seemed like a terribly dangerous prospect, for some reason it helped me decide to give it a try.  So, up I went, and within seconds, I fell backwards.

But, a funny thing happened.  I landed – safely – in an awkward version of full wheel.  And, I was completely okay – physically and emotionally. 

The experience was profound for me because, in my life, I often hesitate out of fear, but when I thoughtfully consider what is the worst thing that could happen if I move forward it is often not so scary.  I learned from falling out of my headstand that feeling fear doesn’t mean I need to stop, turn around and run away; it can simply be an opportunity to pause, question, breathe and move forward with faith.