The three levels of joy

My work focuses a lot on joy these days… such a lovely change of pace from my previous corporate career. And yet only now, in hindsight, can I see the sparks of joy that existed at every stage of my life, glimmering like small gems on the ground. They’re easy to miss if you’re not looking for them.

I’ve realized that there are different levels of joy, each leading to the next, like a spiral staircase. Read through these levels and let me know where you’re at in the comments section!

Level 1: The Head

So many of us have been living from our heads (or we could say our egos). Having lost touch with what our hearts and souls are trying to tell us, we’ve been on manual override for years. But in the midst of the grind of daily life, we get glimmers: Snuggling with a beloved pet… witnessing a baby laugh… a warm hug… a peaceful walk in the woods… even the quiet pride of doing something we’re good at and enjoy. These glimmers tell us there’s something more to life than paying bills, and they beckon us up the staircase.

“Those roots of fear must be dissolved at a level that is deeper than the conscious thinking mind can reach.  The mind was never designed to be your master, but to become aligned as a servant of the awakened heart.

“The Way of the Heart,” Way Of Mastery, Lesson 12

Level 1 goals and actions:

The goals at this stage are to gain clarity of who we really are, and get unstuck so that we can move to Level 2. We do that through:

  • Paying attention to those sparkling breadcrumbs of joy; they lead the way up the staircase, but only the heart can see them.
  • Learning how to access our own inner wisdom.
  • Letting go. Our heavy baggage (mental, emotional and physical) cannot be carried up the staircase. With the skill of of feeling YES and NO — what brings us joy and what does not — what is our authentic self and what is not — we can start setting down what no longer serves us.

Here we’re using tools like journaling and meditation to gain emotional fluency so that we can feel our way to the next stage. The mind, left to its own devices, will spin and spin, never yielding the insights we need to progress.

Level 2: The Heart

At this level, we’re living authentically in accordance with our strengths. Our choices come from the inner wisdom of the heart… not from other people’s opinions, trends, or what we think we should do. We’re able to set healthy boundaries and say no to what doesn’t serve us, which clears plenty of space for what does.

Here we experience the “life full of YES:” living with more inner assurance, joy, and peace… and less worry, stress and fear. Our heart needs less protection; we’re learning that it’s so much stronger and wiser than we ever gave it credit.

This is also the level of the Self: self-celebratory, not self-centric. We love who we are, warts and all… embracing differences of ourselves and others. The work here is to align our vocation, relationships, location, etc. with what will bring out the best within us.

Level 2 Goals and Actions

The goal at Stage 2 is to live as authentically as we can, with continual daily practices to focus on priorities and realize the joy of self-actualization. Like world-class leaders, we can use tools like journaling, walks, meditation and experimentation to make progress in all areas of our lives.

“Be yourself; no base imitator of another, but your best self. There is something which you can do better than another. Listen to the inward voice and bravely obey that. Do the things at which you are great, not what you were never made for.”

― Ralph Waldo Emerson,Self-Reliance and Other Essays

Level 3: The Soul

As good as Level 2 sounds, there’s more waiting for us. At Level 3, we’re experiencing transcendent Joy with a capital J. This is life that is fully connected with All That Is. We understand that we are like a drop in a vast ocean: both individual and inseparable from the whole. This type of joy is experienced in even the darkest of times; it is a state of being, open and trusting, not dependent on circumstance.

Also at Level 3 we have entered the flow, led by a soul-level knowing that attracts what we need, when we need it. This is not passive wishing, but active faith.

I’ve experienced this type of joy at different times of my life, before I was truly ready for it. Level-3 experiences lure us up the staircase — we see the truth that is possible for all of us — but unfortunately…

Stage-jumping doesn’t work

I was guilty of trying to jump to Level 3 from a super-stuck Level 1 back in my 20s. I thought that spirituality was the answer I was seeking, and it sort of worked… but it was more of a crutch than a light, effortless, soul-driven way of moving through the world.

Signs that you’ve tried to skip stage 2 include: fear of what other people think, negative self-talk, getting defensive when beliefs are challenged, feeling stuck, trying to “figure yourself out”… these are all symptoms of Level 1 that no amount of prayer, yoga and meditation alone can heal.

We need to do the hard work in Level 2 of stripping away everything that we are not, liberating ourselves from the fear-based baggage that prevents us from experiencing the love-based Joy that this level promises.

This is what is meant by the bible verse, “unless you become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Children have not yet built the barricade of protective walls around their hearts, haven’t loaded themselves with responsibilities that wasn’t theirs to take on, haven’t conformed to society’s standards and requirements. They are simply, beautifully, themselves. Naked in spirit, unafraid.

You who are not naked yet,
you can go back to sleep.”


How to move to level 3

  • Open up to something greater: the unseen that connects all that is seen; call it God, goddess, All That Is, the Ground of Being… whatever floats your boat.
  • Develop daily practices to maintain and strengthen this connection like meditation and journaling that channels wisdom.
  • Let go of everything that is not Truth of who we are at a soul level.

Where are you?

Personally, I’m now moving back up to Level 3 after years of work at Level 2. Where are you on this joy staircase? What practices will you begin doing to move to the next level?

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