I first met Joy Jordan in an early morning yoga class at the Appleton YMCA. Joy was a tenured statistics professor at Lawrence University with a reputation of being an excellent teacher. One morning she took me aside to share a serious matter. She was leaving the university. It was a shock because Joy seemed, well, so joyful in her role as a professor. But as it so often turns out, things can be very different than they seem.
What brought you to your decision to leave the university?
My inner and outer lives were in crisis. “Crisis” seems like such a strong word, but it describes my experience. The decision to leave came after years of consideration: I was mindful of daily work life—paying attention to my choices, internal habits (which follow me regardless of career), energy level, and enjoyment. I wondered if I could rearrange my work day and my priorities so a career that once brought me joy could still be a meaningful path. But I found exhaustion, repetition and waning enthusiasm. My greatest contentment increasingly came from one-on-one conversations with students about life, not statistics. And my tiredness wasn’t restored by positive classroom energy or quiet sabbaticals. I was cooked. I cared deeply about the Lawrence community, but I needed to leave.
What did your future look like when you resigned?
I knew my resignation might shock the Lawrence community, so I gave us all time to adjust. My announcement came in October 2012, but I stayed at Lawrence through the following August, which was a helpful transition for both them and me. When my resignation became official, my future didn’t look like anything. I wanted time and space to not know and be open to possibility. I had no other job lined up. I let myself create, volunteer, write, meditate and support friends. And I could do this because of the love and generosity of my husband, Mark.
How did you get from then to now? What surprised you? What scared you? What inspired you?
Within four months of leaving Lawrence, I realized (again) my love for teaching. I just needed to change what I was teaching. Meditation and mindfulness are practices that saved my life. (“Saved” seems a strong term, but it feels true.) Over time, I developed and taught a five-session curriculum on mindfulness. And from there, new teaching opportunities—guided meditations, company retreats, information sessions—arose.
During my gap year, I paid close attention to the habits of friends, businesses and strangers. I noticed brief exchanges: “How are you?” “Busy!” “Yeah, me too.” This busyness didn’t surprise me since I came from an overloaded academic environment. What surprised me was the heightened level of busyness and the badge of honor it seemed to represent. I couldn’t get appointments to talk about mindfulness because people’s schedules were packed. I found this ironic.
I’ve never felt a seed of doubt about my decision to leave academia. But I do feel fear—then and now—around making a living while living with intention. I’m not yet sure if mindfulness teaching is a viable career. I’m putting in my best effort, but eventually I might need to shift. What scares me? Taking another job that feels lifeless.
I’m inspired by ordinary people who show up for mindfulness and meditation. I’m inspired by their practice, insights and willingness to try new things. I’m also inspired by kindness and compassion, which can show up in surprising ways.
What connections do you make between the study and teaching of statistics and the study and teaching of meditation and mindfulness?
Statistics is the science of data. For example, design an experiment, collect data and analyze results. Meditation is the science of ourselves. I think of meditation as an experimental lab where we learn about thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations (and their relation to each other). Our own experience is the best teacher. We just need to pay attention.
Where does your interest in photography come from? What are your observations about how the practice of photographing and the practice of meditating interrelate?
I’ve had a camera since I was 10 years old. For most of my life, I documented events. I took pictures of people that were snapshots not art. Five years ago, I bought my first DSLR and my photography shifted. Instead of documenting, I started to make art. I watched light carefully and photographed every single day. I try to find beauty in ordinary scenes, especially within details of nature. I also try to convey emotion to my viewer.
Meditation is about paying attention in an honest and gentle way. Photography is equally about paying attention. Both practices involve seeing: seeing clearly, seeing anew, seeing truth and beauty. And both practices encourage us to begin again.
Joy teaches meditation at the Appleton YMCA on Wednesdays and Fridays, 8:15-9:00am, as well as a 5-week mindfulness course through both Appleton and Neenah Parks & Recreation. Joy also offers an online, self-paced course.
About her work volunteering at Fox Lake and Oshkosh prisons teaching meditation and mindfulness to the inmates, Joy says, “It’s the most meaningful work I’ve done in my life.”
Joy blogs at bornjoy.blogspot.com where you can find her writings, photographs, guided meditations and a link to her new 6-week E-Course: Coming Home to Yourself.