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What I Learned about Joy

from COVID, the Buddha

& a Game of Exploding Kittens

If you explode, you lose. And you are full of incendiary loser sadsauce.

-Exploding Kittens rule book

Kittens are like fluffy little Valentines from heaven. The minds that dreamt up a game where the kitten explodes should be closely watched. But in spite of its questionable premise, the Exploding Kittens card game blew up (pun intended) via a 2015 Kickstarter campaign. According to the creators, its basically Russian Roulette with a deck of cards, and people love it. And the cards are hysterical. Except for that heretical Exploding Kitten card, of course.

The entire strategy of the game Exploding Kittens revolves around playing Defuse, Attack and See the Future cards to help you avoid drawing the Exploding Kitten and receiving a huge helping of loser sadsauce.

It’s a pretty simple premise, really. Do not, under any circumstances, draw the Exploding Kitten.

Card games like this stress me out. (Which seems to be the point of something designed like Russian roulette, but maybe it’s just me.) You know the end is coming in spectacular fashion. It’s you or them, preferably them, and you bend all your will toward making sure that Exploding Kitten sadsauce goes to someone else.

It is the ultimate game of self-protection.

And as I am playing it with the hubs, even while I’m laughing at the cards themselves,  I’m thinking about how much it resembles life.

We strategize. We plot and plan and manipulate. We do everything in our power to avoid the Exploding Kitten. And we may not draw it this game, or the next, but eventually it will be our turn to lose. No matter how clever and careful you are, the Exploding Kitten comes for us all.

I know that sounds more ‘the-sky-is-falling’ than it does joyful, but keep reading. 😊 I’ll get there in a minute.

In the late spring, the hubs came home one Friday complaining that he was coming down with something…by Sunday we finally figured out that his something was COVID. And because he never wants me to feel left out, he shared it with me.

Those first few days in bed were miserable. Thankfully, as time moved on, we both started to feel better. He was fully back to normal in a few weeks. I, however, got the privilege of enjoying some of those long Covid symptoms you’ve heard about.

Not being able to do even the smallest of tasks without having to sit down and rest was humbling on a new level for me. And the dizziness and brain fog meant that I was tripping around my house like a drunken sailor, forgetting things like my brain was suddenly draining into a colander.

I’m thankful that my symptoms weren’t as bad as some of the ones I’ve read about. But they were still frustrating.

We want to hold on to what we have. We want every experience to confirm us and congratulate us and make us feel completely together.

-Pema Chodran

During this goat rodeo, I started reading Comfortable with Uncertainty by Buddhist nun Pema Chodran.

If you know anything about Buddhism, one of the main tenets says much of our suffering is caused or compounded by our resistance to change. Our need to control, to maintain the status quo, to insist that life look a certain way causes us a lot of unnecessary pain. We spend a lot of time and energy trying to avoid discomfort and disappointment at any cost.

We bend all our will towards avoiding the Exploding Kitten.

But acceptance is the name of the game in Buddhist culture. Not resignation, but accepting that sometimes things happen that we cant control, and we are responsible for the way we relate to the discomfort. Do we sit with it and let it help us grow? Do we look for the blessings that remain? Do we choose to face life directly, in all its wonder and challenge or do we choose to look away in fear?

Being sick wasn’t on my agenda for this summer. Not having the energy to shower, much less work on the blog, made me feel like I was failing. A massive crash and burn.

I have definitely been resisting this change in my situation with all my heart. Of course, nobody in their right mind wants to be sick and sidelined from what matters to them.  But when do we ever get to choose what difficult things in life happen to us??

So I’m sitting here reading about how our suffering is increased when we resist the discomfort that happens in our lives. And its like the Exploding Kitten just detonated right in my lap.  (Insert giant head slap here.)

Chodron writes, ‘We want to hold on to what we have. We want every experience to confirm us and congratulate us and make us feel completely together.’  (Life is laughing in the background.)

Since you are so much smarter than I am, you already knew this. Its just so easy to forget that it doesn’t work that way when hard things happen.

The truth is we can never avoid uncertainty. We all take a turn drawing the Exploding Kitten. And while we don’t wish for or want bad things to happen, we have some agency over how much we suffer depending on our attitude as we walk through difficulty.

So COVID happened. It was my Exploding Kitten this summer, and the reason you haven’t heard from me in months. And while its disappointing that I feel I have lost time here on the blog, I have gained additional perspective that I didn’t have before about how we choose our joy.

Choosing joy is easier  when things are going normally. Choosing joy becomes braver and more challenging when you draw the Exploding Kitten and have to figure out how to accept that circumstances have zigged when you would rather have zagged.

Thankfully, I’m feeling much better. And just the tiniest bit wiser. And from here forward, when things don’t go the way I hope they will, I will hold that Exploding Kitten card and know that while I may not have a choice about what is happening, I still have a choice about how I’m going to handle it. I can still choose joy.

And as a bonus, I will be referring to all future setbacks as Exploding Kittens.

I hope your summer was filled with so much joy.


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