There is a resilience inside of me that circumstances cannot touch.

Every January, one of my favorite practices is to choose a single word or set of words as my anchor for the year ahead. Setting an intention in this way helps me to integrate a new core value into my day-to-day life.

In January 2020, I selected the words joy and now as my guideposts for the coming year. At that moment, I could not have imagined the pain and chaos we were weeks away from as a collective global community.

However, I did know that I was resolute about creating a sense of unshakable joy, impenetrable from outside forces, alive and well in the beating of my heart over the next 12 months.

As someone who has spent the better part of the last decade living with intense, debilitating, chronic pain, I was comfortable with the goal of creating and experiencing joyful moments even inside of heartache and struggle.

I wanted joy to become something in my life born from my inner wellspring of presence and gratitude, rather than something connected to conditional prerequisites.

I didn’t want my joy to be dependent on things going the “right” way.

After years of practicing mindfulness to better cope with daily chronic pain, I sought to take my practice to the next level.

I wanted to cultivate a mindset capable of merging thankfulness and presence into joy — no matter the circumstances around or within me.

A few months into the new year, it became clear to me that my personal intention of “joy now” was going to be about a lot more than overcoming the heaviness and darkness of riding the ebbs and flows of my own chronic health conditions.

As the ground was pulled out from beneath our feet all over the world, and COVID-19 began to storm through communities and countries, causing unprecedented and immense tragedy, I felt even more determined to root down more deeply into my original objective.

I was determined to find ways to experience joy while simultaneously holding space for deep, unimaginable pain.

I realized that in order to invite genuine joy into my days, I needed to allow myself to move through pain and sadness with authenticity.

The suffering of our world became very personal when a close family friend passed away from COVID-19 in August.

As the shock of unexpected grief tore through me, I began holding a nightly ritual to process the deep pain of being touched so acutely by this pandemic.

For 2 weeks, I lit candles and wrote down thoughts, feelings, and memories about my loved one. I folded up the notes and added them to a jar decorated with wallet-sized photos of some of the many happy memories we had shared together.

I felt and still feel an indescribable loss. However, by grieving in an authentic and present way, I created a space in my awareness to wrap my experience in gentle compassion.

I learned that having a ritual that grounds me in the present moment, that offers space to feel the emotions of my “now” with comfort and safety, is a priceless resource — whether I’m seeking to move through peace, grief, sadness, or joy.

Inside of a reality filled with more pain and darkness than I’d ever experienced before, I realized deeply that joy is a decision.

I gained an awareness that I have the power to wake up every single day and engage in practices and activities that fill my unique “joy cup.”

As the year progressed, I created my “joy recipe.” The ingredients are the things in my life that energize me. It’s a recipe precious to my very soul.

For me, 2020 was a year where I focused on tapping into magic in the mundane and seeking beauty in the dance of light and shadow.

COVID-19 brought added fears about my compromised immune system and further limited my already small sphere of outdoor activities, errands, and excursions.

As more and more avenues shut down due to the pandemic, I began to appreciate opportunities for new growth and seek joy inside of already existing everyday routines.

I set intentions that were realistic: to garden more, take phone-free dog walks, register for gentle movement classes from home, and, as always, to continue to expand my mindfulness skills through meditation, podcasts, and audiobooks.

Embracing “joy now” taught me that there is a resilience inside of me that circumstances cannot touch.

This resilience can withstand deep pain and hold sacred space for light in the same moment.

Accessing and nurturing resilient joy throughout 2020 was a way to transform pain into life changing lessons. It was an invitation to learn how to return — over and over again — to loving the life I am living right now, rather than hold onto pain.

The year COVID-19 entered our lives will always be the year I learned to be the gatekeeper of my joy. It’s the year I learned to see myself as a resilient warrior who can walk through any storm in my life — and still emerge on the other side, willing to dance with gratitude at the sheer opportunity to be here.


Natalie Sayre is a wellness blogger sharing the ups and downs of mindfully navigating life with chronic illness. Her work has appeared in a variety of print and digital publications, including Mantra Magazine, Healthgrades, The Mighty, and others. You can follow her journey and find actionable lifestyle tips for living well with chronic conditions on Instagram and her website.