Recently, I’ve been revisiting the idea of joy–its essence, its provenance, its sentience. Joy was for me, once upon a time, intertwined with thrill, with adventure, with excitement and peak stimulation. Pushing my limits and striving to reach a new height. Mountains and raptors have been my totems–mountains for their ever-present challenge to any sense of stagnation, to any flatlander mindset mired in habitual plodding; and raptors because they fly (what better reason is there to worship birds?) and take their perspective from the heights.
And, hey, striving is good, right? Improving is integral to our approach to the world—getting better at everything is the goal from the moment we practice tying our shoes until we tidy our bed to lie down upon it to die.
As I thought about joy, I began questioning the desirability of striving and the definition of success. I discovered others who were exploring these concepts: from the meditation halls to the academy, in forums that once held firmly to meritocracy and materialist metrics of success, came rumblings questioning the sanctity of perfection, the psychological cost of constant striving, and the concept of success reified to justify oppression and greed.
I considered the brahma viharas, those aspects of the Buddhist spiritual path that I explored at length with my Buddhist sitting group through discussion of Christina Feldman’s Boundless Heart. On this path, joy, or mudita, is one of the four divine abodes, or brahma viharas, along with metta (lovingkindness), karuna (compassion), and upekkha (equanimity). Mudita is described as sympathetic or vicarious joy–the joy that comes from witnessing the happiness of another–or transcendent joy–the joy that is bigger than one of us and links us to each other and to all beings.
I also considered Rick Hanson’s work on the value to our health and well being of “high intensity” positive emotions–delight, rapture, exuberance, and elation. Dr. Hanson has developed practices–to recognize and savor moments of joy–that remind and support us in our capacity to invite joy into our lives whenever we want or need it. With these practices of awareness, attention, and intention, joy is available to us at any moment and can serve as refuge and balm in hard times.
Two basic truths about joy emerged from my recent contemplations:
- Joy is ever present, accessed by opening our awareness to the moment at hand–this time–and to the tiny miracles that are occurring all around us–this place, where we are right now.
- Joy for one is joy for all–when we can be both fully present and deeply witness and trust our relationships with other human beings, and with all the beings with whom we share this Earth with another–we see that joy for one is joy for anyone and for all.
How do we be “fully here”? Right now—look out your window, gaze up at the sky, the stars, the moon. Step back from your analytical mind and witness. Refrain from judging or comparing this moment to other moments. Simply witness the magnificence of life, its longevity and its strength, the laws of interdependency and attraction, of patterns that manifest from the smallest cell to the largest galaxy. Breathe all of this in.
You are, as the beautiful poem Desiderata states, “no less than the trees and the stars. You have a right to be here.”
Direct action supported by joy is our most essential responsibility to our future and to this planet. In this moment is also a call to action: To increase your resiliency, to increase your grounds for hope, to increase your witnessing of joy. Make and remake your home according to your ideals and creativity. Get involved in small acts of radical change–in your household, in your community, in your state. One by one we can, collectively, shine a light in the darkness and disarray, and show a path through any chaos to the future.
Reach out to me if you are curious how energy healing, balancing, and clearing can nurture your joy and your unique expression, how it can help you regain and retain your innermost wisdom and your part in this great life in this great time. I look forward to hearing from you!