Having written about Joy last month, I figured I’d move on to Compassion for this month’s blog post. But after sharing the practice with others, I found the wisdom that was shared with me worth passing along. So there’s more time for joy. . .
A friend of mine recently shared the joy he felt when he observed a single blue flower popping out amongst the groundcover in a memorial garden where he was walking. I was able to feel that sensation as he described it. What was amazing was that since that day two weeks ago, I’ve been seeing nothing but blue flowers everywhere I look. I realize it is spring but I’m pretty sure these blue flowers have been there all along, I just wasn’t able to see them. In this way, sharing our joy is contagious, it opens us to clear seeing and appreciation.
Another dear friend, Jim Musumeci reminded me of an important link between joy and hope. If we can find a bit of joy amidst any conditions, there will be hope. He writes,
Joy and Hope…the inseparable twins. When paging back through the book of my life, it easy to glare at all the pain, sorrow, despair and wrongs scattered in the chapters. I realize that all of these plagues are often handed to me, slung without my ok or invitation. Life often stamps our pages with difficult and impossible tragedy, beyond reason or understanding.
Yet here and there, sprinkled on the pages like the mini bursts of the Fourth of July, are the joys of life, the smiles, the hoped for spring, the loving partner, the tail wagging little brown dog. I wish I had captured more of the joys for my personal collection. But life doesn’t usually force them on us. It waits for us to grab and savor them and inevitably they lead to hope.
Joy and Hope, bound together like brothers, like sisters, like peanut butter and jelly. Do we remember the times when all seemed forever lost, when despair and bitterness felt cozy and warm, when a smiling face would elicit our anger? Impossible days followed unbearable nights. And for no apparent reason, out of the mist arose a tickling warm wind, the strong hand of a friend resting on our shoulder, the laughter of a giggly, goofy child. And like a fledgling star, hope was born…maybe tomorrow might be better, one more chance, another chance to rejoin the living.
Never let a joy whiz past you without grabbing it. You will always find hope in tow close behind.
Gates to Joy
I recently read a book entitled America the Anxious. I don’t agree with most of its premise, which is that our nation’s obsession with self-help is creating the anxiety we seek to alleviate. My experience is that taking time for self-care is not selfish but healing. One valid criticism is the marketing of this industry when the message is “Be happy with these 5 easy steps!” Certainly, these claims are too good to be true. They also turn the wisdom of spirituality upside down. Instead of treating joy or happiness as something that lives inside us to be uncovered, it becomes something we pursue, something we seek. And of course, we feel guilt, shame or frustration when attempting to follow these recipes does bring us to happiness.
Instead, I am drawn to language of uncovering, revelation and vulnerability as a path to contentment, joy and happiness. These are often referred to as gates. The idea of a gates is that it is protective but flexible. Gates offer a possibility and a choice. In a recent podcast, Jack Kornfield identifies six “Gates to Joy” that are available to everyone with just a bit of work.
- Integrity – When our thoughts, speech and action are in harmony, our true self emerges.
- Generosity – Sharing our heart can bring us joy as we ease the suffering of others
- Gratitude – This practice can transform even our suffering into gratitude for each moment.
- Trust – Each morning we wake, and each waking brings possibility.
- Mindfulness – As we become aware of what is *really* happening, we introduce choice to our experience
- Connection – Joy is contagious. When we surround ourselves with relationship, joy multiplies and spreads.
These six qualities help incline our mind and heart towards joy. There is no guarantee, but like the blue flowers that blossom in our consciousness, cultivating them makes them grow and flourish.
It can be challenging to identify joy amidst the trials and tribulations of modern life. But as Jim said, joy opens us to hope. There are great writings that remind us of this such as Jack Gilbert’s poem, A Brief for the Defense:
“We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure, but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world.”
Or in the ancient buddhist text, the Dhammapada by way of Jack Kornfield,
Live in joy,
Even among those who hate.
Live in joy,
Even among the afflicted.
Live in joy,
Even among the troubled.
Free from fear and attachment,
Know the sweet joy of living in the way