Recently I finished listening to a wonderful book - The Book of Joy - a conversation between Archbishop Desmond Tutu and The Dalai Lama. It is rich with so many wonderful reasons to celebrate joy and many suggestions for how to do so.
Then a few days ago, when searching for the source of the quote above that was shared with me by one of our teachers at the silent meditation retreat I attended in May, I came across a truly wonderful article by meditation teacher James Baraz - the very person who had shared the quote with us at the retreat!
The article was entitled “Lighten Up”. Isn’t that wonderful? He was talking about how so often we think our spiritual practices must be serious, that they don’t include joy, when actually these practices are the very route to joy! And that joy is essential to true awakening.
He says, "We all know what it’s like to get trapped in dark, constricting states of mind—and how useless it is, in terms of awakening, to dwell there. That is exactly what the Buddha taught: we don’t need to stay stuck in greed, hatred, and delusion. Life can be lighter, more workable, even when it’s challenging...When we are not attached to who we think we are, life can move through us, playing us like an instrument. Understanding how everything is in continual transformation, we release our futile attempts to control circumstances. When we live in this easy connection with life, we live in joy.
Joy has many different flavors. It might overflow from us in song or dance, or it might gently arise as a smile or a sense of inner fullness. Joy is not something we have to manufacture. It is already in us when we come into the world, as we can see in the natural delight and exuberance of a healthy baby. We need only release the layers of contraction and fear that keep us from it.”
So joy is naturally there within us. It is there, if only we are willing to allow it to surface. When we do so, we are actively cultivating joy. In their book, this is what Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama reveal to us. They are both intimately aware with deep struggle—and yet have found a way to continue to live their lives joyfully.
And so can we!
This can also be done by purposefully cultivating what the Buddhists call “wholesome mind-states”—compassion, love, generosity, happiness—our own, and for the successes and joys of others. These things create happiness. In ourselves and most often in those we offer them to as well.
We can also learn to pay more attention to the times we are naturally feeling joyful - and to rejoice in them. Not to try to hold on to them as grasping only causes more suffering. But to be present for these moments, to allow those feelings of natural joy to really fill us up, to stop and rejoice in these feelings. This actually changes our body chemistry and also teaches our mind to bend towards delight, to see beauty and delight where otherwise we may not have, and to do so with more and more frequency.
We come to see that the positive feelings we all have—happiness, joy, delight—facilitate our awakening and help us to keep our hearts open.
As James so beautifully says, "…relating to the present moment with joy is a choice we can make. Discovering this can change our lives. Whether we are paying careful attention to wholesome states when they arise, reflecting on gratitude, or feeling the delight of living with integrity (which the Buddha called “the bliss of blamelessness”), we can access joy by shifting the focus of our awareness to what uplifts the heart.”
So let us allow this to be our focus this day—“shifting the focus of our awareness to what uplifts the heart.”
And enjoying whatever lies before you today!
Wishing you a beautiful day—wherever it may take you!