The last time I wrote a post about joy, I thought I had it. I had meditated on joy. And on the awareness that I was not experiencing joy on any regular basis, certainly not every moment, neither from within me or from outside.
As I sat with this, I thought that my problem had been definitional. As I’ve written in other contexts, words, and their connotations, can be a major barrier to progress on the spiritual path. If you use the wrong word or if a teacher uses the wrong word, it can create a block, an obstacle, through misunderstanding.
In this instance I thought the problem was how I defined or thought of “joy.” I thought the definitional problem was that experiencing “joy” is not the same as being “joyful.” The latter is a heightened state, often accompanied by laughter. And since I wasn’t joyful, I had thought I wasn’t experiencing joy. But I realized one can experience joy without being joyful.
This is true, but I developed the coping excuse that a spiritual person couldn’t be joyful, except in limited circumstances, given the state of the world, the extensive suffering and dysfunction. If one is aware and connected with others, one cannot be present and be joyful. Only someone totally egocentric could be joyful in such a situation.
But that was just a coping excuse. Yes, if one is face to face with suffering, one could not be joyful. But the fact that there is universal suffering in the world does not prohibit one from being joyful in spirit.
The real issue I know now is not definitional but volitional. I wrote in one post that joy was really happiness, which is the absence of suffering. It is true that when I am free of suffering, free of the control of the ego-mind, I experience peace and happiness. Which is most of the time.
But that is not joy. Instead, joy is taking pleasure in the present moment; it is an active state not a passive one. And to be clear, being a Buddhist, “pleasure” is not something hedonistic or sinful. It is pure. It comes from the heart.
First and foremost it is taking pleasure in yourself, in everything you do, in the senses that allow you to see, hear, smell, and touch. When I had this awareness initially, I took pleasure in all aspects of my morning toilette – flossing, feeling the warm water on my skin, shaving. For the first time, possibly in my life, when I went for my walk that morning I understood what it means to “feel alive, “ to take pleasure in being alive. I was so aware of and took pleasure in all my senses. And, as I was in nature, I took pleasure in all that I was sensing.
Everything was alive. Its reality heightened. But that state passed after a relatively short period and I went back to my previous way of approaching life and the things I did. I felt good about what I did, but I did not experience joy.
Aware of the difference, of the returned heaviness to my life, I realized that the reason why I have had the “problem” of my face being in a serious repose or frowning most of the time was not just that I was serious by nature, or that the weight of the past was always somehow hanging over my head like a grey cloud. It’s that I didn’t seek to actively take pleasure in the moment, to be in touch with the positive energy in my heart. I was waiting for something to happen.
Why was I not able to change this dynamic with all my disciplined meditation practice? I went to see the same spiritual advisor who told me that I’m serious because I’m a Capricorn. It is my birthright, it is who i am. It is not a sign of trauma or anything negative.
After looking at my cards, she said the problem was that I never learned how to play as a child, to have a child’s passion, because I was raised as an adult. What I need to do is create a new narrative for “Little Ron” and connect with the joyfulness that is my true Buddha self.
At age 76 this was devastating information, once it sank in. Hopeful, but devastating. As I have sat with this, it all makes sense. I will report back on whether the process works for me and I am able to reclaim my ability to experience joy and passion of my own volition, rather than just as a reaction to someone presenting me with joy and passion.