Practicing joy in difficulty
I have a genuinely cheerful friend who, as far as I know, coined the term, “joy-ging,” to describe her combination of running, dancing, and spontaneous movement. This kind of joy — possible while sweating and heaving up a hill — is so different than how joy has been marketed to us all these years.
Think of a commercial for a diamond ring and how the woman’s face lights up when she sees the rock. Or a Best Buy ad: look at Dad, barely sentient on the couch, reveling in football on a big screen TV. Not that these people (actors) couldn’t find joy in a ring or TV. It’s just that joy is a more active practice than getting a gift dropped in your lap.
According to Zen teacher, Charlotte Joko Beck:
“Until we know that joy is exactly what’s happening, minus our opinion of it, we’re going to have only a small amount of joy.”
You can see Beck is asserting quite a different notion of joy than the television version where joy comes after a purchase or experience. In fact, you might not even “enjoy” joy!
In her view, and in the lineage of practice, joy is directness. An opening to be filled and if we are full of plans and discursiveness, there is no opening. After all, our senses are dimmed by the recurring drama in our head.
Of course, some scenarios seem to offer far more joy than others. I’d take Key West over the Bronx River Parkway any day. But Beck is talking about how we overlay everything, even a good vacation, with our internal chatter. Especially with good experiences, some part of us is trying to thwart the possibility that this vacation or feeling or relationship will change or dissolve. The constant “opinion”-making in our mind tries to obviate this outcome. We might be on the beach but also Googling the price of beach condos with modest desperation. Hence, a smaller amount of joy.
Joy is an opening, and we can be filled with complex and inexplicable feelings. Recall the broken-hearted chorus of the Leonard Cohen song (now heard everywhere), “Hallelujah.” Opinion has a tough time keeping track of all we are noticing and feeling, which is why our minds are so busy!
Joy in difficulty — that’s the interesting one. It’s hard to open up, to surrender for even a moment when things are sub-optimal. Every second we let go of our internal chatter or plans is a second that the world is preserved exactly as it is. So yes, while we enjoy this iced tea, Josh Hawley is still a senator and Earth is too warm.
You can see why it’s hard to rest with the way things are.
Gratitude is a powerful practice to help train our mind toward appreciating what we have. At dinner, my family and I say a couple things we are grateful for (the show, Paw Patrol, is a frequent contribution). At night, I write more things I’m grateful for into my journal, usually scribbled quickly and without worrying whether these are the ‘best’ things to be grateful for. I’m not trying “to look on the bright side,” but to remind myself of the exceptional unlikeliness of everything around. Nothing about this life is a given. My lungs, eyes, my memory.
Gratitude helps restore the magic of our ordinary lives. Undoubtedly, there are plenty of things we experience that we don’t feel grateful about, and that’s okay too. Joy (and relief) come from not trying to spin everything. I just missed out on a professional opportunity I was excited about, and it stung. Where’s the joy in that?
Well, if we understand joy as nothing to hold onto, nothing permanent, and something that doesn’t belong specifically to me, then it’s all around.
Originally published at https://www.dancayer.co on May 4, 2021.