Joy is a word almost counterfeit in its casual application, as the accreditation of highs as a standard to reach–and to hold–belies the reality that highs are always predicated, and then followed, by the lows of emotional life. To ask for joy is to ask for a wave to be perpetually frozen at it peak. To ask for joy is to ask to live in a television advert.
And yet the word persists, there is something deeper underneath the conventional ephemeral version. Joy is a word that needs to be rescued by contemplation. A joy beyond the Hallmark Moment must be garnered by a surgical strike of the miner’s pickaxe into ore permeated with the meaning of a deeper experience. Once broken into, the resultant treasure mass, like beached knots of seaweed made of treacle, must then unraveled like an amorphous tangle of quicksilver yarn troubled by a passel of cats.
It is easy to fall into a tarry congestion of thoughts that circumscribe joy as a rigorous fidelity to a set of preconceived circumstances. Joy will be a volleyball victory on a beach, on an endless sunny day, in Fiji with my friends, and all the little drinks with umbrellas in them handily lick smacking our joys with accent, and then a fine meal, as we watch the sunset, with a bonfire, and almost whispered knowing and intimate conversation drifts into a starry night where the woodsmoke mingles with the clarity of ocean air, as we feel the earth breathing within the womb of the vast vacation we never have to leave.
Is this the best joy we can get? Thich Nhat Hanh has a slightly different take. There is a danger, he intimates, in otherizing joy in circumstances that contrast with the circumstances we are in. There is joy to be found in the contemplation of the precious and singular within the simplest of our experiences. That is to say, there are different kinds of joy. None are to be rendered joyless, but at the same time, we can see that some are deeper and more significant than others. I’m sure I can hear Thich Nhat Hahn calling from the beyond: “Long live joy!”
And what circumstances are we in? Mostly likely, more often not, we are in situations that the worldly world would devaluate by ascription of the term “mundane.” It seems only the householder in the commercial reaching the Satori of the wonder of the very best laundry detergent is the one in the know.
“Three objects, three poisons, three seeds of virtue,” goes one of the Tibetan Wisdom Lojong Slogans. Three objects: things will always be identified in the human experience as pleasant, neutral, or unpleasant (three objects). In fact, the same experience or the same thing can be experienced as unpleasant when priorly they were pleasant. So, it’s not about the object, really, it is about the state of mind. How does it experience these phenomena right now? What conditions of the mind are predicating the pleasant or unpleasant experiences?
Here is where one of the deeper joys lies. The three objects, are also the three seeds of virtue. If we can see each of our experiences in perspective, we can see that each of these experiences is bound by a deeper view that is beyond each of the three. Is there a consciousness, an awareness, a witness that knows each of the three, but is not identified with any of them, even pleasantness?
Here, a deeper joy is known in knowing that we have some freedom from the pursuit of the pleasant and pleasurable, the aversion and avoidance of the unpleasant, and the ignorance embedded in the dismissal of the neutral, which we often don’t even notice, because it is neither to be sought, or to be avoided.
This kind of greater view leads us to other joys too. If we can find this kind of view beyond the small self, we also are free enough to enjoy “sympathetic joy,” the notion that we have the capacity to have our happiness in the the expansive inclusive experience of deep understanding of the joys of others.
And herein lies potential for even further joy in the simultaneous contemplation and participation in the so called “mundane” activities of our lives, which are really quite miraculous. So much comes to us so easily, whereas even a glimpse at the human past reveals that so much had to be literally eked out of the earth in drudgery. We are at the penultimate when we bring thing into awareness. The ultimate lies beyond us, but is promised. In the meanwhile, many kinds of joy.
By Megan McDonald
ON APRIL 26, 2022
Joy is a word almost counterfeit in its casual application
Love this opening — really sets a thoughtful tone and introduces an “argument.”
To ask for joy is to ask for a wave to be perpetually frozen at it peak.
This is a keen observations, a clever way to express the sentiment.
Joy will be a volleyball victory on a beach, on an endless sunny day, in Fiji with my friends, and all the little drinks with umbrellas in them handily lick smacking our joys with accent, and then a fine meal, as we watch the sunset, with a bonfire, and almost whispered knowing and intimate conversation drifts into a starry night where the woodsmoke mingles with the clarity of ocean air, as we feel the earth breathing within the womb of the vast vacation we never have to leave.
Such vivid descriptive language and a vision of joy that’s relatable, yet perfectly shallow — joy can never be fully anticipated…it’s more a fleeting, momentary, in-the-moment sensation, isn’t it?
[it’s not about the object, really, it is about the state of mind. How does it experience these phenomena right