Joy in Being

Joy in Being

 

                   This was to be happy – this emptiness, this light uncoloured state, this

         no-thought and no-feeling.   —Rosamond Lehmann

 

          “The secret to happiness is to be happy.”

         Some people, when they hear these words, nod their head in agreement, understanding. Some people, when they hear these words, want to slap the person delivering. My words. Spoken last night to a customer who raised her eyebrows, smiling at me after another disgruntled customer left us in a wake of angry insults.

          I think there’s a set point for happiness, and that set point is not something outside of our control. We turn the dial.

          But this piece is not about happiness but rather about joy which I think is a slightly different concept. Joy is more subtle but runs deeper. Happiness often implies something tangible, like a happy time, which becomes a happy memory. Or happiness because of some obtained object or goal, while joy is a feeling that pervades, and it’s more gentle like peace. Where happiness is aligned with pleasure, joy is aligned with spirit.

          My dogs show me set-points attuned to joy even when the day has not met all their desires. Their joy paints the canvas of our day vividly and encourages me to do same. If the computer is down and I can’t do my work, or I have to spend two hours of my time on the phone talking to automated people (“please say or dial your account number. I’m sorry I didn’t hear you….”), my dogs bring me back to present and what is good and real and beautiful in our lives. They show their joy when they wake up in the morning with enthusiastic prancing and tail waving. I emulate them by smiling as I get up (I’ve heard this raises your vibration and sets the day off to a good start.) They stretch (I don’t have to push them to do their simple yoga exercises--the best downward dogs--each morning; they just do) and shake (I don’t need to tell them to shake off any unwanted energy, they just know). And after a brief stretch we’re ready to greet the new day and accept the gift of life—all the pain, and all the joy.

          In the morning the air is different from the rest of the day. There’s a stillness even though the early morning world is alive with insects and birds, with animals singing to mates and searching for food. But it holds a pureness that feels quiet. In the last issue I wrote that to see the clouds drifting across the sky, you must be still. And to hear the earth speak to you, you must be quiet.

          My dogs find great joy in the moment they are; I try to follow their lead. It’s breakfast now and I squat on the kitchen tiles, clutching a mug of coffee in one hand and with the other hand place on the floor the copper skillet in which I’ve cooked Sunday morning’s special fry-up for them to lick clean. As I watch, my mind is with them, not off thinking of all I must get done in the next week. I watch their enjoyment; I hear the sticky licking of tongues and soft scraping of teeth against metal to get the last bits of egg stuck to skillet. It’s meditative, as it is any time I’m fully present to the moment. When I’m present, quieting a runaway mind, the moment carries, paradoxically, all the restoration of (and perhaps more than) a trip to a sunny breeze-filled island.

          Joy in the moment is so simple, yet often elusive.

          My mother taught me this long ago. I remember sitting in a patch of gnarled and ancient grapevines in the Languedoc, our picnic of cheeses, breads, olives, fruit, wine and a wild flower center piece sprawled before us and her saying to me, “This is here; this is now,” hoping our French surroundings and feelings of joy and gratitude would soak in enough to accompany us home to the long work weeks ahead in the U.S.

          But that particular moment, like all, was ephemeral and now no more than a happy memory, while the actual picnic with my mother was joy.

         Recently I read that the original definition of the word power was “able to be”. But over time it was changed to “to be able”—the difference between the two huge. The difference between a dysfunctional society of busyness and to-doers and one filled with Beings. Consider this from the creative mind of Rilke:

          In any case, it is very important to be idle with confidence, with devotion, possibly even with joy. The days when even our hands do not stir are so exceptionally quiet that it is hardly possible to raise them without hearing a whole lot.

          Idleness… the art of doing nothing. I’m proposing that if we learn how to do this well, we’ll feel more joy in simply being. Or perhaps my dogs are silently sending me the thought, imploring me to learn this well and let the joy flood in.

          In the sun-warmed afternoon the late-summer sounds of the cicadas fill the air and I can feel the days changing, quietly shortening as the shadows lengthen. Then, as this one day closes, I feel again the essential stillness. In the stillness I hear the voice of the trees who speak to us with their leaves, who speak to us with their wisdom. There’s a lot I could do right now, but I don’t. I sit on the grass with my dogs as the evening sun drops behind the mountains. It casts long beams of light, illuminating the four of us for a brief moment in time. And I feel the gentle joy all around. I feel the gentle joy of this one moment…until the next.