The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures. It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth in numberless blades of grass and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers. Rabindranath Tagore
How often do you experience joy? I’m talking here about profound delight at the sheer bliss of just being alive; it originates at your very core, in your essence, rising gleefully throughout your being and cascading around you like the Angel Falls.
Joy has obvious links to gratitude and humour; an ungrateful heart can’t possibly know joy. And if you never feel joy you’re missing out. No artificial high can match it, and yes, I do know what I’m talking about. It is also impossible to feel joy if you’ve blocked other emotions; unless you’re prepared to experience sadness, you’re not going to be able to feel joy. Consider Rumi’s poetic words:
Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots, so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place.
There’s so much doom and gloom in the world and it’s depressing to see headlines every day warning of terrorist attacks, killer viruses and Donald Trump’s political success. It seems to me that much of what we see in the media focuses on the negative aspects of life and a constant diet of desolation is enough to get you down. I know of people who watch and listen to the news repeatedly throughout the day; they’re continually absorbing pessimism then wonder why they’re weary of life.
Sorrow can’t prepare you for joy unless it is fully accepted and borne. So rather than distract yourself with all of the suffering in the world around you, try addressing your own causes of unhappiness, lessening your burdens in the process.
In End the Struggle and Dance with Life: How to Build Yourself Up When the World Gets You Down, Susan Jeffers devotes an entire chapter to lightening up with laughter and joy. She refers to what Jungian analyst Robert Johnson calls Dionysian energy… the power of life that flows through all of us and unites us with heaven and earth; this life-force energy is the essence of who we are, and can thus be experienced by us all.
Johnson has suggested that when our inherent joy is blocked, we seek to fill the resulting emptiness with addictive behaviours. Our society certainly has a problem with over-consumption; what if a connection with our intrinsic capacity for joy is all we need to rid ourselves of any compulsion to fill our inner void by incessantly purchasing material goods? This wouldn’t just be good for us as human beings; it would also benefit the planet that sustains us.
Susan’s suggestions for lightening up and opening the way for joy to flow include, unsurprisingly, smiling as often as possible and learning how to develop a full belly laugh. Both of these can be faked until they become real – try it and see if you can give credence to Thich Nhat Hahn’s assertion that Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.
Susan also advises celebrating our successes in life, big or small, whatever they may be, rather than unthinkingly rushing from one life event to the next. We can choose to feel joyous, according to Susan, and I’ve found this to be true. Joy can be found in the most mundane activities; being fully engaged in whatever you’re doing can make cooking a meal, or even washing the dishes afterwards, a joyous undertaking.
In Freeing the Spirit, Steve Nobel states that:
…joy needs to be cultivated, for it grows in the fertile soil of trust, self-love and a sense of freedom. Joy comes from choices that support such a state no matter what choices other people are making in their lives… Opening to and expressing inner potential leads to joy… Growing with joy means that life can become an exciting adventure rather than a daily slog. Doesn’t that sound more appealing?
It does to me; how about you?