Training in Joy

Training in Joy July 15, 2022

“Joy has its roots in mindfulness, which sensitizes us to our world of the moment. Mindfulness brings intimacy with all things. With mindfulness we simply learn to make room for joy; learning to see, listen, and attend to all things with a spacious heart.” -Christina Feldman

Joy makes us feel alive. It’s part of our innate potential. We can have joyous lives. With mindfulness we can learn to see the roots of our joy and to have some understanding of what gets in our way. A lot of things do get in the way of our joy. We get caught up and obsessed with fulfilling our desires. We start telling ourselves stories and convince ourselves that if just one or two circumstances in our lives were different, then we could be happy.

It’s, of course, totally understandable that we would want to strive for getting our desires and wish for things to be different. It’s just that state of mind that says, “I’ll have time to be happy later.” that gets us all mixed up.

In her book, ‘Boundless Heart,’ the meditation teacher Christina Feldman says, “Cultivating joy as a way of being in the midst of all conditions and events of our life is an invitation to radically transform our understanding of joy, experiencing it not as a state but as the place where our heart rests. We learn to cultivate the gladdened heart in the midst of life with all it’s difficulties and challenges.”

It is the case that sometimes we keep ourselves so busy that there’s no room for joy. Sometimes we need to slow down and appreciate the good in the world. But we’re often so busy chasing after the next thing, that we don’t appreciate anything in our lives. This doesn’t serve us very well.

Boundless Joy is what is traditionally referred to as ‘Mudita.’ it’s an attitude of celebrating at the happiness and well being of other people. What if we can find happiness, real happiness, from the success of another person? And I don’t mean that in some boring way like, “Oh, I’m so happy for you..” but in a real way. This is sometimes called “sympathetic joy” and I’d say we all have this experience at some point in our lives. It’s just usually really limited. For example, I was happy for my daughter when she got a new job. I took real happiness from that. And that is how limited this kind of feeling is for most of us. I can be happy for my immediate family really easily.

I can’t take much joy in seeing the mailman get a promotion. But what if I could?

If I can extend my circle and take joy in the success of more and more people, then happiness is always out there for me.

In her book, Christina Feldman says the obstruction of our potential for joy is concerned with two areas of insight.

The first is that we must: “awaken to the ways we abide not in freedom, but in an inner culture of lack and insufficiency.”

The second is we can “begin to explore the underlying pattern, often unconscious, of perpetually positioning our ‘self’ in relationship to other ‘selves’”

So, put another way, the main things that get in the way of our joy are 1) feeling that we are inadequate and 2) comparing ourselves to others.

Feldman goes on to say, “The felt sense of the culture of lack is discontent that is translated into agitated action and thinking in pursuit of a contentment that can never be the lasting outcome of craving.”

When we feel like we’re not good enough, we struggle. When we feel like other people are better than us, we struggle too. Comparing ourselves to others or to some sort of perfect ideal are things that get in our way.

The foundations of joy are Integrity and Appreciation.

Integrity has been described as ‘the bliss of blamelessnesss’. I like to think of that Mark Twain quote, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” When we don’t live ethical lives we get in our way. It’s easy to feel like we aren’t good enough when we aren’t making the best choices. We always know what harmful actions we’re letting ourselves get away with. This is a way to live with less regrets and to have more harmony and trust in our day to day lives.

Appreciation is when we learn how to focus on the positive instead of getting caught up in the negative or the imaginary all the time. There’s an old traditional Chinese saying that is relevant here. It is, “Write your sorrows in sand and etch your joys in stone.”

Christina Feldman says, “Mindfulness teaches us to reclaim our capacity for appreciation. We learn to cultivate many moments when we pause, step out of our busyness and our stories, and truly see what is before us, to listen wholeheartedly, to be touched, and to make room for joy.”

When we appreciate what’s happening, we make room for joy to exist in our lives.

And, as we walk this path of mindfulness and compassion, there is more joy to be found there for us. There is joy in putting down our emotional baggage. There is joy in learning how to see the world as it really is. There is joy in just realizing that we are growing and becoming less judgmental, impatient, and aggressive.

I’ll bring this to an end with one more quote from Christina Feldman.

She says, “Mudita is the empathic or appreciative joy that celebrates the happiness and good fortune of the people we meet in our lives. The heart that is freed from envy, resentment, covetousness, and discontentment begins to taste the boundless generosity that can truly rejoice in another’s well-being.”

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