Revisiting Joy

Joy is to be found in a place of inner quiet, the point of light within – the divine spark? It is more the manifestation of a quality of spirit than an emotion, existing only in the ‘now’.

Back in 2010, when I started this site, this was my first attempt at a definition of joy.

Revisiting joy nearly ten years on it is interesting to see where this perception has led me.

I see joy as a momentary glimpse of absolute belonging within the flow of all that is, a moment of total connectedness.

Joy is not happiness. If anything, I think it provides a glimpse of the unlimited capacity to encompass both the ecstasy and the agony of living and being human, both heart-filling and heart-breaking.

I perceive joy to exist at the level of our essential being. Young children access it more easily than adults because they have not yet fully constructed ego’s walls.

Still wilderness. The place that is most us yet remains beyond us.

Christian Wyman, Joy – 100 Poems

Those with a deep spirituality often seem to radiate joy (the Dalai Lama comes to mind). Is this, perhaps, because they have worked to shed layers of ego, to access and stay connected with the depth of being, the flow?

Let there be light

. . . joy is a flash of eternity that illuminates time.

Christian Wyman, Joy – 100 Poems

Often when we experience joy it is as an incandescent flash, almost outside of time. It is not something we can hold onto, yet it nourishes us to the core. It is, in the words of Derek Walcott, an illumination, a benediction, a visitation.

Cultivating our capacity to experience joy is also a process of honing our ability to connect, as well as to contain and to accept every shading of existence. This encompasses both the ‘natural’ and the ‘human’ world, which in the end is simply another manifestation of all that is whether you define this spiritually or in terms of particulate matter.

It is interesting that, at least according to Buddhist academic and teacher Reggie Ray, if we go back far enough in time to archaic, pre-agricultural civilizations, life’s purpose was perceived not as ‘progress’ but to stay connected with the depth of being expressed in creation. It seems to me that joy re-opens that gateway to connection and to that ‘still wilderness’.

Transformation, mystery and water

Fluent

I would love to live
Like a river flows,
Carried by the surprise
Of its own unfolding.

~ John O’Donohue

I look out onto my beloved lake as it transforms, very visibly, from the illusory immobility of ice to its fluid state and I listen to what it has to tell me.

Water is the true stuff of life,
The deep mystery at the centre of all that is.

Water exists in a continuous state of flow,
a constant state of transformation.

Confronted by heat or cold, it turns shape-shifter;
mysterious mists weave their enchantments,
clouds build castles in the air,
Jack Frost traces ferns across the glass,
the land is pelted by hail and graupel,
and blanketed by a quilt of snow.

The lake freezes and, later, thaws;
watching the ice come in and leave
teaches me patience with the ebb and flow,
the unseen nature of transformation.
After days of retreat and revelation
a clear sheet forms over the returned water,
once – oh joy! – with the exquisite,
unexpected blooming of frost flowers.

Yet the process of change
continues inexorably,
moment by moment rewriting
the relationship between ice and water
in patterns of constriction and release,
of return to rigidity, then surge and flood.

Transformation exists
in every moment.
What is now
is not the same as what just was
or will be.

Out on the lake,
the ice lets go as we watch;
the clouds race across
the new-blue sky
casting shadow spells
or float in the emerging reflective stillness.

Clouds on ice and water

Beneath all is the constancy of water
and a process of transformation
without beginning or end.

Water is the true stuff of life,
but life is all transformation!

 

My inner transformation,
in this body that is more than 60% water,
is similarly complex.

There is much that goes unseen.
Just when it seems the ice is melting,
something inside rigidifies once more.

There are moments of unexpected joy and light,
but also times of constriction and the flood of overwhelm.

The lake reminds me that 
all is unfolding, in its own time,
exactly as it should.

As I embrace my own transitions,
may I remember that this moment is all that I have,
is all that I am or need to be.
Let me inhabit it fully,
wrap it round me like silk
then allow it to slip away . . .

Lake in transition

The place of passion (2)

Passion, meaning, engagement, flow, now . . .

These were some of the themes I highlighted in my last post. I wonder if all or any of these are part of the essential stuff of joy?

Passion – I think there must be a kind of passion inherent in joy; that sense of intensity, what else can we call it? But I also sense that, with age, perhaps we develop an awareness of different shadings of passion.

In the context of loving partnerships we draw a distinction between the initial fire of romantic love and the deeper rootedness of enduring love. Some class only the first as ‘passion’. It seems to me limiting to see only ‘fire’ as passion.  There is just as much intensity in the depths of a still pool. Joy is inherent in both.

If I define passion in this way, then I believe it is indeed an ingredient in the experience of joy. However, I am not at this point clear whether the relationship is as cause or effect.

Meaning – It seems to me that those experiences that people cite as bringing them joy invariably carry a deep personal significance.  These include the great ‘human’ events, such as falling in love, marriage, birth. They include specific relationships – with partners, with children, with friends, with pets. Then there is the response to nature and natural beauty, to the arts, or to religious experience

We respond to those things we find ‘meaning-full’ in some way. However, when I look at all of these, what strikes me is that what underlies our joyful response is a sense of connection beyond ourselves to another being – human, animal or divine – or to nature and/or the universe.

So my question her is, is what is important connection and does our perception of meaning first require a sense of connection? In a world that is, superficially, increasingly connected yet in which at a deeper level there is anomie and rootlessness, this would explain the lack of a clear sense of and capacity for joy.

Engagement, flow and ‘nowness’ – I think it is almost impossible to experience joy unless you are fully present. Therefore it this trio seem increasingly to be pre-conditions for cultivating a capacity for joy.