I aspire to be a joyous human being. As with most aspirations: It is easier said than done. Easier imagined than put into practice. Easier to search for than to have. I want joy to roll like thunder across the hills and valleys of my life; I want surging winds of joy to carry me through loss and disappointment; I want joy to be an electrical rush that lights up my entire body when I succeed.
What does it take to create a joyous existence? Is it possible to experience joy daily, not just in special circumstances? Joy, I was taught by my mentor Elizabeth Kubler Ross, is one of five primary emotions. (The others are fear, anger, grief, and love.) Joy is not the absence of pain, just as yellow is not the absence of blue. Joy may bubble up out of grief. (“What wonderful times we had together.”) Joy may underpin true anger. (“I am so thrilled to be able to stick up for myself.”) Joy may sneak into fear, at least I presume so, otherwise what are people watching scary movies? Or is fear’s joy the relief of discovering fear was unjustified?
To lead a joyous life, one must be willing to see joy in every emotion and every situation. Joy is sisters with happiness, gladness, and cheer, the niece of ecstasy, rapture, and bliss, and the mother of satisfaction and delight. Joy is lovers with beauty and order, abundance and harmony, safety and security. Joy adores spontaneity. Joy is gay. Joy dances. Joy sings a lively song in a major key. Joy rises up; it is elation. Joy spreads out; it is inspiring. Joy is hard to contain, and difficult to suppress. Delight is a bubbling spring that tickles the funny bone. But we must go to the spring; it will not come down off the mountain for us. One must court the joyous life; one must conspire with joy, entice joy, set a place at the table for joy, commit to joy.
Gratitude precedes and follows joy. When I am grateful for the gifts of life and a precious human body — even if it hurts — joy finds me more easily. When I am grateful for the presence of others in my life — even when they annoy me — joy considers staying for a spell. When I am grateful for my problems and recognize the blessing in adversity, joy signs the lease. Then it is up to me to see to it that joy wants to stay. Joy is always an option; we must choose it to make it reality. When I took a three-year residential course — The Development of Human Capacities — with Jean Houston, I lived in a dorm with a shower that dripped unless tightly turned off. The first few times I went into the women’s washroom, I turned the drip off with a muttered curse. (“A pox upon those who waste water.”) The third time I did so, I grabbed myself by the shirt front, got up into my own face, and laid down the law: “You may ignore the shower, or you may turn the drip off with a smile on your face and goodwill in your heart. No other choices. Get your attitude together girl!”
This is how one lives a life of joy — by choice. I am an ordained High Priestess of the Goddess. She says: “All acts of beauty and pleasure are in honor of me.” I am the priestess of joy. I have taken refuge in the black hat lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, which reminds me that I create my own suffering by the stories I tell myself. (And suffering is the true opposite of joy.) I take refuge in joy. And I sit ZaZen, which confronts me with the ultimate truth: It is how it is. Smile. This is how one lives a joyous life: by being its priestess, by taking refuge in it, by acknowledging it. Joy is often killed by degrees. Comparisons. Assumptions. Expectations. Joy’s murderers. Routine. Inertia. Exhaustion. Joy’s poisoners. Self-pity. Envy. Contempt. Joy’s abusers.
Leading a joyous life, like growing your own vegetables, requires consistent daily tending to the small details. Joy is like a butterfly. It is not meant to be grasped, only experienced. It is sturdier than it seems, but unexpectedly fragile. Often fleeting, yet eternally present in memory. And, like the butterfly, joy may emerge after a seeming death, it may start out as an ordinary, unremarkable, many-footed thing. Never underestimate joy. It really is all around you, right now. To lead a joyous life is simple. One simply starts from the premise: “Life is bliss.”
Copyright 2010 Susun Weed