As I meditated on this, I realized that I wasn’t taking joy in each moment while I was doing those chores. I wasn’t practicing what I preach in my books, and what I was taught, which is to think about everything you do, no matter how repetitive or menial. Find the structure in the task. Think about how you can do it better. Be aware of the elements of science and nature that come together to enable you to accomplish the task. And take joy in it.
If my mind wasn’t elsewhere, if that wasn’t the problem, then why wasn’t I addressing my chores in this way and taking joy. As my mind explored this phenomenon, I discovered several types of situations to which I react differently.
When I was out in nature, whether it’s just on my property or elsewhere, I did take joy in each moment. I am very aware of the air, the sun (or moon), the light, the wind, the colors of vegetation, the subtlety of the variation in cloud cover.
Before going further I clarified what is joy. Joy is a label, like all others, I said. The dictionary defines joy as great or extraordinary delight, keen pleasure, elation. That is clearly not a Buddhist definition of joy. If I think of the moments when I experience what I would call joy, I would define the feeling as a lightness of spirit, feeling nurtured, experiencing something that brings a smile to my face ... whether it’s the beauty of nature, watching a small child, listening to a good piece of music, crawling into bed, or the companionship of a friend. I understand now that a better word for this experience would be happiness, not joy.
When I was out and about, however, whether it’s driving through towns or taking New Jersey Transit through the NYC to Trenton corridor, I did not take joy in each moment. I was present, but I did not feel joy or happiness. Instead, as a result of my mindfulness and awareness I felt sorrow at what man has done to nature and what man has done to himself through his built environment. There is usually little in these man-made landscapes that nourish the spirit and soul. Just the opposite; the landscapes are too often soul-deadening.
There’s a reason why the Chinese centuries ago developed the “science” of Feng Shui. Ones physical environment is very important to ones state of mind. It’s not a question of what one has, whether one is poor or not, lives in a very simple small space or a fancy mansion. It’s a question of how what you have is cared for and organized and the colors, fabrics, and sounds that make up your environment. And beyond your own space, it’s a question of how your neighborhood or community is cared for.
I cannot feel joy when viewing such situations, rather than sorrow or concern, because just as I find joy in another person’s joy, I feel pain in another person’s pain. As a Buddhist, one cannot have one without the other. Thus, I thought my take on the teaching I received to “take joy in each moment, in everything you do” was broader than probably intended. Taking joy in everything you do is one thing; taking joy in each moment is another. One should not feel agitated or angry ... things are the way they are ... but joy would be seeing without seeing. Joy I thought would be focusing solely on oneself and shutting out the reality of other’s lives.
But what about when I’m engaged in activities that I love to do, like write or play the piano? Without question I am invested, fully engaged in these activities. But honestly, I have to say that generally I have not taken joy in doing these things; satisfaction, yes … joy or happiness, no. Given my spiritual practice, why is this so?
At the time when I originally wrote this post, I thought the answer lay in the burdens of my past. That I generally speaking did not experience joy because after decades of stress, of not feeling good about myself, of doubting myself, joy just wasn't part of the equation of my life.
But I have since come to a different understanding.
I did not experience joy or happiness because I wasn't truly present. I know now that peace and happiness begin with being present, aware of the emptiness of all five skandhas, all my thoughts, and experiencing all things directly … with dispassion, free of labels, free of the intervention of my ego thinking-mind … knowing that things are the way they are because it's just the way it is. And thus my mind rests undisturbed. Then I am open to receiving all each present moment has to offer, embrace each moment, and find happiness in each moment. And am freed of all cravings.
When I am in this state, there are no more "chores" to be done, just things that need doing. If I am engaged in something I was already invested in, I am present in the moment, aware that that is the only reality, all else is thought. There are no thoughts of the past or expectations about the future to way me down. Everything is experienced directly free of labels with the knowledge that things are the way they are because it's just the way it is … not in the sense of resignation but in an understanding that there are no labels. Everything just is.
And when I am in that state. I am able to fully invest myself in any activity without any expectations or attachments because I remain in the moment and am aware of the emptiness of all my thoughts.
When I am in that state, I am open to receiving all that each moment has to offer … regardless where I am and under what circumstances … and embrace that moment and find happiness in that moment. And as a result am freed of all cravings because I live in equanimity.
Earlier, when I originally wrote this post, I thought it was impossible when faced with the suffering of the world to experience joy (or if I had thought about it at the time in those terms, happiness) in each moment in many circumstances. The two seemed inconsistent.
I now know that it is possible to find happiness in each moment, regardless where you are, regardless the circumstance. One can be aware of suffering, even experiencing direct pain oneself, and still find happiness in the moment.
Whether in the NJ transit corridor, or in prison, or even in a concentration camp, one can find happiness in the moment if one is open to receiving all that the present moment has to offer; if one is present, free of the intervention of one's mind, knowing that things are the way they are because it's just the way it is. All I need to be happy is to offer joy to others, be in contact with loved ones and friends (this can be purely mentally), respect my mind, respect my body, be in contact with nature (even if it's a very small patch of it), and live within my means. That is available to me every moment of every day if I am open to it.
And so I shall change the wording of the teaching I received from "take joy in each moment" to "find happiness in each moment." That is I believe more consistent with what my teacher intended.