That morning I again meditated on joy. And on the awareness that I was not experiencing joy on any regular basis, certainly not every moment, neither from within me or from outside.
And as I sat with this, I realized that my problem has been definitional. As I’ve written in other contexts, words, and their connotations, can be a major barrier to progress on the spiritual path. If you use the wrong word or if a teacher uses the wrong word, it can create a block, an obstacle, through misunderstanding.
In this instance the problem was how I defined or thought of “joy.” In my last post, my realization was that joy comes from within, just like happiness. It is not dependent on external circumstances.
But while that is certainly true, there was still a definitional problem. First of all, experiencing “joy” is not the same as being “joyful.” The latter is a heightened state, often accompanied by laughter. Given the state of the world, the extensive suffering and dysfunction, if one is aware and connected with others, one cannot be present and be joyful. Only someone totally egocentric could be joyful in such a situation.
Except in those moments when my partner brings me to a psychic space, usually through child-like play, where there is nothing but him and me. The rest of the world and our tasks are forgotten for those moments. And in those moments, I am indeed joyful and laughing.
Secondly, I wrote in one post that joy was really happiness, which is the absence of suffering. It is true that when I am free of suffering, free of the control of the ego-mind, I experience peace and happiness. Which is most of the time.
But that is not joy. Instead, joy is taking pleasure in the present moment; it is an active state not a passive one. And to be clear, being a Buddhist, “pleasure” is not something hedonistic or sinful. It is pure. It comes from the heart.
First and foremost it is taking pleasure in yourself, in everything you do, in the senses that allow you to see, hear, smell, and touch. I took pleasure in all aspects of my morning toilette - flossing, feeling the warm water on my skin, shaving. For the first time, possibly in my life, when I went for my walk that morning I understood what it means to “feel alive, “ to take pleasure in being alive. I was so aware of and took pleasure in all my senses. And, as I was in nature, I took pleasure in all that I was sensing. Everything was alive. Its reality heightened.
All of this is experiencing joy. Unfortunately in English, both the words “joy” and “pleasure” have connotations that don’t apply in the spiritual application. What’s important though is that I finally know what a Buddhist approach to these words means and that I convey that to my readers.
As a result of my morning’s experience with pleasure, I felt myself smiling the whole time. And I realized that the reason why I have had the “problem” of my face being in a serious repose or frowning most of the time was not just that the weight of the past was always somehow hanging over my head like a grey cloud. It’s that I didn’t seek to actively take pleasure in the moment, to be in touch with the positive energy in my heart.
As I went through the day, writing, talking to people, reading, I continued to be mindful of experiencing pleasure in myself, my senses, and what I was sensing. Now, when I saw something that was not beauty or that was painful, what I took pleasure in was not what I was sensing, the object, but the fact that my senses and my equanimity allowed me to experience such states clearly, with dispassion. I was grateful, and that is one way of experiencing pleasure.
If you can free yourself from the control of your ego-mind and instead take pleasure in yourself and your senses, you will have come far on the path.