Listening To Joy

Joy slips into my life by surprise.  I click an e-mail attachment and the eyes of my friend’s new-born baby blink open.  The traffic’s stopped in the rain at a construction zone– out of nowhere, a brilliant rainbow!  A spring sparrow’s song filters through my bedroom window.

Last week, the doorbell rang, and a courrier handed me a box. “This is my book! It’s finally here! ”  His wrinkled face broke into a broad grin and we shared this moment of joy like two old friends. As he waved goodbye I opened the box and picked up my new book for the first time. Here it is, after twelve years of work, countless hours of writing and re-writing, indescribable frustrations, despair and occasional breakthroughs.  But in this moment of joy, the first thing I realized was that this book– my book– no longer belonged to me.  What I was holding was the work of dozens of people– the editors, cover designer, publishers… so many hands that passed it along to the courrier who delivered it back to me.  Looking back, was this book ever mine? All the ideas in come from other people– my teachers, mostly.

Because it springs out of nowhere, there is something naturally selfless about joy.   It’s like the rainbow– a surprise that depends on conditions coming together.  I remember holding my son shortly after his birth.  My mind  tried to comprehend what it meant that this baby was ‘mine’.  But the joy blasted through reference points of ‘me’ and ‘mine’ like the infiinite space in a starry sky.  I was left with awe and wonder and a profound humbleness.

Joy penetrates the illusion that things need to make sense.   There is something deliciously meaningless about beauty.  It is something we want to share, not to hoard, like the smile of a child in the grocery store. The gift of joy is that it reconnects us with a much bigger picture, beyond ‘me and mine’ beyond the struggle of our daily routine.  It reveals our interdependence.

Dipping into moments of joy quenches a certain kind of thirst in our lives.  Beauty is there waiting to be discovered in all kinds of insignificant ways.  Practicing mindfulness is paradoxical.  It enables us to drink in the sweet moments of joy and at the same time it shows us that we can’t hold on.  “Touch the joy and let go” as my teacher would say.

It isn’t that easy to listen to joy.  We have a deeply rooted habit of trying to possess joy.  Most of us are addicted to this confused idea.  Before we know it, that moment of joyful surprise has closed and all we’re left with is the craving for more.  Popping that bubble of wishful thinking and coming back to the surprise of the present moment is the best thing we can do for ourselves.  It may be joy or it may be pain or we might find an experience that has no name.  Whatever this moment presents to us, it is a gift.

May your day be full of joyful surprises!





Listening to pain

Normally we think of mindfulness as a peaceful experience.  But there is an unbearably painful side to this practice of waking up. For me, this happens when a story from the news comes to life and pierces my heart like an arrow.  The other day I heard details of the rape and murder  of a young girl.  Now, it haunts me, a gnawing background pain that suddenly flashes in the middle of the night, a sharp stabbing sensation.  The pain is so intense I can feel myself trying to shut it down, to go numb.  But simultaneously I feel a mother’s need to bear witness, to stay present, even though the events are unfolding only in my mind.  In my mind I witness this helpless child, the traumatized parents, the deranged couple who committed this incomprehensible crime.  I hear my teacher’s words:  waking up to our lives isn’t about staying comfortable.  I know I’m addicted to turning away from pain.  But at the same time, waking up isn’t about torturing ourselves. Allow the pain just be there like a burning coal in the middle of my heart.

Holding steady, other imaginings arise.  I see myself scooping up this child, embracing her, protecting her.  I restrain those drug-crazed attackers, holding them until they come to their senses.  I envision the parents, and all bereaved parents, being comforted and at peace. Waking up from this fantasy, overwhelmed by helplessness, I remember the mantra, or prayer, of Avaloketeshvara, the compassionate buddha, who symbolizes wakefulness.  It is said that this buddha sees clearly and weeps a million tears, making the vow to liberate all beings from suffering.  At this moment, all I need is enough support to keep my heart open one minute longer.  Making the wish– the promise–to break the chain of violence in this world is the only way I can do this.  Where do I begin?  Poised here on this razor blade of nowness, I trust in the power of bearing witness.  Not closing my eyes and heart is all I can do.  At least for this moment.