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!