Many would agree these are dark times. And joy appears to have become an endangered species. A climate apocalypse, corruption in high places, flourishing autocracies, and the emergence of a new phenomenon— surveillance capitalism. So in this time of darkness, from a troubled sleep from which we seem never to wake, how do we lay our hands on a tiny chunk of joy?
Look, I know — you’re not feeling it. It seems like the well of joy has run dry. But this is the challenge — a challenge to dig deeper and find that source again. And the search is in your hands, nobody else’s. The potential for joy, in fact, is a question of choice, at least for most of us. Consider Marcus Aurelius, the great Roman Emperor who spent much of life in campaigns to preserve his Empire — a lonely hard life on the battlefield but one in which he took time to scrupulously record his thoughts. Naturally his Meditations revolve around the imminence of death, but as well around the immanence of joy, here located in our innate goodness:
Look within. Within is the fountain of good, and it will bubble up if you simply dig. — Marcus Aurelius
When you consider the multitude of lives lived in the millennia that has passed before you, you see how minuscule are our human woes. Take heart. Laugh at how hilariously tiny you are and how enormous your plans are! Shouldn’t it be liberating how quickly our presence will dissipate after our death? Few are those who live down in history, and of those many are remembered for misdeeds. Those that stumbled across some great discovery or performed some act of heroism? I assume the acclaim is quite meaningless to them now.
But let’s look at the sources of joy — there are a few basic categories of it:
1) The one that hits you upside the head. A kind of everyday, Gee Whiz joy that zaps you awake, gifts you with a total lightness of being, and has you suddenly singing about bluebirds sitting on your shoulder. It’s a Giddiness out of the Blue. It’s a prismatic flash from the edge of a lover’s glass, it’s a poem sent by your daughter, it’s a bubbling up like a fountain of champagne rising from your belly straight to your heart and blasting it wide open. This is a squealing sort of joy, a contagious sort of joy and you can catch it from others. And you will if you keep your own heart open.
2) There is the very active, physical version of joy that comes through movement — yoga, swimming, hiking, skiing (any flow-state sport), sex, playing with children, dancing! It has everything to do with breathing, with dissolving the boundaries between body and mind.
3) Then there is the joy that dawns on you, or rather in you. Often emanating from moments of contemplation, or from imbibing the natural world, it is an act of attention, of a consciously evolving recognition.
I am reminded of a dream I once had in which I looked down at my hands and discovered an orb of phosphorescent protoplasm nesting in my palms, all warm and luminescent and alive. All immanence. (A term employed mostly by monotheists, but the general idea of immanence refers to an indwelling of spirit, the divine becoming manifest in the material world.)
In essence, joy unifies spirit, mind, and senses into an exultant state that transcends self. To see again the pure and breathtaking beauty of existence. Being there. This is something we can all access if we choose to.
Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them. — Marcus Aurelius
There are so many routes to joy, it’s wild. Take a walk in the woods. Rescue a dog. Go sit in a café and discuss ephemera with the guy sitting next to you. Go to a concert. Spend an afternoon at a museum. Dawdle! Cook a meal for friends. Take a long bath. Play frisbee. Put on some trance music and dance. Plant tomatoes and basil. Watch them grow. Eat them. Play chess with an old codger. Take photos of your neighborhood and realize how much beauty resides in almost every corner of the planet. Consider your luck that you live where you do and not in a war zone. Read some Byron and realize that the universe is a marvelous symphony.
The angels were all singing out of tune,
And hoarse with having little else to do.
Excepting to wind up the sun and moon,
Or curb a runaway young star or two.
– Lord Byron
Clear your channels. Then bask in the life force. Let it enter you. Allow it to ignite you. Radiate baby, radiate. At this point, it’s an act of insurgence.