Can you imagine feeling this way all the time, or at least believing you could feel this way at any given time?
There have been stretches in my life when I’ve been starkly aware of the absence of joy, where I couldn’t even imagine it. I remember describing it to a girlfriend as just plain missing. We all know how dull and flat this feels. A lot of joy’s absence for me was from wounds from my past that I wasn’t addressing, wounds of not feeling worthwhile.
Because the rays of joy that seem to come more naturally to children were not often shining in my house, I’d learned over the years to have low expectations for them, given my limited exposure. I am not writing this for you to feel sad for me, but more because I think many of you can probably relate, or else I think we would be a great deal happier a lot more of the time.
What is wonderful is that no matter what we’ve been through before now, we can awaken joy today, by actually being with whatever is in our way. It’s only when we push our wounds aside that joy appears lost. Conversely, when we witness our heartbreak, we can actually soften to the possibility of joy suddenly showing up.
This is just it: Joy holds the magical element of surprise. The spontaneous rise of joy in the heart can be as simple as seeing a hummingbird land on a flower. It takes us in such a disarming way! The disarmament of our hardened stances enables happiness to flourish. Joy melts us, or in other words connects us into our elemental goodness.
The other day, I was reading a funny anecdote about the Zen teacher Suzuki Roshi offering a student in pain some jellybeans, and I started laughing and crying in delight. I had a moment of totally spontaneous joy. I felt so at ease in my heart, and this reminded me of what one of my first Zen teachers says about joy: “I think that you can know from your own experience that when you relax and have some easy, happy feeling inside yourself and a good feeling for others, it does feel quite easeful and natural.”
Another thing about joy is how simple it can be. Like mindfulness, joy can be found in eating a pear, or putting on socks. It doesn’t have to be some insanely ecstatic event, some big revolutionary wow. Thich Nhat Hanh talks about the smile, how within the smile is all the joy we need. Or inversely, the joy invokes the smile. He is spot on. The spread of joy across my toddler’s face is synonymous with her smile. How the smile illuminates her! The small but momentous thing fills her entire body, the joy itself transformative.
Joy too is not far away, off in a hidden crevice somewhere, but rather belongs with and lives in us all. As with stillness and peace, there is always the capacity to touch joy, to animate it, in this very moment, in our own imperfect selves. Yet we so often lose sight of joy being contingency-free. Remember, joy does not have to be earned. We certainly don’t have to win something or depend on someone else to feel it. Why not drop our notions of having to work for it at all?
The main thing is to trust in joy, to know that joy is right here, like a free-floating effervescent balloon. Even when obscured by a cloud or caught in a tree, it is still right here. To have that profound trust is both miraculous and also quite ordinary. It is simply joy, no string attached.