April 15, 2012: On Joy: From the Experts

At ten months old when our grandson, L., came upon something that interested him, whether crawling or side-stepping around sofas, chairs, or someone’s pant legs, he uttered a surprised “Heh!” – which sounded like “Huh, wonder what this is?” combined with a gleeful “I can’t believe I get to examine this!” Later, at fifteen months, his exclamation became a sophisticated: “Wow!” Already, he was an expert in joy.

Tara Brach, a clinical psychologist and meditation teacher, says joy is considered a “divine abode” by Buddhists and arises when we open ourselves up to reality – both to beauty and to suffering. It’s characterized by a full openness – a “Yes” to life, no matter what.

We can say yes to what is unpleasant and allow ourselves to feel what we’re feeling. (“Yes, I feel sad about X.”) We can also say yes to what’s pleasant – but without grasping after it. When we try to hold onto something pleasant, Brach reminds us, it usually eludes our grasp. She quotes these lines from poet William Blake: “He who binds to himself a joy does the winged life destroy/But he who kisses the joy as it flies/Lives in eternity’s sunrise.”

In order to feel joy, we have to be willing to go with the flow instead of trying to manage the flow. We shift from grasping after our wants and avoiding our fears…to accepting what is – perhaps, like little L., saying “Wow!” to what we encounter.

For more on joy, I recommend spending a few hours in the presence of a toddler. Or check out Tara Brach’s hour-long podcast on “joy” at: http://tarabrach.com/audioarchives2011.html . (Go to the 2011 archives and find 10/26/11 Divine Abodes: Joy.)

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