Joy (written 2013)
I've been thinking about intentions in my practice. Something that comes to mind is a card I have among the “reminders” near my altar. This card sets out the “seven factors of awakening”. It's a sketch of a teeter-totter, with “mindfulness” as the pivotal pyramid on which the horizontal line rests. Each side holds a set of three qualities. On one side are the active ingredients: energy, joy and investigation. On the other the still ingredients of tranquility, concentration and equanimity. This diagram helps me to remember the importance of balance in my practice.
I've been thinking that my current practice leans heavily toward the “still” side. Tranquility, serenity. Both are compelling to me. And equanimity is what I seek when life becomes too much or triggers my innate anxiety response. Concentration, I recognize as having grown over the years of my practice. But on the active side I feel less sense of how to proceed.
I know that making room for retreats, that spending time with others of like-mind are energy making activities for me. And when I am still enough, investigation is more fruitful. Joy, however, can be elusive. Writing this though, I see suddenly that joy is a product of stillness and tranquility for me...just not the “skipping through the meadow singing” joy. Rather a sense of the moment being “right”, a sense of calm. Indeed, I suppose that is the very compelling element that draws me to stillness. Why I discovered a surprising affinity with silence and stillness. So perhaps it is a semantic question. How do I define joy?
Years ago I named my violin “Joy” when I bought her. Joy means an untainted happiness to me. By naming her so, I wanted to remind myself not to get too grim and determined and accomplishment centered in taking on this new venture. I wanted to just let joy blossom. But at the same time, joy is not equivalent to pleasure. It is deeper. Steadier. Less fleeting. Joy can accompany sorrow or loss. Watching my children grow I feel this very volatile mix. It is this that can make joy elusive for me, I think. When it is mixed with pain I step back and cannot let it be to its greatest extent. The joy in this world is colored by conflict and threats and fragility. It is joy that is like lovely broken glass glittering in the sun. Dangerous, a little. Deceptive, a little. And I want to learn how to still be openhanded in my holding of it, not passing it by because of fear.
I recognize in my “anxious” nature, my set-point, a kind of fearfulness that undermines joy and perhaps makes the draw to stillness an escape valve...a place not to feel fear and grief and disappointment, rather than a place to feel true contentment. Hmm.
On my shelves is a book by a much loved author, Mary Rose O'Reilly. The book is called The Love of Impermanent Things. The title captures thus the painful joy of the sensory world, of loving what cannot last. Coming back again to considering my intention, I see that I am on track afterall. Going deeper with tranquility, with concentration, bounces the end of the teeter totter against the solid ground of experience, gives me stability to investigate and then lifts my heart. When my hands are free, not holding on in fear, not fighting off what I don't want to experience, then my heart lifts in a joy grounded in clarity and truth.