This is Joy (written 2017)
Stepping out of the garage, my arms were full and my eyes on my feet. The cat pressed up against my legs and set my priorities straight. Transferring the load to one arm, I stooped to scoop him up with the empty arm. An inch or two off the ground, he took matters into his own four paws and scrambled, fairly gracefully, to my shoulder, settling inside the collar of my half open jacket, a horseshoe of fur around my neck. Despite the itching, sneezing and puffy lips and eyes that I knew would soon follow, for the moment his cool, silky coat against my bare neck was nothing short of delightful! That this fur collar was purring and vibrating was even better. My own massage cat. No electricity needed. I smiled and cooperated in the snuggle by tilting my head back against him and raising my empty hand to his solid flank to keep him from sliding.
The sky was a revelation. One of those clear and magnificent Alberta nights. Every star burning away in a black velvet bowl. I remembered how the stars disappear in the city and felt the blessing of this country life. This, I told myself, pausing to breathe the icy air, is joy.
Moments come like that. Not when we're looking for them, planning them, seeking them. Just in the ordinary course of living. So many moments flying by and each with its emotional tone. Sometimes more than one feeling is in the mix of a nano second, but occasionally an emotion shoots through with humbling purity. Like this one. Joy! For that moment, nothing else claimed mental or heart space.
Following the advice of many teachers, I breathed again, took a moment to name this, and while allowing it to sweep through and away, as it inevitably would, I set it to memory.
We may think sometimes from the instructions to let go, that memories are “bad” in some way. But letting go also means letting go of this kind of judgment. What tends to be complicated about memory is that we sweep into its narrative, the movie; we move away from now. If I'd been caught in a memory-story as I'd stepped out of the garage, I would have brushed by the cat and kept my head down. I would have missed that true and beautiful moment, fleeting as it was. So it's more about being alert and skillful as I observe the path my mind is choosing. Noting whether it leads towards peace or away.
Is the memory a reaching back with mourning or anger? Is there a sense of loss or despair or aversion? If I were looking down a toboggan hill and saw a cliff ahead, I'd turn or brake if I could. So it is with mindful effort. I notice what my thoughts are doing to my present state of mind. What's up ahead? Do I need to reset the direction?
Similarly, if the toboggan is rushing unimpeded through lovely greenery over friendly terrain, I take note. Not grabbing at a branch to slow the momentum, but being with the exhilarating journey. When I notice I am in one of these pure and simple moments of positive emotion, I try to bring strong attention to memorizing not the story of the moment but the emotional tone that rushes through my body. This gives me material for the cultivation of joy and more skillful mind states more often. These body memories of joy, of love, of peace, are models. This is not a holding on that yearns for that particular moment again, not pinning it down or wrapping it up to keep. Rather it is being there with it, naming it fully, on the fly. The difference between admiring the butterfly in the meadow and mounting it on a board for a museum collection.
How is this useful in meditation and daily life? In meditation, it can be useful to have clear rememberings of what the positive emotions, like joy and love and compassion, feel like in the body. As the body and mind settle into stillness and tranquility opens the hand of the mind, I can open doors for these positive guests. My teacher speaks of this as induction. Putting skillful effort into the stirring up of mind states that lift the heart. Allowing them to inhabit mind, heart and body.
We don't need a photo album for this, or a scrapbook of keepsakes. What we need is to be open to the treasures each day offers. They will be there if we don't miss them. Even tired, at the end of a drive, in the midst of winter, weighed down with luggage and boxes, stepping out into a cold night on possibly treacherous ice. Even then. The touch of a warm and furry body. The audible and tangible breathing of another being pressed against my skin. The sky open and endless. In that moment I knew the presence of joy. And my body remembers.