Yesterday I was speaking with a friend about the grace of awakening to a new way of living and responding to situations that people and Life throws at us. We spoke of our fascination with learning, in very practical ways, how to be happy, especially when things aren‘t going our way. We spoke of the joy of learning to let go of expectations and to not base one’s happiness on how another responds to us. In this conversation she kept saying, “I have so much to learn. I have such a long way to go to realize these things.” I encouraged her not to look at how much she has yet to learn or realize, but to celebrate what she has learned right now. If we keep the attention on how far we’ve yet to go, we’ll never get anywhere. But if we keep the focus on this moment and what we have learned, this moment will take us to the next, and the next. The important thing is that we continually do something to grow and learn.
Al-Anon has a litany called “Just For Today,” in which it highlights various simple things that I will do JUST TODAY. It keeps the focus on the present moment instead of the big picture. One of the things it says is: “Just for today I will try to strengthen my mind. I will study. I will learn something useful. I will not be a mental loafer. I will read something that requires effort, thought and concentration” (Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc. 1972). Now, notice it doesn’t say I will read VOLUMES. It says I will read SOMETHING.
What one of us doesn’t want to be happy and to live somewhat peaceably in this life? What one of us wouldn’t want to learn secrets of living happily and peacefully even when life seemingly becomes very difficult? What a treasure that would be! Well, the good news is we can! We just have to stick with some daily learning. I heard it said years ago that if you throw enough mud against the wall, eventually some of it will stick. This is certainly an apt description of my learning process! If I read a little, meditate a little, am present a little and love a little, . . . eventually some of it will stick!
Throw a little mud against the wall today.
It is precisely in being present to what we’re doing that we discover happiness.
Unhappiness and frustration emanate when we look to something or someone outside of ourselves to make us happy.
Eckhart Tolle, in his book A New Earth: Awakening To Your Life’s Purpose says this. Our purpose in life is ultimately to become present to what we’re doing, to bring consciousness to the world and in so doing we will be joyful. Period! Sounds simple doesn’t it? But just try being fully present to the moment and what you’re doing in that moment without your mind (ego) racing on about what’s happening next, 3 days from now and what happened yesterday! We’ll find it’s not that easy! But I believe he’s got a point. I like his twist on what it is to be joyful and how we discover happiness. Many of us get it backwards and as a result we end up in a consistent state of unhappiness and frustration. Tolle says this:
“When you say, I enjoy doing this or that, it is really a misperception. It makes it appear that the joy comes from what you do, but that is not the case. Joy does not come from what you do, it flows into what you do and thus into the world from deep within you. The misperception that joy comes from what you do is normal, and it is also dangerous, because it creates the belief that joy is something that can be derived from something else, such as an activity or thing. You then look to the world to bring you joy, happiness. But it cannot do that. This is why many people live in constant frustration. The world is not giving them what they think they need” (Eckhart Tollo A New Earth: Awakening To Your Life’s Purpose, p.298). He goes on to say that when we simply become present to what we’re doing we will gradually find that we are more joyful.
Perhaps this is what the Christ spoke of when he spoke of the “kingdom” being in our midst, right here, right now! Perhaps this is what he meant when he said “I have told you these things that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete” (John 15: 11). Perhaps that’s what he meant when he told us that we will find ourselves if we forget ourselves (the ego mind).
Perhaps today we could continue the process of attempting to simply be present to what we’re doing in this moment – and see what happens!
John 15: 9-11
“All this I tell you that my joy may be yours and your joy may be complete!”
I believe it was Thomas Merton who said that one of the hallmarks of a genuine spirituality is laughter. And any who really knew him would tell you right away that Merton was often to be found telling jokes and rolling about in laughter!
Where did we ever get this notion that God doesn’t want us to be happy? The Source of all that is DOES want us to be happy, and even more than that, God wants us to be joyful! True spirituality will lead to joy! If it doesn’t lead to joy, it’s not authentic. Look around at “spiritual” people. Do they exude a sense of joy or do they walk around with pain or fear written in their faces? Having a spiritual path is about being “redeemed” from pain and that which weighs us down in life, that we might live life to the full. If it isn’t, why bother?
Am I feeling a sense of joy in my living and loving? If I am not, then something in my spiritual practice (i.e. life) needs to be adjusted. The first question I need to ask if I am feeling stagnant is: Am I watching my thoughts and reaching out in love to those in need? Oftentimes I find that I begin to be less joyful when I am mired in negative thinking and when I am only looking to my own needs to the exclusion of the needs of others. Love and positive thinking are keys to joy.
Look around you. Look at yourself. Do you see joy and laughter? Plant some seeds of joy today, then stand back and watch them grow!