Joy is a seemingly elusive and ephemeral quality in this day and age. So many daily actions are justified with a reasoning process involving a search for this distant state. Relationships, career seeking, and nights on the town often have this expectation, along with a corresponding anger and disappointment when joy is not found in them. Despair can appear when life’s circumstances appear to offer no possibility for joy. But what exactly is joy?
It is easy to label joy as a simple emotion, but it is far more encompassing than that. For instance, most people would not entertain the possibility of feeling joy and pain at the same time, and yet this occurs every moment of every day. It occurs sometimes for those suffering from a fatal disease, and it did occur in rare cases even amidst the horrors of concentration camps. So joy is not mutually exclusive from any experience.
In fact, there is a very common idea that one cannot feel joy and pain at the same time – or a combination of joy and other emotions such as grief, remorse, anger, terror, or rage. It is this preconception, seemingly paradoxically, that largely blocks people from joy. With this pre-decision already made, there are myriad circumstances justifying why joy is in the future, not now. Emotions exist that preclude joy, therefore work must be taken to resolve them. Financial stability must be attained to avoid fear, counselling must be sought to transform ‘negative emotions’, and a good stable relationship must exist for joy to be “won”. All of this, of course, is a never ending battle. Joy is not in the present moment, but always over that next hill, until the hills become mountains.
And yet, there is always the possibility for joy to intrude under any circumstance:
A common example would be someone caught in the elements. During a long walk home one day from a work event, a freak thunderstorm occurs. You are dressed formally and are first miserable because of your concern and disappointment of the effect the rain will have on your clothes. You rage at your helplessness in the face of the weather. You start to feel cold and are afraid you will get sick. You are filled with thoughts and emotions of what an awful experience this is.
And yet, in a blink of a moment it doesn’t matter any more. Like a child, you start giggling and dancing in the rain. A sudden feeling of exhilaration takes over you, and you skip and jump, splashing water left and right, and even jumping in the biggest puddle on the street to make a huge splash. The concern over clothes and the cold has not disappeared, but it has started to coexist with a quality of joy.
Did the rain cause this joy? Of course not. This joy was always there; it was simply that the rain gave you an opportunity to surrender completely to your experience. In this surrendering, you found a state of allowing of exactly what was going on in the present moment, and through this, innocence and joy.
Joy can indeed coexist with all experiences. There can be a joy in getting angry at someone who crosses healthy boundaries; it is not that you are enjoying punishing someone, but you are enjoying stating firmly what you want. The anger is part of your completeness. (See the post on The Innocence of Anger for further explanation). There can be joys in intimacies, or joys in surrendering to the experience of isolation and loneliness that comes from a relationship ending. Many great works of art have been created from this heightened state. Joy at its root is simply a state of surrender, of allowing. And because it is this, which is available at all times, there is no experience you can possibly imagine that has no room for joy in the midst of it. Some experiences take more surrender to reach that place, but this does not mean no joy is there. It simply means there is a lack of trust. Surrendering to the experience of a fatal disease requires tremendous trust, and this society is built on distrust. However, the potential is absolutely there even in such painful times.
There is, of course, a spectrum of joy, which relates to the experience of surrender and Love. The following spectrum shows a range of joys, from the most simple to the most all-encompassing.
|Experience of Joy|
|Survival; a contentment at being able to feel and breathe|
|Connecting with others like you; a joy of basic community and being a part of something greater than you.|
|The joy of making an impact. Revelling in your desires without shame or control.|
|The joy of intimacy. Vulnerability and exchange, a truly opening experience.|
|The joy of childlike play. The world is full of innocence and wonder and there is freedom and communion with others in every moment.|
|The joy of awareness. The deep nature of interconnectedness with all beings is felt, and the joy shifts to simply being.|
|The joy of oneness. There is no longer any separation to experience, and thus all ‘problems’ are not seen as such, but simply as expressions of Love.|
All of these states build on each other in greater allowing. Each level encompasses the previous one, without anything denied – so if you are not appreciating basic breathing and feeling alive, it will be impossible to appreciate community or intimacy. These states are available in every single moment in our lives, of course. From the most mundane office meeting to the most passionate lovemaking, and even to the most excruciating pain, there is a joy underlying the experience that simply is waiting to be surrendered to. This joy does not take away the experience, but provides support and awareness of it. Pain still exists in the midst of joy, but it becomes something to witness rather than be lost in.
It takes great courage to find this level of surrender even in the most trying circumstances. It requires diving off the cliff of being certain about the meaning attached to your experience, and into the unknown. Joy of course, is unknown, because it cannot be encapsulated by labels. It is beyond reason, beyond anything but the surrender of yourself to the state of not knowing – simply experiencing and allowing. And because this is all it is â???? the never ending flight that comes from taking that step off the cliff â???? it is available in every moment.
If you’ve enjoyed this, other posts you may also like include The Allowing of Pain (with a similar spectrum shown for it), and a previous post of a Table of Emotions – Allowing and Blocking states. And if you want to receive in your mailbox, please Subscribe to Loving Awareness by Email.
Consider this an invitation to joy. Breathe with us, Now, and enjoy it.