Midweek Faith Lift
October 14, 2020
Being Joy…What Gets In the Way?
Rev. Deb Hill-Davis
Last Sunday we explored the nature of true joy and the biggest AHA from our teachers, the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmund Tutu is that it is a skill to live from a place of joy and it takes practice, lots of practice. Joy is our natural state, but the ability to experience joy is a cultivated skill. We learned that there are three factors to the experience of true joy: our ability to reframe our situation more positively; our ability to experience gratitude and our ability to be kind and generous. In a nutshell, this is when life hands you lemons (which you did not want) and you make lemonade or lemon meringue pie. You then say thank you for the lemons, gratitude, and generously offer a piece of pie to the one who gave you the lemons! That in simplest form is how to cultivate joy.
We also learned that there are 4 separate circuits in the brain that are part of our wiring that include the capacity to maintain a positive mind state, our capacity to recover from a negative mind state, the ability to focus our mind’s attention, and the capacity to be generous. These 4 circuits are separate and one does not impact the other. We practice affirmations to cultivate a positive mind state and we use denials to assist us in recovering from a negative mind state. We meditate to improve our capacity to stay focused on what we want more of in our life and we cultivate generosity in how we regard and interact with others, being more curious than judgmental.
This is fairly simple, but not at all easy! Lots of things get in the way and that is what constitutes what the Dalai Lama and Archbishop call obstacles to joy. We are going for mental immunity, much like we want to cultivate good physical health and immunity to disease. The Dalai Lama said it this way on p. 84 of The Book of Joy:
Often people ask me for the quickest and best solution to a problem. Again, this is impossible. You can have the quickest or you can have the best solution, but not both. The best solution to our suffering is mental immunity, but it takes time to develop…..at the rational level we know this is a serious problem that we have to deal with, but at the deeper emotional level, we are able to keep calm. Like the ocean has many waves on the surface but deep down it is quite calm. This is possible if we develop mental immunity.
So to cultivate our capacity for joy, we take a deep dive below all the noise and turmoil on the surface. But what about our negative thoughts and emotions. We have to come up for air, and that is when we feel our fears, experience stress and anxiety.
This is where Archbishop Tutu chimed in and declared on p. 85:
I think we’ve got to accept ourselves as we are…..we grow in much the way the Dalai Lama describes…..but we ought not to be ashamed of ourselves. We are human and sometimes it is a good thing to recognize that we have human emotions. Now the thing is being able to say when is it appropriate?
What a great question and what great permission to accept ourselves as we are as a path to grow into that future self that we aspire to be, the Higher Self who can hold the High Watch without being triggered and emotionally reactive.
Ok, sometimes I’m in the surf, getting tossed around in the waves. Sometimes there is a huge storm and it feels overwhelming. When that happens, the skills that I have thus far cultivated feel like I am in a rowboat in a hurricane or trying to ride a bicycle up Mt. Everest! I am just not up to it! Friends, I think a lot of us are feeling that way right now with all that is troubling our world. I would like a quick fix to shore up my skills, but the best outcomes for our community, our country, and the world are complex and going to take time. It is like the good –fast-cheap triangle. You can only have two of these: good and fast, but not cheap; fast and cheap, but not good and cheap and good, but not fast! So now what?
One thing that has been revealed in our fears and stress responses to the COVID-19 pandemic is how very interconnected we are how contagious both fear and the virus are throughout our country and the world. We are experiencing a lot of fear right now in both manifestations: those who feel powerless to make people do the right thing to stop the spread and those who feel a false sense of power that comes with magical thinking that says bring it on and then watches people close to them get sick and die. Our joy does not come from either one of these positions. It comes instead from the heart, from courage to do the right thing even in the face of opposition and ridicule.
What we are seeing in our leaders right now in many instances is an “absencing” rather than a “presencing,” mindset. We have had a collective denial of the pain and suffering caused by this virus and fueled by fear-mongering. It has happened on both extremes. As a people, race consciousness is beginning to slowly wake up to that denial. But remember, to effect change on the scale that is needed will take time; the kind of time the Dalai Lama speaks of when he talks about mental immunity. How can we cultivate the capacity to hear all the fear, the discord, the dissension, the hate without letting it rob us of our ability to find joy? It will take a great deal of courage; the capacity to stand up for love and willingness to be seen by all as you take that stand. Archbishop Tutu speaks of courage as “not the absence of fear but the ability to act despite it.” The root word for courage is “cor” which means heart; to be courageous takes us right to the heart, to that place of love.
Perhaps what we need to do right now is to turn each perceived threat into a challenge and meet it with love. Courage is like our heart; it is a muscle and it needs a workout in order to get really strong. And we are getting LOTS of opportunities right now for a strenuous workout of our love capacity, aren’t we? One of the writers I have discovered in this time of what I call “Covid Coping” is Joanna Macy who has focused on re-connection as a path to healing and wholeness. She writes in a column, syndicated from emergencemagazine.org, Oct 01, 2020:
COVID-19 reminds us that apocalypse—in its ancient meaning—connotes revelation and unveiling. And what has it unveiled? A pandemic so contagious that it immediately revealed our failed health care system and our utter interdependence. The need to prioritize the collective nature of our well-being dramatically rose to the surface, especially within our country, which is the most hyper-individualized country in the world. As Malcolm X put it, “When we change the ‘I’ for the ‘We,’ even Illness becomes Wellness.”
We have a lot of stressors in race consciousness right now and it is just about impossible to simply tune them out and ignore them. When we stop and realize the stress is simply the brain signaling that something is important, pay attention, then we can make a conscious decision in how we respond to stress. We are offered a myriad of opportunities to meet fear with faith, stress with resilience and to strengthen our heart’s capacity to love in spite of everything. We are not the first to have circumstances to ask this of us. I think of avatars of love and resilience like Anne Frank and Victor Frankl, who when challenged beyond imagining held fast to the belief in the essential goodness of humanity.
We can hold on to that as well for that is our path to joy.
Anger, fear, stress, worry, collective grief are all emotions that can rob us of serenity and the path to joy. The wisest counsel about these emotions come in the phrase which originated with the Persian Sufi poets such as Rumi and Hafiz: “This too shall pass” as it applies to all that is no matter what. The phrase we hear in the Hebrew Scripture over and over again is “….and it came to pass…” And we are assured that if we remain faithful to the creed of the heart, of love, then we will realize joy.
4 Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones,
and give thanks to his holy name.
5 For his anger is but for a moment;
his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may linger for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.
So dear friends, we journey through this difficult terrain, which has exposed so many of the challenges we face as a people. It feels like we have found ourselves in a kind of hell that we don’t want to admit may be of our own making. The very sobering but empowering truth is that when we can honestly look at how we got here, admit that we are here, and not look for the easiest or cheapest way out, then we can begin to do the deep healing that will result in being joy. Each challenge we meet, each humbling moment we accept, each pain we lean into and share the greater the joy we will collectively feel.
How does this look in real-time? Well, for me, each time I curse the darkness, I need to seek the light. That means when the news on the radio gets to be too much, I switch to a Daniel Nahmod CD. When someone comes down on me like a ton of bricks for being “politically incorrect” about some issue, I breathe, pray, and offer mercy and compassion for myself and the other person. When Dr. King was training civil rights marchers in the ’60s, he taught them to see the police and the National Guard troops as children whose mothers needed to love them more so that they could love. They actually practiced staying calm and nonreactive while having people scream racial hatred at them. It required focus, a lot of prayers, supporting one another, and singing hymns of praise. They were finding that calm place below the waves that is the deep well of joy from which all blessings flow. May we each find that well!
Blessings on the Path,