This little talk is about Appreciative Joy. You may also hear it called sympathetic joy or in the original Pali language, mudita. Appreciative joy is the delight that springs from an open heart for our own and others’ happiness and good fortune. Joy is such a natural feeling. But, sometimes it is hard to feel. What gets in our way? We’ll explore how the mind states of resentment, jealousy, and envy can flow under the covers creating obstacles to our ability to feel joy. And, we’ll talk about what we can do, in addition to our formal practice, to awaken in us our open heart from which appreciative joy springs. Enjoy.
I prepared this audio talk for my course, Living Resiliently with Mindfulness. In this course we are exploring and practicing the four faces of love: Lovingkindness, Compassion, Appreciative Joy, and Equanimity.
It’s a new calendar year and I am wanting to open myself, to tell my story. Mine is an every person story. I hear it told by thousands of other people every where. My story and your story, although so different in context and situation, share a common essence and power. Hearing or reading another’s story creates resonance between us, provides signposts to guide us, and aids us in our own inner enquiry. Knowing this encourages me and makes me bolder. How my storytelling will unwind is still somewhat of a mystery; my story knows and soon shall I.
Picking up Tara Westover’s memoir, Educated, I begin reading and realize. This is my story. It’s my story about how a life bound up in unquestioned beliefs narrows our understanding and possibilities and how when life opens to truth and honesty inner knowing emerges. It’s my story about walking a tightrope between wanting connection with family and knowing that that very connection would swallow me whole, never allowing me to walk my path, to create my own life. There are choices we make. We all choose. I chose. And, so do you.
Even though the events and struggles of my life and Tara’s are so different they yield a common truth. That we each have a knowing inside of what feels right and that betraying that “rightness” is giving our life away to others. That only by opening to that embodied knowing can we really embrace our life’s path.
Robert Frost’s words are here with me now as they have been ever since I was in the fourth grade. “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood and I— I took the one less traveled by and that has made all the difference.”
An inner process began working in me early. How it started, I don’t know. Through it what became very clear was that education was key — an essential tool to help me create my life — both my inner and outer life. It gave me knowledge and technique and also courage. Through reading and writing, learning how to think, allowing myself to be curious about everything, and seeing and then shifting perspective and seeing again with everything turned upside down, life’s truths and possibilities have opened to me, guided me, and supported me. Not only did this process shape my mind, it shaped my soul.
As I sit here typing, a smile is on my lips. I am happy here at the keyboard. Satisfied with the daily discipline of writing. Delighted when inspiration arises and creativity flows. Steadfast when it doesn’t.
Another truth. Knowing what feels right isn’t enough. You have to act on it. You have to do the work, not helter-skelter, but passionately and unwaveringly. The routine is as important as the stroke of genius. Your daily work is the foundation on which everything else builds. I give myself to the ritual of noting the hour, sitting at my desk and arranging my objects. The paper butterfly, the tiny replica of Degas’s sculpture, The Dancer, the coppery Buddha head from Thailand, and the ceramic heart given to me by a student as a thank you so many years ago line up on the shelf to meet my gaze when I raise my eyes from the keyboard. The pen here, the paper there. The computer screen lit just so. The task light precisely angled. And, then with my fingers on the keys, I am off and running. This daily habit sustains and excites me. I am grateful for it.
In this year we are embarking on together my wish is that each of us finds and listens deeply to that inner knowing of what feels right; that each of us acts on this truth through our work, by putting one foot in front of the other on the path; and, that each of us takes time to shape the routines that nurture each step along the path and applies them daily. Happy New Year everyone!
Constancy is the outcome of approaching activities wth the quality of faithfulness and dependability; it is also enduring and unchanging. How then do we reconcile the advice to choose constancy in our mindfulness practice when everything is ever changing? When our inner world feels confused or emotional? When our outer world feels chaotic and unsteady?
It’s a kind of paradox. Constancy is what results when we bring a consistent attitude to our every day situations and activities. When we bring our presence in the same steadfast way to every living moment, whether it is eating a daily meal, dealing with a sudden and unexpected event such as an illness or a natural disaster, facing relationship issues such as indifference and betrayal, or living through political turmoil and policies that create war, refugees, and intolerance, we build constancy. Think about it this way. Everything is always changing and yet our approach is always dependable. We bring our attention to and acknowledge in an even, non-judging way what is here, right now. Constancy results not from habitual reaction to what is happening but from the consistently of approach to what is happening in the moment.
A Zen teacher reminds us that constancy requires no particular effort. It does require training, however. Just as in dance or sports we train the body with exercises and practice to build something we call muscle memory, so too, we train the mind to pay attention and to acknowledge what is here in front of us without judging through our meditation practice. This builds constancy. Being aware of and acknowledging the worry, fear, and anxiety that we feel in our daily lives is our starting place. Our formal practice—taking time, giving space, sitting in stillness—is our practice room. We learn to sense and observe the changing mind within from a place of non-reactivity, openness, and truth. As within, without. As we build our constancy with respect to our inner world, we also build it with respect to our outer world.
Bringing the intention to build constancy in our practice just as a ballerina brings the intention to perform the arabesque in its true form and beauty and the baseball pitcher brings the intention to throw each ball with exquisite form and accuracy is a beautiful place to start. Start here. Same place. Same time. Bring intention. Be still. Be aware. Acknowledge. Observe. No judgement.
From there our steadfastness, our constancy, provides us the freedom to respond in an appropriate way that feels right to us.