Having recently made a post about sadness, I thought it fit that I explore its emotional counter-pole. In my experience, grief and gladness can be likened to the cycles of day and night; one comes after the other without fail, and sometimes in surprising degrees. In darkness, the first rays of light delight us, in occupation of day, we are shocked by the quick passage of time – it is evening again. Likewise gladness and sorrow take over each other like the sun and the moon upon the night scape. But perhaps much like the oft-cited Ying and Yang symbol, even in stark darkness the sun’s light is reflected from the moon, and in the peak of day, shadows are its darkest; hence a measure of joy exists in overwhelming sadness, maybe in the form of hope, and a touch of sadness exists in exuberant joy, especially when we begin to acknowledge its temporal nature.
But a temporary joy is not near to our conceptions of True Joy, or what I’ll call in this post, Radical Joy. That which is radical diverges from the norm, splits itself off from the body of usual occurrences and constructs for itself a unique, and even isolated milieu in which to exist. If we were to equate joy with ordinary gladness, we would mistake its true potential with its diluted forms. Indeed, I propose that our usual experiences of gladness is far removed from the radical, as much as its radical form is furtively concealed away from the usual. Our normal notions of happiness requires the world to bend to our whims, but this Radical Joy persists in the midst of that eternal contradiction between reality and dreams. Our petty constructs of what will make us content cannot stand in the face of a peerless, ultimately unreasonable Joy, Joy that stubbornly digs deep into the crevices of our souls, and remains planted and firm, refusing to budge whilst all our petty notions of happiness get blown away by the vicissitudes of living, like burnt grass in the wind.
This is a Joy that I believe all of us may have had the fortune of experiencing at least once in our entire lifetimes: That moment when everything seems perfect even when we know it is not, when our entirety of experience and existence converge into the event-horizon of contentment. Nothing could escape that all-consuming Joy. No, we did not bubble in exuberant gladness, nor were we scattered and wild in our heart’s throbbing. Far from it; we were calm, collected, at peace, but all gloom and negativity burnt in the purifying fire of such a radical Joy. Worries could not co-exist in the same time-space of its transformative presence. Sad thoughts were even welcome and became fuel for that transcending fire.
Yet, as great as it seems, as powerful as that moment, or series of moments was for us, it appears that we often let it escape our grasp. From its hiding hole it emerged, back into its abode the creature slinks away. Even if the conception of such a Radical, Law-breaking Joy exists in our minds, or better yet, our souls, the majority of our experiences do not affirm the existence of this fabled unicorn – we forget, we deny, we blunder. We settle for a mediocre joy, one that is dependent on conditions, and satisfaction of wants, and as fragile as a dried twig under a school boy’s boot. We let go of the radical – at least until the next time, when something prods us, and we open up our hearts to let in the unicorn, the all-purifying fire, the great, imperturbable tree of life: Radical Joy itself.
Instead of waiting for reminders to catapult us into that state of divine, blissful contentment, I’d suggest another way to enter that brilliant mindspace as a matter of habit. One element of that mystical type of joy includes an all-embracing thankfulness towards every single mundane thing. It is not our default state to maintain a level of thankfulness; like water flows to lower ground, so our focus of attention tends towards the areas of lack in our lives. Do you remember those days where you wake up in a fantastically good mood, and it feels like nothing is going to get you down? Well, a few hours into work, a flurry of difficult challenges come your way, and ploof! The clouds you were walking on disappears – it’s back to ground zero buddy.
However don’t get me wrong. I’m not interested in advancing an ideology where we guard against anything that disrupts our state of mind, that is obssessed with maintaining a rigidly unrealistic form of happy-denial. Instead, we must first acknowledge the changing nature of the world, and the cyclic nature of our moods. We must let go and let our emotions be, feeling them thoroughly. But likewise we cannot be like seafarers overcome by waves – skillfully we must ride it and surf. Part of this surfing includes choosing to act and think in ways that gently nudges our emotions towards the direction that we so desire. To be angry, act angrily, think angry thoughts. To be sad, fill your mind with melancholic musings. To be joyful, the answer is as simple – in every single mundane thing, find a reason to be glad, to give thanks, to rejoice.
If you can read this, your eyes are working. Rejoice! Look at the beautiful shades and colours that make up this splendid world. Look at the pleasing forms and shapes that tickle the eye and give taste to the visual experience. Let your heart be delighted with the play of light and shadows in the material world around you. Then let your attention sink into the deeper emotional world within. Be glad that you have the space and time to reflect. Think about all the challenges you have faced so far, and how you have overcome them somehow. Recall how you have access to the simple mundane things that enable you to use the internet and make sense of this post. Food that you may at times take for granted, clean water that comes easily, electricity, shelter from the wind and rain, a hug from loved ones. Let all these little oft-ignored things form the texture of your experience; let it be the very air you breathe. In this mode of thankfulness, joy will descend upon you like a butterfly, and like a butterfly you will let it sit, knowing that it may lift from its perch and take flight at any time – and you will let it, with not one strain of resistance. Why grasp upon that which is ephemeral, and more importantly, a state which you can enter into at any time?
So I suggest, while we let the madness and sadness of life wash over us when they may, let us also choose, when we can, to enter into Radical Joy. All we need to do is to be absolutely grateful and gladdened by every mundane thing possible, an exercise that sounds simple, but is as challenging as can be. While we may never truly sustain that temporal state of mind, the fact is that our practice will enable us to build a deep well of imperturbable gladness within – whirlwinds may assault us, but still we can access its tranquility and rejuvenatory power. We can cry, or get angry, or go crazy, yet the fountain remains. That is the very essence of Radical Joy.