Radical Joy

Garden Fountain

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.

Gain from Everything

I’m not going to lie to you. Lately there have been days when I haven’t been feeling too well. It isn’t a full-blown depression, or a case of highly unfortunate incidents either, it’s just that the combination of non-eventfulness and various roadblocks in the way of skill-improvement have laid me in a pervasive mire of funk.I’m not sure if the last sentence made sense, but all I’m trying to say is that I’ve been feeling a little bit unmotivated.

There are days when I seriously consider just staying at home, even though people have been asking me to go out and ‘do stuff’ with them. It could be just shopping, or visiting a sick friend, or finding a job; and I’d be so tempted to just say “no, I’m busy doing stuff at home,” and they’ll ask “Like what?”, and I’ll say, “Oh you know, the usual. Writing, playing the drums, working out.” To them they’d think that it was nothing much. Unfortunately, to me, leaving the house for social events would usually mean that my various schedules get out of gear and would require fixing some time later. For instance, last week was a particularly social week. I spent 4 out of the 7 days out with friend(s). It was mortifying to my schedule. My workout days shrank from 3 days to 2, I did absolutely 0 cardio, and didn’t have the energy to push harder on the days that I did manage to train. I spent the past 3 out of 4 days not practicing my drums, which means that I have only 3 days left before my lesson, and I could be horribly unprepared. Also, I’m taking forever to edit my novella. That basically means that I might need to fix it by working harder this week. Argh!

But then again, when I look at it from another perspective, it’s so darn refreshing. I’ve recently come across this idea that proposes that you can literally gain from every experience. When you think of it that way, it’s no longer about trying to endlessly avoid situations that are out of your control. You can be far more open, far more receptive to experiences because it always has a present for you!

I used to tell people no all the time: No, I can’t go out because I need to study, I can’t watch a movie tomorrow because I’m out of money for the month, I’m practicing for my drum exams so I can’t go to the beach next week et cetera et cetera. Now I’ve started to say yes (still selectively), and I’m finally seeing what happens when I acknowledge the inevitable – I’m not always in control of my time. Perhaps you aren’t as protective of your time as me, or maybe you can completely identify too, hardcore introvert or not, but the moment you start giving part of your time to the friends around you, you’d realize that there would be parts of your life that would be time-deficient. I hate that, because it’s so disconcerting. But then again, I realize that chaos is essential for growth.

It is possible to gain from everything, even from what you think hurts you.

In my case, having my internal world thrown into chaos was exactly what I needed to get some fresh creative spark going. I was able to write a short story based on my little experience of following my friend about when he decided on a whim to go job-hunting after watching a movie (no I don’t think the movie inspired the job-hunting, but good guess anyway). Also, being pressed for time, I turned back to the Minimum Effective Dose training that Tim Ferriss espoused in his best-selling “4-Hour Body”. It was a new way of training that in my experience, really stresses the muscles for a short time without actually causing it to be too defunct after words, meaning you don’t suffer too badly from aches the next day, so you can remain active. Also, having spent so much time off the drum set, the one time I finally got to it (yesterday), saw me really practicing like never before. I think deprivation of certain ‘regulars’ in life is necessary for growth. Shaking things up a little really helps to keep things moving forward. And if you have the mindset that you will gain from everything, you really can find some gain in everything.

So yes, these days I have been feeling a little bit unmotivated, and I may have been lying in a mire of funk, but saying “yes” to all the last-minute switch-ups in my schedule may have reversed that effect. And for that, I’m thankful.

The Energy of Appreciation

This week, I’ve been feeling pretty burned out. At first I didn’t know why I was so burned out, because the fact is that I haven’t been pushing myself particularly hard. Usually if I feel burned out, it’s because I’ve been trying too hard to keep to a tight schedule while pushing myself to explore new avenues of growth. I’ve given up on keeping myself occupied with two hands full of busy-ness. It was quite awhile back that I decided one hand full was enough. But these few days, if anything, I am lazed out. I consistently don’t feel like doing anything, and I’m as lazy as my kitten when he climbs onto his nap basket. I feel that I’m just heavily de-energized, drained, and uninspired. I remembered reading from Puttylike (check out Emilie’s awesome blog if you haven’t) that gratitude was a powerful energy. So if anything, I’ve designed a few tricks to keep myself going strong even in this weather. Oh yes, I blame the weather. It’s been too rainy, cold and dark-skied recently. I guess the gloom does kill your mood. But fear not! With this arsenal of exercise for to do, I will kill the gloom and raise my mood.

Let me share with you the 5 exercises that can help you re-focus your awareness on the good things:

1) The Digit Thank You

As a light warm up to get my gratefulness engine started, I count off as many thing I can be thankful for as I have digits. Some of you have 6 fingers, some have 4 toes, it doesn’t matter. Go for it 😀 They can be as simple (or mundane!) as “I’m grateful that I woke up this morning”, because things like that actually get us back on the right track, i.e. “Hey we woke up this morning, and there’s a whole day of great opportunities ahead of us, so let’s wipe that frown off our faces!” Don’t worry if it’s short or simple, or even if it sounds mundane. Your appreciation will turn the ordinary to the extraordinary. And furthermore, this is just the very beginning…

2) The Golden Turn-Around

Now, if you’re feeling down at all, chances are there’s one of more things bugging you (weather aside). Name the biggest thing that’s getting you down and take some time to consider fully why on earth is it bugging you so much. Definitely expect a lot of negativity to come forth. After all that, take a deep breath, and focus on all the good things that you can gleam from that particular issue or circumstance. Remember, dwell only on the good things. There was a time for the bad stuff, and now is the time for the good stuff! Look for the silver lining, and think of how you could possibly turn the situation around, or how this issue could teach you far more about yourself, or about reality, than you thought it could at first. Grab the gold out of it; there’s always some gold in everything.

3) The Deep Appreciation

You’re warmed up, you can envision the bad day being turned around, and you’re in for the real deal. Now think of one person, just one person, it can be anyone, and concentrate all your appreciation power on him/her. Consider all of that person’s good attributes, everything that he or she has done for you over the years, and let your heart overflow with sincere gratitude. Even if the person has done something mean to you that you cannot forget, forgive. To err is human. This exercise is meant to also help you accept others and yourself as imperfect, which makes life far less harsh are far more worth living. Spend some time looking for the positives and let your heart respond to it. You’ll be surprised at how much your attitude and emotions would have changed by now, especially if this person was someone you could not forgive for a long time. You’ll be filled with compassion and appreciation, and that is truly empowering. It may or may not affect the way you react to the person in future, so don’t feel pressured. Let your heart be filled with good thoughts and the rest of you will follow.

4) The Beauty Walk

If you’re very busy, or travel a lot, you’d love this. You can do this anytime – walking to work, sitting on the bus, driving to the airport – anywhere, anytime. Most of us might be tempted to worry when travelling, it’s a common past time. Instead of indulging in our anxious thoughts, let’s try to look out for something beautiful that we can appreciate. Perhaps its the sunlight reaching out to warm you up from behind the tree leaves, or the hummingbird that fluttered by without a care in the world, or that beautiful smile on your neighbour’s face; anything that’s beautiful and praise worthy, let it occupy your thoughts and your heart. Imagine the essence of that beauty, in its pure and pristine form entering your soul and transforming it, renewing it. Sometimes the darkness of fears and anxiety cannot be forgotten, but a single candle of light, with its beautiful and earnest flame, can dispel darkness easily. Likewise, focusing on positive thoughts and beautiful things can completely change your attitude  and emotions for the day, leaving a valuable ripple effect of positive change to reach out and touch everyone around you.

5) Breathing Gratitude

The day is over and it’s been tiring, or perhaps re-energizing for you (depending on what you’ve been up to), but it’s been a blast either way because you’ve been keeping your thoughts on the positive and your mood up. To end off, find a quiet place, and sit down or lay back, and just breathe. That’s right, breathe. Breathe slowly, breathe deeply, breathe into your belly. You may be surprised at how you neglect this basic act throughout the day when you get caught up with various activities. Get down to the basics and breathe. For every breathe, let your whole being be grateful. Be grateful for every breath, be grateful that for every good thing that happened today, be thankful for the bad things even because remember, there’s some gold in everything. Breathe in gratefulness, and breathe out thankfulness. Be full of it, there’s never too much when it comes to being grateful. Be grateful for life.

After I count my blessings, I feel rich and full of energy to give away. Never under-estimate the power of appreciation, it’s always accessible and it’s always transformative!