Desperately Seeking Joy. . .


Phone Mala B&G_Sam

It wasn’t my best day.  Mondays are always a bit crazy, but this one was one of those especially crazy days.  I always knew when my father was having one of these because after murmuring several profanities under his breath, he would remark, “Everything I touch turns to shit!”
So this particular Monday began at 4:45 am and didn’t stop.  Between teaching yoga classes, running errands, trying to get to every email, appointment and dirty dish in the sink, I somehow also managed to also try to kill myself with an airborne pair of scissors and a pressure washer.  There was a bit of an explosion, but no yoga teacher was harmed in trying to wash her house.
I’m not complaining.  My life is blessed.  I am healthy, protected, and loved.  But in the normal course of life, we all have those days that we feel anxieties rise and start attaching to stories of failure.  We all have those moments of feeling like if one more thing doesn’t go our way, we will explode.
Recently, during a coaching session with my teacher and mentor, I was advised to meditate on the “joy in the present moment.”  I remember thinking that the assignment made perfect sense as it often does when you are having a conversation with a wise, studied, and grounded person.  For a week and a half, I did just that or at least I thought I did.  But then, there was that challenging Monday.
It was then that I realized, I DON’T KNOW WHAT IN THE HELL JOY IS!  My picture of joy is one of exuberance.  Those people winning the lottery on tv or the occasional person you come across with a sparkle in their eye and a mystifyingly positive outlook on life.  One reason I was attracted to the study of yoga were those encounters with seemingly joyful, content yoga teachers.  I wanted some of what they were drinking!
But sunshine, rainbows, and unicorns with glitter streaming behind them don’t seem to suddenly appear in my world.  Am I incapable of finding joy?  Do I know what it even really means?
I sat on my cushion that afternoon and began to meditate.  More accurately, I sat there for what seemed like forever, with the crazy in my head.  Twenty minutes in, foot tingling and mid-back burning, I wanted out.  I stayed.  Gradually, as I continued to sit, things seemed to shift.  I noticed the slight breeze through the window.  The warmth of sunshine on my knee.  There were birds chirping and cicada singing.  And the sounds of vehicles as they passed along the street.  I could follow the sound of a far off car as it approached, stopped at the corner and then listen as it drove further.  I gradually rested in the more subtle symphony of life happening all around me.  I felt calm.  My thoughts quieted.  I did nothing. And as the chime sounded on my phone, I did not want to leave this new found peace.
An English monk from the Thai Forest tradition, Ajahn Sucitto describes joy in this way,
“Receiving joy is another way to say enjoyment, and samadhi is the act of refined enjoyment.  It is based in skilfulness.  It is the careful collecting of oneself into the joy of the present moment.  Joyfulness means there’s no fear, no tension, no “ought to”.  There isn’t anything we have to do about it.  It’s just this.”
Receiving.  Nothing to do.  The beautiful thing about joy is that it exists all on its own.  Joy remains with us until we are ready to see.  Ready to sit.  Ready to acknowledge what we enjoy, what we find beautiful about our lives.
Joy is simple.  It is not always loud and bubbly.  Joy for me is resting in the knowledge that I am safe and loved.  Joy is walking into a good bookstore, kitchen store, exploring a new city or the woods.  Joy is cooking for my family or tending my garden.  Joy is a good laugh, a snuggle with my daughter, or a hug from my husband.
Joy is sitting on my meditation cushion and knowing I have the power to back away from the edge of doubt, anxiety and self-criticism by simply resting in the present moment.
There is power in sitting and doing nothing.  There is power in acknowledging the impermanence of anxiety and agitation.  As Tuesday dawned, not much had changed.  I still had lots to do, a traveling husband, classes to teach, chores and errands, emails to read.  I began my day sitting in stillness.  Tuesday felt very different.


Peace, Joy, and Serenity in Each Moment

“Peace is present right here and now, in ourselves and in everything we do and see. Every breath we take, every step we take, can be filled with peace, joy, and serenity. The question is whether or not we are in touch with it. We need only to be awake, alive in the present moment.”
Thích Nhất Hạnh, Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life


What Is Yoga?

Handstand in the Shadow of Courthouse
This is NOT yoga, this is an asana (pose). It is also months of hard work, mindful breathing and focus. More importantly, this is a beautiful evening spent running around the quirky allies of my beloved Bloomington with my light and love, my daughter – NOW THAT IS YOGA. Photo Credit: Stella Eibling


I love Russell’s way of relating the meaning of yoga.  When teaching, I’ve often compared the state of Samadhi to the moments of pure joy or pure grief in our lives.  The moments when things literally seem to stand still, our usual attachments drop away and our busy minds stop chattering.  Yoga is simply the practice of breathing more space in between the craziness of our thoughts in an effort to expand these moments of stillness.

Often, we feel this is something out of our control.  We allow ourselves to be swept up into the flow of life.  We say there isn’t enough time for stillness.  We question whether true peace of mind is possible.  It is.  It is a practice.  We have all had glimpses of Samadhi or pure consciousness, the times when it is abundantly clear that most of what we busy our minds with is not necessary and often the cause of our suffering.  Tap into this knowledge and practice expanding the space between the thoughts in your head. This can be done with the breath, a mindfully done task, meditation, listening to others, or meaningful work.  The possibilities are endless.  The mat is unnecessary.  Intention a must.

Russell Simmons: What Is Yoga?

Russell Simmons: The Connection Between Yoga and Success