Practicing Joy

I have been writing about personal transformation referring to Alan Morinis’ book about the Mussar tradition, Every Day, Holy Day: 365 Days of Teachings and Practices from the Jewish Tradition of Mussar .  According to the Mussar tradition, we have to fuel our own personal transformation with enthusiasm.  It must come from us since we are the ones doing the work of transforming.  I’ve been writing this blog for about six years.  I agree with Morinis and the tradition.  My blog’s content would probably back this up.

But…how? How do we fuel our own transformation? It all sounds so nice when someone says it.  I read the words and think, “Yeah! That! Fuel my own transformation with personal enthusiasm!”  And then I look at my pile of laundry and instantly feel deflated and tired.  And that’s just laundry! I haven’t even looked at my budget or my schedule or my kids’ list of needs or…or…or…

And then there’s this whole divorce thing going on.  That will really suck the enthusiasm right out of you.

It just goes to show you that we are all occupying a space on the battlefield.  So, I ask, once again, how? How do we create and then maintain enthusiasm about our lives so that we can cultivate some forward momentum? This feels like a key component of success to me.

Do I have an answer? Maybe.  Oddly, I found it in San Francisco.

I have been to San Francisco a lot during the past year.  During one of my visits, I was walking in Golden Gate Park and came upon an outdoor roller rink known to the locals as The Skatin’ Place.  There was an amp blasting old school funk and people of every age skating and dancing.  Frankly, it was amazing.  I sat on the grass and watched people from every walk of life skate, dance, fool around, and socialize.  There were roller derby girls, men in skirts, girls in hot pants, men in hot pants, girls and guys with ridiculous skills on Rollerblades, and even little kids in the mix who could probably get down on their skates better than most of the adults.  What I later found out was that this was a Sunday afternoon tradition at Golden Gate Park.

What really affected me about this Sunday afternoon gathering was the feeling of joy that permeated the entire group.  People didn’t just look happy.  They looked positively joyful.  Almost like they lived to get to Sunday so that they could go skating.  With that joy came freedom.  Just being present in the midst of it, listening to the music, talking to the people there, made me feel exuberant.

And then I read this today:

MOMENTS COME when the heart dances in the light. So much more than the experience of fun or even happiness, joy erupts when the inner sphere scintillates in its completeness. An experience touches us to the depths of our souls, and in that moment we are graced with a vision—if only fleetingly—of the flawless wholeness and perfection of it all. Then the heart fills and flows over, even amid the brokenness of this world.

Light is sown for the righteous, and for the upright of heart, joy! —PSALMS 97:11

PHRASE   Mouth filled with laughter, lips with shouts of joy.

PRACTICE   Step away from your busyness and savor several moments every day; feel the joy that is available to you.

Morinis, Alan. Every Day, Holy Day: 365 Days of Teachings and Practices from the Jewish Tradition of Mussar (p. 15).

Learning to practice joy–to really make it intentional–seems to me to be one of the keys to developing enthusiasm over your own process of transformation.  Why? Well, happiness is worthwhile, but it’s situationally dependent.  We are happy when things are going well for us.  As soon as circumstances become unfavorable, we no longer feel happy.  Joy, however, is different.  Where happiness exerts its influence from the outside in, joy exerts its influence from the inside out.  Joy almost conjures itself internally and springs forth even in the midst of difficulty.  Happiness seems to derive itself from favorable events and situations.  So, it’s possible to be joyful and yet unhappy at the same time.  An odd notion to be sure.  It almost feels like an oxymoron–joyfully unhappy or unhappily joyful.  Weird.

Just because it’s weird or foreign in concept doesn’t make it false.  So, the thing to focus on then is what might practicing joy look like? How do we do this? Well, for the folks enjoying skating today in San Francisco, it looks like that.  They dedicate time to something that inspires joy in their lives.  It’s intentional.  This is key.  Being intentional.  In fact, intention is the key to just about everything when it comes to progressing in life and making your life your own.

Developing a joyful practice.  It’s something to consider as you make your way.

credit for the photo given to the Godfather of Sk8

4 Comments on “Practicing Joy

  1. I agree with this. I’ve been trying to find this through meaning. It has seemed to me for quite a while that I need to seek meaning instead of seeking happiness . Perhaps joy would spring from that? Perhaps. But lord knows I’ve not yet found a hint of meaning.

  2. That’s the question. Not sure at the moment. I’m pretty indecisive, so hopefully that doesn’t get in the way. I think I should volunteer somewhere, but I don’t know where. Friendship is also part of that meaning.

    • There are probably many books out there about meaning spanning the spectrum. You could try doing a survey of meaning and see if anything sticks or resonates with you.

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