I’m continuing the series of talks about the Lojong or Mind Training teachings. This group of 59 pithy slogans is a great place to start or deepen your practice, whatever your level. wherever you are. In fact, a good reference book is Pema Chodron’s entitled, Start Where You Are. These teachings are about getting comfortable with the power we have to transform the way we relate to ourselves and others, regardless of our external circumstances.
This week, we’ll talk about the slogan:
21. Always maintain a joyful mind
Someone asked me recently if Buddhism was just Atheism with a happy face. Superficially, this slogan may seem to say that. “Let’s just pretend that we’re always happy”. But, we all know that doesn’t work over the long haul. The basis of this slogan is the First Noble Truth—life includes suffering. However, what this slogan emphasizes is that there is a way to respond to suffering without adding more suffering.
First, we can encourage our minds to look for the broader perspective. When we are mired in the details of the stories we’ve created about our lives, we can get very unjoyful. “Sally did this to me, and I’m mad at her—how can I feel joy?” “I’m sick/I’ve had an accident, I lost my job”—these stories start to feel like WHO we are. Our language even intensifies it: “I am sick” “I am unemployed”… We are covered in the aggregate of our experiences. Eckhart Tolle calls this cover the pain body—those stories, emotions, feelings, sensations that we so tightly identify with. Our experiences and our stories appear to BE us. Is that all we are? Is that all life is? Just a bundle of emotions, feelings, sensations, thoughts? In Buddhism, we are encouraged to look beyond these aggregates, these superficial things that we hold on to and identify with. Emotions change, thoughts come and go, and we can change the stories about our lives. We made them up in the first place.
How can we find the joy in life? I was reflecting the other day on the common phrase TGIF-Thank goodness it’s Friday! What about Monday? Or Wednesday? How about finding some joy in those days as well? I’ve taken to signing my emails with “Happy Monday!” or “Happy Thursday!” reminding myself to find the joy in each day. Don’t wait until Friday to find the joy in your life.
Here’s a quick exercise you can to try. Close your eyes and bring to mind all the things that have brought you joy in your life. Right now, fully experience that sense of joy. Bring awareness to the every sensation of joy in your body. Now take a deep breath, and recreate that feeling of joy. Realize that the feeling of joy is within us, NOT in the external situation. When we are struggling with the circumstances in our life, we can stop and access this deep sense of joy that is a part of who we truly are.
This slogan is not asking us to just slap on a smile when we’re not feeling it. It is encouraging us to explore something other than the constantly changing experiences of our minds and our bodies. Look more deeply and you’ll realize you can have joy whenever you want. Get acquainted with the experience of joy. What is holding you back from finding joy in your life?
When we tease apart what is actually happening, we can discover the deepest sense of living. People who are dying often find this sense of peace, this strong appreciation for living. What does it feel like to be alive beyond the pain? In Buddhism, we are reminded we are all dying; we just don’t know when. By awakening to this truth, we can awaken to an appreciation for living in each moment. We can cultivate a sense of joy.
The second component of this slogan is encouragement to lighten up, to aspire to finding more humor in life. We are so hard on ourselves. We are carrying around this heavy burden of past experiences. We are judging ourselves and others. The phrase, “Lighten Up!” can be a great visual for taking this heavy burden of past experiences, stuffing them into a big balloon, then allowing them to be carried away with the wind. Give yourself a break every day from carrying these “burdens”. You’ll find that you’re able to more effectively deal with what is happening in each moment.
Pema Chodron says that “sooner or later you will be in a situation where you can’t change the outer circumstances at all, and it comes down to how you relate to things.” Wake up to the power you have to see things, people and yourself differently.
Don’t wait for joy. Look for the joy. Share the joy, expand the joy. When we suffer, we recognize that we are suffering. Then we choose to look beyond and lighten up. “When adversity is no longer experienced as adversity, this is a sign of success in spiritual practice.” B. Alan Wallace, Buddhism with an Attitude