ASK ABDI: HOW TO CULTIVATE JOY?
QUESTION: Thank you for your podcast episode on loss. Your courage and clear voice are a salve and grounding. I look around and feel life is seeping its lesson into every crevice of the soul… sculpting us. We are riverbeds, we are smooth stones, and we are the current. No one is without this right now… gentle or violent... I feel sadness, I feel beauty. Joy is my missing link. Can you speak to that? How do we cultivate joy in these full times? It seems to take longer and is much simpler than I am used to.
ANSWER: So beautiful and true what you say: life is indeed seeping its lesson into every crevice of the soul.
Important question you ask about joy. In my experience, as someone who lost joy early in life, it creeps on us by surprise as we let go of constant movement. It is a byproduct of our true nature, which is masked first by pain, perceived or real, at a young age. Then, it is further masked by the constant internal and external movement that we use to numb that pain. So dealing with the pain and healing it is a must. That leads to a quieting of our internal life, which then allows the joy to pierce through.
I know, through personal and clinical experience, that we need to learn to tolerate joy. It is akin to a person that has been severely dehydrated and heat-stroked wandering the desert. We can not just pour water down their throat, that could kill them. It is a slow process to get the body to hydrate. It is the same with joy. As counterintuitive as it may seem, we need to learn to tolerate it. We are all very comfortable with our identification with our pain. So to cultivate joy, we need to cultivate remembrance of Self. In order to do that, we need to surrender much that we have mistakenly taken for who we are. A good pointer is that joy is not dependent on external circumstances. Ram Dass used to tell this great story about how he was in India trying to see his guru and he had bad dysentery. He was in some train station using the toilet, ankle-deep in shit. In slippers. And this amazing bliss overtook him. I always loved that story as a pointer to how it really is not what is outside that hinders and helps bring joy.
So, the best we can do is to get ourselves (i.e. the myriad of stories and their defense mechanisms) out of the way. Then, we find that joy has always been here, but “we” were somewhere else.