Fall at the Meetinghouse
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I've told you these things, so the joy I know you'll know, and your joy will overflow.
*Gospel of John 15.11
Welcome to the joys that come to the spirit
the less we plague the soul with things.
*Joan Chittister. The Monastery of the Heart.
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Sister Annabel Laity, Thich Nhat Hanh's first Western monastic disciple -
About ten years ago I was busily walking somewhere on an errand while organizing a retreat in the European Institute of Applied Buddhism in Germany. Thay was walking down the staircase, and I was walking unmindfully up it. When I came close to him, he said, with much love, "Here is your challenge. Every step can bring happiness."
*Mindfulness: Walking with Jesus and Buddha.
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Joy - Buddhist "happiness" is rendered "joy, bliss" in English - in walking teaches us the potential of joyfulness in whatever we do. Joy can arise with action when you are awake to what you are doing. In this wakefulness, the act and you become one. No separation exists between the doer and the doing. If you wash a dish, the washing is action, and you are action. Even sitting quietly in a chair, appearing to do nothing, sitting is sitting, and sitting is you.
Some speak of union with God. However, how can one be in union with God and not with what she is doing? God is in the doing, in the small stuff, so to speak. Otherwise, union with God is detached from our everyday life and, so, an appealing but empty concept.
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Why might we escape joy to return to mental and emotional striving, struggle, and suffering? Have we become so habituated to struggle that we might not recognize joy? Do we not feel permission to enjoy bliss? Are we so accustomed to pleasure that joy does not feel exhilarating enough?
When age fifteen, my first job was gathering eggs from some chicken houses and preparing them to be picked up for the market. So, I would pick them up, clean and oil them, put them in crates, and store them in a walk-in freezer. When I first started working there, the stench was strong. In time, I did not notice it. My sense of smell had adapted to the reek. The foul smell was still present, however. Similarly, we may find out in meditation, while we watch the mind, how adapted we have become to emotional suffering. Hence, we may say we want joy yet sabotage it.
I have written here before of a surprise after I began meditating. It became clear I was refusing joy. I had not felt permission to be joyful. I had lived many years without any consistent experience of it. So, my path included learning to welcome joy and habituating to it. The body had to develop toleration for the gladsome sense.
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Right now, we can welcome joy with what we are doing. We can adapt to tolerate more and more delight. The Way is joyful. The more joy we can accept, the more we will experience. The fascination with pleasure fades. We have fun times, but we do not feel attached to fun. We become content with a subtle bliss. Excitement pales in comparison to this quiet ecstasy. Our lives may appear boring to others, yet, they are deeply satisfying.
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Then, as Jesus in the Gospels, we can help others claim this birthright of subtle, satisfying bliss for themselves. Even as negativity is contagious, joy is contagious. Joy is like a perfume that can spread silently, positively affecting the environments we move in and out of.
The Benedictine Joan Chittister speaks of the joy taught through the Benedictine Rule of Life. Bliss arises from the spirit, permeating body and mind. Spiritual delight is enhanced by simplifying our outer and inner lives. As a plant needs room to grow and flourish, what is of the heart needs spaciousness. We take action to provide space in our lives for spiritual qualities to thrive, including the effulgence of gladness. Then, we find we are joy, hence a joy to those we meet daily.
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*©Brian K. Wilcox, 2022.
*Use of photography is allowed accompanied by credit given to Brian K. Wilcox and notation of title and place of the photograph.
*Brian's book, An Ache for Union: Poems on Oneness with God through Love, can be ordered through major online booksellers or the publisher AuthorHouse.