I’m currently in the process of teaching a weekly class series I’ve entitled Being Here Now through our local adult learning center. Next week we’ll be focusing on the teaching of cultivating connection and joy. So I’m using this blog post as an opportunity to help prepare my talk and flesh out some ideas. I actually gave this talk yesterday but wanted to post these notes all the same, in case they prove useful to anyone.
Here’s what I wound up saying (roughly):
Over the past three weeks we’ve talked about what mindfulness is, practiced sitting and walking meditation together, discussed the logistics and importance of deep breathing, and last week we had a guided deep relaxation. As I mentioned last week all of what we’ve been going over are tools that we can use to help create some spaciousness in our lives and learn how to start slowing down. If we have a want to live more connected in the present moment with ease we need to first learn how to slow down, at least a little bit – and we need tools in order to do that. Once we start slowing down and are able to interrupt the state of auto pilot we often find ourselves operating on we can then use that opening of space to practice cultivating the art of joy.
We can use the analogy of a garden. All of us have our own garden full of the same kinds of seeds. Seeds of happiness, joy, ease, contentment, patience, understanding, love, and so on – and also seeds of anger, anxiety, loneliness, sorrow, impatience, regret, stress, and so on. And there is a wealth of influences we have that determine what seeds get watered within us: the people around us, the media we consume, conversations we have, the types of food we eat, our daily environment, etc. If we find that we are often overwhelmed with anxiety, stress, difficult emotions, busyness, or find that we are often irritated or frustrated by seemingly small things on an ongoing basis it may be an indication that our seeds of joy need to be watered and strengthened so that the fruits of joy can grow and flourish in our everyday lives. While on one hand it is largely the people, places, and things outside of us that affect which of our seeds gets watered on the other hand it’s our responsibility to determine where and how to invest our energy and with whom to spend our time. We are the gardeners of the seeds inherit to us and it’s up to us to figure out what’s being watered beneficially and what’s being watered that maybe isn’t very helpful to us.
Joy is an emotion felt through pleasurable occurrences and happiness is what results as a state of being. In order to live more happily dwelling in the here and now we need to water our seeds of joy by practicing joy. So, what does that look like? Again, there are many ways to do this, just as there are many tools to help us cultivate mindfulness, but some of the ones I’ve found helpful are to first: Make the time to do something everyday that you enjoy doing, something you look forward to. It doesn’t have to be something big or over complicated. Just something simple and small that you intentionally do and can enjoy. There was a quote by a meditation teacher a few years ago that stuck with me, she said: “Let the things that matter the most not be at the mercy of the things that matter the least.” We need to prioritize watering the seeds of joy for ourselves. And the added benefit here is that only when we can take good care of ourselves are we able to take good care of those around us. So when we’re watering our own seeds of joyfulness we’re also watering those seeds for the people around us as well, automatically. What affects us affects our loved ones and even those we may encounter that we don’t even know.
It can be helpful to make a list of all the things you enjoy. And you may find at first that the list is quite short but that over time, the more you orient yourself in the direction of joy, the list grows longer. Because of our tendency to be over scheduled and over dispersed we may see this practice as something either unimportant or overly selfish but this inner dialog is based on our old habit energies and stories. Making the time and space everyday to do something from our list will help us to strengthen our seeds of joy and we will see a great deal of benefit from that.
Another thing we can do is deepen our connection to gratitude. We can do this by turning it into an actual practice by either keeping a gratitude log and writing down 3 things everyday that we’re grateful for or taking the time before our meals to say some words of gratitude. It can also be helpful to find a friend or relative to practice with and then checking in with that person maybe once a week to go over all the things you’ve come up with over the last few days that you were grateful for. Find a way to actually practice gratitude and not let it become something theoretical.
Another great option is to practice smiling…more! Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh says: “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” This is to say that we don’t have to wait for the conditions to be “just right” in order to smile. We can use our smile as an aid to cultivate joy right here and now. The act of smiling can actually produce feelings of joy when practiced over time. Our state of well being is up to us and we can take back responsibility for our own level of happiness by learning how to smile more. We would do well to not take ourselves so seriously and learn how to alight our faces in a smile. Smiling is an incredibly important tool in cultivating joy. (Tell personal story about standing in line at the post office here).
The last two practices to develop more joyfulness in our lives are being of service and being part of a community or collective group. Sometimes in order to create more joy in our lives we need to get out of our own way and stop being so self-absorbed. Being of service can be helpful in this regard. This could mean volunteering somewhere you feel drawn to or performing small random acts of kindness throughout the day. There are many ways to be of service and they all come from a desire to want to be of benefit. Finding ways to spread kindness and offering our time and energy to helping others will increase our capacity to feel joy and connection.
Being part of a community or group, whether it be a 12-step meeting, organized sports team, book club, music group, art lesson, family, friends, or spiritual faith community allows us the opportunity to come into an active relationship with others doing the same thing as we are or sharing common experiences. This sort of interaction is crucial for living a happy, healthy life. We need the support and nourishment of others in order to flourish. We can only accomplish so much by ourselves alone. We need the influence, spirit and energy of a community in order to transform our challenging states of being and to realize our capacity for becoming more joyful and happy.
Please make the time to practice watering your seeds of joy. Find the ways that work for you and offer benefit. Make it a priority to allow the things that matter most not be at the mercy of the things that matter the least.