We call it by many names: happiness, gladness, delightfulness, or cheerfulness. I simply call it joy. What is it? It is the act of rejoicing in life’s little pleasures. It is not a feeling, but a celebration.
Today, the third day of spring, it was so bitterly cold that the snow was reduced to a fine powder. As I brushed it off my car, I watched it swirl around in the wind, glisten in the morning sun, and, like winter, slowly fade away. The grains or flakes of snow may be small, but they can quickly pile up and cover the landscape. So it is with life’s little pleasures. They may be little, but they are not without significance. They pile up, swirl around us, and bathe us with joy. Anais Nin (1914-1977) describes this experience: "A leaf fluttered in through the window this morning, as if supported by the rays of the sun, a bird settled on the fire escape, joy in the taste of coffee, joy accompanied me as I walked…"
Imagine a deaf and blind man seated in a movie theater. Unaware of the drama unfolding on the screen, he sits bored. Like that man, we also are sitting in a theater. And the movie that is playing is called MY LIFE. If we’re unaware of what’s going on, why be surprised that we’re bored? But if we open our hearts, minds, and senses to life as it whirls around us, how can we be bored? Its many twists, turns, and surprises are more than enough to keep us in suspense and fill us with delight. Don’t fall asleep or you’ll miss all the excitement!
Take the time to enJOY the little things, such as watching the crimson sun melt into the sea, catching a baby’s first smile, observing a squirrel climb down a tree headfirst, listening to birds warble against a backdrop of splattering rain, and falling asleep with your limbs still intertwined with those of your spouse. We need to do or experience something everyday that makes our souls sing. When we do so, others will enjoy our song.
Experiencing the little pleasures is merely about being attuned to life. I like Robert Holden’s description of someone who is: "First you believe, and then you see the Light. Next, you go toward the Light. Soon, you are in the Light. Now you are the Light." Any suffering that comes our way never discourages a joyful soul. After all, to enjoy the better things in life, don’t we first have to experience the things they are better than? Not to be joyous is almost to be sacrilegious, for as The Talmud teaches, "A person will be called to account on Judgment Day for every permissible thing he might have enjoyed but did not."
Life is not permanent and neither is any particular joyous experience. That knowledge allows us to relish it. But if we vainly try to cling to it, we will be let down. Not only will the joyous event end, but our disappointment will extinguish any hope of recognizing the next little pleasure. So, never try to hold on to the joys that come your way, but always remain open to receive their replacements. As long as you let go of any wish to hold on to life’s little pleasures, you will overflow with an endless stream of joy.
Here are the comments of two poets on the same subject. "All human joys are swift of wing, For heaven doth so allot it; That when you get an easy thing, You find you haven’t got it." (Eugene Field, 1850 ~ 1895). "He who binds to himself a joy doth the winged life destroy. But he who kisses the joy as it flies, lives in Eternity’s sunrise." (William Blake, 1757 ~ 1827). Enlightened travelers of life don’t cry because joy fades, but smile because it happened.
There are those who are joyful, those who are asleep, and those who would steal your joy if they could. Let your light shine on those who are asleep; perhaps it will awaken them. And don’t become angry with those who try to steal your joy, for if you do, you will allow them to succeed. Instead, be compassionate. They are thieves and envious because they hunger for something which they lack. If you can forgive them for trying to hurt you, you will dissolve any negativity they hurl your way. They may remain resentful, but you will be free to live with joy.
"Just play. Have fun. Enjoy the game." Isn’t that something you would like to say? Those are the words of Michael Jordan, who is just playing, having fun, and enjoying the game of life. How did he reach that point? Wasn’t it by taking life seriously, working hard, and practicing self-discipline? Sure, he made considerable effort, and continues to do so, but aren’t the rewards worth it? If we want to live life with exuberance, it’s not enough to be open to it, for we also have to be willing to pay the price. We have to be willing to work hard. Oddly enough, the hard work, over time, doesn’t become ‘work’ anymore. Rather, it becomes another source of joy.
When you enJOY the present moment, you own it and everything you have. But those who live among countless riches without joy own nothing. They are paupers. The story of the Zen master Ryôkan (1758 ~ 1831) is an example. After returning to his hut one evening, he surprised a thief who was disappointed because there was nothing to steal. "You may have traveled a long way," Ryôkan said to the thief, "I don’t want you to leave empty-handed, so take my clothes as a gift." The embarrassed thief took the clothes and fled into the night. Sitting naked and gazing at the full moon through an open window, Ryôkan muttered to himself, "Poor fellow, I wish I could have given him this beautiful moon."
Living in the present moment is the secret of joy. Is that so difficult to understand? I don’t think so, for Jason Lehman was only fourteen when he wrote the following poem.
It was spring, but it was summer I wanted,
The warm days, and the great outdoors.
It was summer, but it was fall I wanted,
The colorful leaves, and the cool, dry air.
It was fall, but it was winter I wanted,
The beautiful snow, and the joy of the holiday season.
It was winter, but it was spring I wanted,
The warmth and the blossoming of nature.
I was a child, but it was adulthood I wanted,
The freedom and respect.
I was 20, but it was 30 I wanted,
To be mature, and sophisticated.
I was middle-aged, but it was 20 I wanted,
The youth and the free spirit.
I was retired, but it was middle age I wanted,
The presence of mind without limitations.
My life was over, and I never got what I wanted.
© Chuck Gallozzi
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