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A Joyful Heart

Every morning our youngest son Jack wakes up with joy in his heart. “Ready to get up, Mama!” he exclaims from his crib, “Every day good day, Dada!” How fortunate we are to wake up to this joyful reminder!

Every day is a good day to awaken the quality of joy in our hearts, and to share it with the world. In this month’s blog, we explore ways to connect with the innate quality of joy that we all have a vast capacity for experiencing.

In the Buddhist teachings, joy is the third of the Four Immeasurables, which are the four limitless qualities of an awakened heart. Mudita, in Sanskrit, it is often translated as sympathetic joy or appreciative joy because it’s the ability to feel joy in your own life and to feel other people’s joy as your own.

Life is hard, and many days I find myself wishing it were just a little easier. As I lay awake in the middle of the night, unable to fall back asleep after tending to my little one, I thought about how I wish I could tell you all that if you just follow certain steps on the path of joy, you’ll feel happy all the time, and life will always be easy. I wish I could assure you that if you meditate every day, or dance every day, or practice gratitude every day, that you would never wake up cranky, or get sick, or lose a loved one, or have your heart broken, or be overcome with worry, or feel depressed. 

But I can’t, because it’s not true. 

My teacher Flint Sparks likes to remind me, “Meditation doesn’t make life perfect, but it makes life possible.” 

Meditation won’t make life perfect or protect us from heart-wrenching feelings or circumstances, but meditation does provide us a way to meet life’s inevitable challenges, and the feelings that arise within us as we navigate them, in a way that embraces our experience, instead of discounting it. When we allow ourselves to feel our feelings and hold them in a kind and loving space, what often follows is an experience of relief, peace, acceptance, freedom, insight, or clarity. 

Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön says, “What we are doing in this practice is moving beyond the fear of feeling.”

When I allow myself to feel however I feel without judging it as good or bad or right or wrong, it opens me up to also feel joy. 

Brené Brown writes, “The irony is that we attempt to disown our difficult stories, to appear more or less acceptable, but our wholeness — even our wholeheartedness — actually depends on the integration of all our experiences, including the falls.”

What difficulties are asking for your attention and wholehearted acceptance? When you hold them in a loving and nonjudgmental space, can you feel how that opens you up to experience more joy?

I hear again and again from students who feel that they are not “successful” in their meditation practice. They feel like they are not doing it often enough or long enough or well enough. Please trust me on this: whatever you are doing is enough. The only thing that matters is that you keep showing up, for yourself, for others, for the world. Whatever that looks like, and however it feels, is okay, even when it doesn’t feel okay. The only way to fail at meditation practice is to not do it at all. 

From that place of “enough,” we can grow and expand. Acceptance frees us up. Heavy-handed expectations shut us down. What happens when you allow your experience, your practice, your life, to be enough, just as it is? 

A Simple Joy Meditation 

Settle into a relaxed and comfortable way of being in your body. Close your eyes and visualize the word “joy” written in the space in front of you. You can envision it however you like. 

Now, bring your awareness to your heart space. Use your imagination and envision that your heart has doors that open to the front. Invite the word joy into your heart. Let the word dissolve and simply rest with the experience of joy in your heart. What does joy feel like?

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