I’ve mentioned before the ancient, middle-eastern stories of Nasruddin, the funny little character in a turban and goatee. Here’s another one I like:
Everyone was alarmed when they saw Nasruddin charging through the streets on his donkey.
“Where are you going in such a rush, Nasruddin?” they asked.
As Nasruddin whizzed by, he called back, “Can’t stop to talk. I’m searching for my donkey!”
Is it possible for a person to spend a life anxiously looking for happiness and not realize she was riding on happiness all along? Is it possible to spend a whole life going after joy and not realize joy was always there, underneath us and around us and in us?
Is this the human predicament—to be looking for joy and happiness in the “far” when it was right there in the “near” all along?
That’s a thought worth playing with. After all, little children know something about this: they are riding on joy every day. It just comes naturally.
When you approach a train track, the sign says: STOP, LOOK, LISTEN. That’s so you won’t get run over by the train.
Maybe we need a sign on our bathroom mirror so we see it every morning: TODAY: STOP, LOOK, LISTEN…FOR THE JOY.
STOP, LOOK, LISTEN…so you don’t get run over by an anxious, preoccupied, busy-busy-busy train of thought and miss the joy that’s possible today.
STOP, LOOK, LISTEN…to catch a more joyful train of thought.
As the poet Blake said:
He who kisses the joy as it flies,
Lives in eternity’s sunrise.
Guest post by Landon Saunders
There was a man who, when his alarm would go off in the morning, would promptly start sneezing. Every day, as he opened his eyes, he would have sneezing fits. Finally, he discovered what the problem was—he was allergic to consciousness.
How in the world do you become allergic to consciousness? It happens when you don’t know how to carry time; you don’t know how to live your day.
For example, your day may have too many extraneous items in it. If it does, your day will feel burdensome, and you’ll hate to face it. Feeling burdened will, in turn, create tension in your relationships, which makes your day joyless. If burden and tension are what you face in your day, you may wake up sneezing!
Learning how to carry time means you begin to understand what a day really is and how to best use it. If you understand this and act on it, you will find it easier to get up in the morning.
You still may not like it. Most people don’t like the alarm going off in the morning, announcing that it’s time to get up. But knowing how to get a better grip on your day—knowing what to hold onto and what to let go of—makes all the difference in the world.
Let go of the extraneous items that are weighing down your day and hold on tight to what really matters. Then, when that alarm clock goes off, you can greet the day without a single sneeze.
I think I’ve discussed the following quotation before in this blog, but it’s worth reflecting on again and again. It’s the passage from Walden where Thoreau explains why he decided to live alone for two years in a self-built, one-room cabin on Walden Pond:
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.”
I first read Walden when I was twenty-four and I remember being very moved by the book and especially by this passage. Did I understand it? Probably not very well.
As I read this today, I thought: What would I say to my twenty-four-year-old self about this passage? What would I say about living deliberately? About living deep and sucking out the marrow of life? About overcoming the curse of unlivedness?
Well, I doubt if my twenty-four-year old self would listen, but I think I might begin by telling this story.
An angry young man, his eyes blazing, came to a wise old man and said, “I hate the world! Tell me how I can possibly live in this world!” The old man calmly looked at him and said, “I can tell you, but you won’t listen.” The young man said, “No, please tell me how to live in this world, because I hate the world!” The old man sighed. “Okay. Go away and for one year you may not do anything you do not enjoy. If you’re walking down a road and find that you do not enjoy it, sit down. If you’re reading a book and you don’t enjoy it, close the book.” “That’s ridiculous! No one can do that,” said the young man. “See, I told you that you wouldn’t listen.” After they talked, the young man went away and returned a year later. This time his face was relaxed, he was smiling, his eyes sparkled. “Ah,” said the old man, “I see you have learned. Go. Maybe now, you can be of some use in the world.”
I don’t think we have to spend two years alone by a pond to learn to about living deliberately and living fully. But maybe a year spent learning about joy in everyday life should be a part of every person’s education.
And you’re never too old to enroll in that school!
Joy is the vaccine against the curse of unlivedness.
Guest post by Landon Saunders
Joy keeps popping up in so many places. Thanks to Marie Kondo it is even key to organizing our houses! She’s big on noticing the things that spark joy in your life.
Joy is hard to define, isn’t it? It’s hard to parse its meaning, hard to break down into component parts.
I think joy emerges when my inner heart and outer life are most in sync.
Ah, you say, but that is the catch! How do I get my heart in sync with my sense of self, my work, my relationships, even what I do for pleasure?
Here’s what I’ve done for years: I continuously stay in the company of joy. I keep the word where I can see it. I close my letters and emails with the word joy. The word is sprinkled throughout my conversation.
I’ve found that the more I’m in the presence of joy, the more the presence of joy is in me. This releases the energy of joy in my life. The more I work with it, the more it works on me.
Then joy breaks out.
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