Guest Post by Landon Saunders
My dear friends,
The human heart needs light whether from a star, a moon, the sun, or an encouraging word from a friend. May each of us always walk toward the light.
And the human heart needs joy. Joy brokers any darkness which frees the heart from any encroaching pessimism, or fear, or any other thing that darkens the heart.
So, for this season and for all the new year that lies before us, I wish you light and joy.
Thinking about joy raises the age-old question: How can we live joyful lives when there’s so much trouble and tragedy in the world? A verse from William Blake may help:
He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy
He who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise
First, Blake tells us: Joy is not something to be grasped or possessed. You don’t get to joy through feverish striving or controlling things and people and circumstances.
Joy is not about living with clenched fists; it’s about learning to relax and turn loose and live with open hands and open hearts—lightly embracing the joy that’s possible in each moment rather trying to control everything. Joy is as gentle as a kiss.
Second, even though our life is timed by clock and calendar, Blake hints that there is something about joy that is timeless. Joy is like a perpetual sunrise; it makes time stop. There’s something about reaching for joy, creating joy, sharing joy that enriches the moment but also transcends the times we live in.
Blake is not talking about escaping into superficial entertainment or stimulants. Real joy is not an escape, but an energetic, delight-full embrace of life. As Blake also wrote:
Energy is eternal delight.
Where there is no delight, there is loss of energy. The student who hates to study, the person who hates to go to work, the person who is just bored or uninterested will experience great energy loss. They may even be more vulnerable to health problems.
I think the thing that kills joy is rarely the great trouble or tragedy; it is more often the small things, the little boredoms, the petty dryness of routine. As John Mellencamp’s song says, “Oh yeah, life goes on long after the thrill of living is gone.”
But we can flip the switch! Instead of cursing the darkness, we can light a candle and turn on delight. (Excuse the pun.)
Today, how the world needs people of light and quiet encouragement and genuine joy, people whose presence at work or in the classroom or at home reminds us of the thrill of living, reminds us that our lives matter and that we are larger than anything that happens to us. They remind us that when we bring energy and delight to ordinary moments we discover there are no ordinary moments. In other words…
Reaching for joy is a timeless response to troubled times.
Guest Post by Landon Saunders
Years ago, I received a letter from the father of a two-year-old. Among other things, the father wrote:
“A two-year-old dream has finally come true. Cal can tell me about his day. Ever since the beginning, I’ve wanted to know what he thought, how he felt, what he was doing. I’d come home and ask him, but, of course, he couldn’t respond. But yesterday at dinner, we were eating, and he said, “Play…sand…box. Swim…Evan. Park…play…Evan.” Suddenly it hit me. He was telling me what he had done and with whom. His eyes were bright, and you could almost see him reliving it. In a new way, I felt a little part of his world. It was very exciting.”
My friend’s letter ended, “I hope I can maintain a high level of interest for the rest of our days together.”
To “maintain a high level of interest” is a good goal for any relationship, but, as we age, it becomes even more important to remain connected to those younger than we are. Children have a way of opening us up to the good and the possible. They keep us connected to the best parts of ourselves.
John Updike once wrote: “If men do not keep on speaking terms with children, they cease to be men and become mere machines for eating and for earning money.” Today, take the time to really listen and connect with the children in your life. Spend time getting to know them. You will certainly find no better tour guides for the season.
Keeping “on speaking terms” with them will not only add great dimension to your life, but it will also help your humanity to thrive, and it will have a lifelong impact on the children.
Continuing on the theme of joy for the holidays, let’s take a another look at a quotation from Mel Brooks that we considered a couple of years ago:
Let’s have a merry journey, and shout about how light is good and dark is not. What we should do is not future ourselves so much. We should now ourselves more. “Now thyself!” is more important than “Know thyself.” Reason is what tells us to ignore the present and live in the future. So all we do is make plans. We think that somewhere there are going to be green pastures. It’s crazy…Listen, now is good. Now is wonderful.”
You might write down this quotation and put it in your stocking (or someone else’s stocking). It’s a real gift.
I like Brooks’ opening phrase, “Let’s have a merry journey.” And I like the way he says we must not wait until circumstances are right to decide this.
To paraphrase: No matter what happens—in fact, because of all the stuff that can happen—let’s be absolutely determined to keep drinking deeply from “the wellspring of the joy of living” (in Schiller’s wonderful phrase from Ode To Joy).
I also like the way he connects the merry journey with a determination to live in the Now. It’s about going all in for Today—every day. It’s about seeking to live Today as if that is my only job, as if the universe put me here for just that purpose, as if the story will one day be told of how I brought such extraordinary joy to this ordinary day and these ordinary circumstances.
Too much? Have I gone over the line? (I confess, I worried that maybe I had. And then I asked myself: Is the world in danger of having too much joy?)
Now, I certainly don’t mean to imply that the writer has arrived at all this. Darkness is real, and there is a shadow in my heart and your heart and every heart. But the greater the darkness, the more we must reach for light, like a flower opening itself to the sun.
In Charles Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol, Ebeneezer Scrooge, in spite of his wealth and his favorable circumstances, is not having a merry journey. Quite the opposite.
One problem is Scrooge’s relationship to time. So, after a visit to the past and the future (where no person can live), he finally comes back to the present with a new perspective.
Once Ebeneezer learns to “Now” himself, he begins to overflow with joy and playful generosity and launches out on the merry journey of his life.
Guest Post by Landon Saunders
I once heard a prominent psychologist tell an audience: “You do not have a right to hold any expectations for another person.” Everyone was shocked, but, as I have thought about this statement over the years, I think there is real truth in it.
For one thing, think about your problems with relationships for a moment. See if your expectations don’t lie at the root of those problems. How much of your anger and disappointment comes from needs you have that you expect others to meet? It is an amazing thing how much can change when you appreciate people for who they are rather than despising them for not being what you expect them to be.
But there is another consequence of expectations I want us to notice: expectations get in the way of generosity. I believe that giving, without any expectations attached, is one of the most important and valuable things in a human life.
True generosity is freely given and expects nothing in return. This generosity is as beautiful as it is rare. It is so difficult to let go of a kind of transactional way of being in relationship, but it is worth it. Few things in life make more of a difference in a human being—both for the giver and for the receiver—than something freely given.
The death of expectations is the birth of generosity, and that is something to be thankful for.
In the spirit of the holidays, through December we’ll reflect on quotations relating to joy. (Some of these we’ve looked at before, but they are worth a second look.)
Joy is not a frivolous, fringe benefit; it’s as important to our lives as the air we breathe. It is as daily as sunshine, as deep as the ocean.
Reflecting on this depth, Henry David Thoreau makes a surprising connection between joy and the getting of wisdom:
Not by constraint or severity shall you have access to wisdom, but by abandonment and childlike mirthfulness.
I believe he’s right. I find it encouraging that seeking wisdom is not about some kind of stuffy, over-serious, pompous posturing or pretending to have all the answers. Taking one’s self too seriously is a sure sign of folly, not wisdom!
Rather, it’s the opposite. The doors to wisdom begin to open as we discover the secrets of “abandonment”—learning to relax, turn loose of ego, get out of our own way, and even laugh at ourselves. To become more enlightened, we must lighten up.
With that word “abandonment,” Thoreau is suggesting that if I want to grow as a wise, thoughtful person, I need to think about the things I can throw overboard—like fears, worries, expectations I place on others, heavy judgements, greed, and cynicism.
With less baggage, we travel lighter and survive the storms better.
Second, Thoreau suggests that we replace that lost luggage with “childlike mirthfulness,” the attitude that dares to ask: Is it fun being me? Am I any fun to be with?
You say, what in the world does that have to do with wisdom?
Well, if Thoreau is right—and I think he is—just about everything.
Because it will take some wisdom to come down to my last day and be able to say, Yes, it was fun being me. In spite of all, it was a joyful, well-spent journey.
Guest Post by Landon Saunders
A wise man once said, “Build a better world.” And I said, “How can I? The world is so complicated. I feel like there is nothing I can do.” But the wise man looked me in the eyes and said, “Just build a better you.”
Building a better you requires something very difficult…it requires trust. Building out of trust in yourself and others brings growth. But if you build out of fear, you end up with stagnation. Trust in yourself will give you confidence to build with imagination and hope. Trust in yourself will give you confidence in dealing with others.
But learning to trust can be frightening. Trust means being honest about the risk and making the choice that the risk is worth it. But the other option—fear—leads to a false sense of confidence in your ability to control. Fear will make you need to control situations and control others. You can’t have it both ways. Either you will trust and grow, or you will stay small, feeling the need to manipulate, to hide, to be self-protective.
Building a better world, a better life, a better you begins with trust.