Small Joy

‘Excessive sorrow laughs. Excessive laughter weeps.”         William Blake.

Oregon Beach 4As I get older, I appreciate more the ordinary things: the deep blue sky in the morning, a cool breeze off the mountains or a rising star at night. I am more acutely aware that those things will not be around forever … or I will not be around to experience them. Joy may be a special feeling, but it is not that unusual. Joy is available in everything, whenever I stop taking my experience for granted.

These days, avoiding a fall when I get up out of a chair can be a thrill. An egg sandwich with HP sauce starts the day off well for me. Arriving for the train as it is pulling into the station, tells me I am in harmony with the world. A rainstorm blows quickly through the desert, waking everything up. A glass is caught as it falls off the table. A friend or family member calls unexpectedly. There is one drink of cold water left in the fridge. Another day without falling off the edge of the world. Life is sustained by small joy.

Too often these moments of quiet union with life are lost in the drive to get ahead, to manage the world, to stake and protect a claim. Little bits of bigger feeling slip in here and there, but they are lost in the Machine. Seeing the world in a grain of sand doesn’t pay the bills. I have a job to do. For me, it is only after I feel like that job is done (going to the store, raising a family, building a career, etc.) that I let the grammar go, falling back into the moment, to be swept around by the polarities of life.

The opportunities for appreciation are everywhere, all the time. I realize that just waking up in the morning, now that I am 70 years old, is a pretty good deal. Appreciation can become a habit. When I think I have lost my keys and I find them, when the sun rises just right between the clouds, when the rice pudding turns out nicely brown on top … joy is everywhere, depending on how I see what happens. Joy can be practiced. Gratitude always follows.

Small joy is not something we talk about. It is private, subtle and quick. Joy is when the boundaries disappear, so it’s not easy to talk about. When pleasure is derived at the expense of others, when it is dependent in any way on anything, it is not joy. That is what we have to learn. The whole point about joyfulness is that it feels like it’s everywhere. It is at the heart of everything. It is a dimension all its own … that happens to resonate in ours from time to time.

Chasing joy is like chasing butterflies, a fruitless endeavor … like trying to see the back of your head without a mirror. Joy doesn’t go anywhere, it is the natural state of things – the experience when inner forms match outer perception and separations disappear. Joy is the feeling of everything. We just have to get the complexes out of the way. That means we have to allow for disappointment and disillusion again, letting down the filters we constructed to keep our ideas safe. I can’t go around something to get to real joy. That’s not how it works.

Big Joy inspires stories, poems and songs. Big Joy is said to be the goal. But peak experiences are not meant to last. They are intended to shape the memory and point the way. Big joy wreaks havoc with everyday life. We can spend a lifetime waiting for Big Joy. It may never come. We may never see it. If we have nothing to relate it to … times when the pendulum swung the other way … it will never be the right size.

A breath is a small joy. A smile. A hug. A light in the eye. That moment when you and I are the same. Small joy guides the heart, singing softly through our senses. Small joy reminds us gently that we are part of something more … it rings with the treasure in life. For a moment, I am one with everything I know.

With small joy, there is no keeping. Subject – verb – object means nothing in a dimension where everything is everywhere, all the time. Grammar requires separation. With words, I break the world apart, so that I can put it back together in what I imagine to be a better way, deluded by the promise of Big Joy.

Being alive is often compared to being on a beach. As I stand in the water, a single wave rolls up on to the sand. They all look the same, one after the other, but that wave alone slaps my feet. That wave, at that moment, pushed by the earth and pulled by the moon, is a note from the universe. The splash is a tiny sound, lost in the crashing of its predecessors, further out to sea. Can that single wave be the reason the sky is blue? Sometimes, it feels like that to me.


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