“Joy Now!” with Rev. Melanie Eyre
We pick joy, right now. Let’s explore wisdom that helps us keep our joyful center in the midst of life’s challenges, and by doing so transform ourselves and our world.
A revised transcript of this week’s talk is provided below for the deaf and hard of hearing.
Prayers, readings, and songs from this week’s service are also provided below.
Community Circles Discussion Guide – No gathering this week.
Sadhana: The Realisation of Life
Joy is everywhere; it is in the earth’s green covering of grass: in the blue serenity of the sky; in the reckless exuberance of spring; in the severe abstinence of grey winter; in the living flesh that animates our bodily frame; in the perfect poise of the human figure, noble and upright; in living in the exercise of all our powers; in the acquisition of knowledge. . . Joy is there everywhere.
~ Rabindranath Tagore
May the light of your soul guide you; May the light of your soul bless the work you do with the secret love and warmth of your heart; May you see in what you do the beauty of your own soul; May the sacredness of your work bring healing, light and renewal to those who work with you and to those who see and receive your work; May your work never weary you; May it release within you wellsprings of refreshment, inspiration and excitement; May you be present in what you do. May you never become lost in the bland absences; May the day never burden; May dawn find you awake and alert, approaching your new day with dreams, possibilities and promises; May evening find you gracious and fulfilled; May you go into the night blessed, sheltered and protected; May your soul calm, console and renew you.
~ John O’Donohue
Welcome, and thank you for joining us. As we enter the month of June, as we move back into life after our Covid isolation, we’re going to talk about joy. It’s funny, because as I was preparing this talk, I was not feeling all that joyful. Work-wise it’s been a difficult week, taxing and tiring, and I wasn’t, as we say, feeling the joy. But then I realized that the arid landscape in which I found myself might be the best place to contemplate joy. I remembered, just when I needed to, that joy is an attitude toward all of life, not a byproduct of lucky circumstance. We are looking for more solid ground than that.
You could fill my house, and yours as well, with books, DVD’s, seminars and programs that teach us to be joyful. I’m sure you’ve read many and perhaps taken many. No one has gone broke telling other people they don’t have enough joy and here’s how you find more. It’s a multi-million-dollar business.
. . . it comes down to your own work.
However, like everything else on this path, it comes down to your own work, your own unfolding. You already have the answers and the path – anything I tell you, or anyone else tells you, is not new. Whatever speakers you hear are simply reminding you of what you already knew. That’s what an “aha moment” is – when you hear a truth that sparks that chord within you.
You may hear me today talk about joy, and about happiness. For my purposes today they are really the same thing, although we can come up with definitional differences. When I think of either, I imagine a state of balance, and peace, and deep contentment.
In our culture we are imbued with a zero sum attitude – if I am pursuing my own happiness I am sacrificing yours.
As I was looking into this topic, I came across some authors who, figuratively speaking, shook their finger at those of us seeking personal happiness, for putting so much emphasis on finding a source of happiness in our own lives. It’s selfish, we should think of others first, stop all this focus on “me, me, me.” In our culture we are imbued with a zero sum attitude – if I am pursuing my own happiness I am sacrificing yours. However, it’s not that way – it’s not either or. It’s both/ and.
We’ve all known people who exude peace and joy, and they’re the ones we want to be around. We don’t look at them and accuse them of being selfish because they are so happy. No – we want to be in their energy, to rest in their presence. We want what they have.
That’s why this is not an issue of puritan guilt. We do not need to waste a second worrying that we shouldn’t be thinking about what makes us happy. Being miserable is not a virtue – my misery adds not a bit to your happiness or anyone else’s. We are not here to be that small. We are here to reflect the divine love that created and sustains us, and we do that with joy. As Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said, “Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.”
. . . the wise men and women of generations past, or of today, . . . each is deeply joyful . . .
One of the heartening truths I’ve learned as I’ve traveled my spiritual path is directly related to joy. As I learn about the wise men and women of generations past, or of today, I find that each is deeply joyful, no matter their circumstances. They found that the deeper grew their connection to the divine, by whatever name called, the deeper grew their capacity for, and experience of, joy.
St. Francis of Assisi described his religious order as “a society of joy”, and told his monks to “always be joyful.” Thomas Aquinas, the great Christian theologian of the 13th century, put joy at the center of the spiritual life. What is the nature of God? Aquinas wrote:
God delights. God is always rejoicing and doing so with a single and simple delight. In fact, it is appropriate to say that love and joy are the only human emotions that we can attribute literally to God.
In the Hindu tradition as well, the goal of our awakening is bliss, eternal joy. The Yajur Veda teaches:
The one who loves all intensely begins perceiving in all living beings a part of himself.
He becomes a lover of all, a part and parcel of the Universal Joy.
He flows with the stream of happiness, and is enriched by each soul.
This joy, I think, is how we know we are in the presence of the sacred.
This joy, I think, is how we know we are in the presence of the sacred. There’s a lightness, a spaciousness, that comes with this clear connection to source.
When I think of happiness in wise men and women of our age, I think of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Despite being exiled since youth from his homeland, leading a beleaguered and embattled Tibetan people under the Chinese occupation, experiencing the loss of so much, he remains full of laughter, joy, and fun. He will tell you his life is full of joy. He gives his most to every person he meets, making that person feel that he or she is the only other person in the room.
“the purpose of life is to find happiness” (His Holiness the Dalai Lama).
His Holiness teaches that the purpose of life is to be happy, that it is possible for us to seek and to find happiness. He writes:
One great question underlies our existence. What is the purpose of life? After much consideration, I believe that the purpose of life is to find happiness.
By happiness, he doesn’t mean pleasure, or transitory good feelings that depend on outer events going our way. Even wonderfully good things give us only a temporary lift – studies have been done of lottery winners, and they find that after the initial high they generally return to their pre-winning state of content, or discontent. For me, a trip to Office Depot or Best Buy gives me a wonderful lift. But it doesn’t last.
By happiness, the Dalai Lama refers to inner contentment, deep peace that is not shaken by outer events. The happiness he refers to, that he believes is attainable by all of us, is gained, he says, by training our consciousness, our hearts, our spirits, our minds. It is very doable.
He calls for an inner discipline, gained through daily practice. He meditates and prays for four hours a day, but says that’s not required – thank God. He suggested we should just find time, whenever we can. A half hour a day – ten minutes a day if a half hour sounds like forever.
How do you open your mind to turn towards joy?
In his book The Art of Happiness, co-authored with psychiatrist Howard Cutler, the Dalai Lama talks about the first steps to moving into an energy of joy, and that’s what I’d like to focus on today in our first talk in this series. He tells us of the importance of training our minds – cultivating the ground for a joyful life. It was this training that has enabled him to be the beacon of joy he is, despite all he has suffered and seen.
So how does he recommend we train our minds? Keep in mind these are his thoughts – each of the sages I’ve mentioned or you can think of has his or her own. You can create your own, and perhaps it’s worth thinking about this month. How do you open your mind to turn towards joy?
The first thing we realize is that we have enough, right now, to be happy. As Cutler writes:
. . . the message is clear – we don’t need more money, we don’t need greater success or fame, we don’t need the perfect body or even the perfect mate – right now, at this very moment, we have a mind, which is all the equipment we need to achieve complete happiness.”
What a revolutionary thought – and you’ve been carrying it around with you all the time.
The first step . . .
The first step, His Holiness says, is learning. Learn how negative emotions and behaviors hurt us, and how positive ones build us up. When we feel negative toward others, he teaches, we are filled with negativity and hatred. This leads us to view others as hostile as well, even if they may not be. It’s the toxicity within us expressing as our worldview. This leads to fear and insecurity as we look at our world – a sense of being beleaguered, unsafe in a hostile world.
It also leads to isolation and separation. Who wants to connect with others in a hostile world? Better to stay in, stay safe, associate only with those we know think like us, see the world like us. The walls go up, the doors shut.
On the other hand, he writes:
. . . if you maintain a feeling of compassion, loving kindness, then something automatically opens your inner door. Through that, you can communicate much more easily with other people. And that feeling of warmth creates a kind of openness. You’ll find that all human beings are just like you, so you’ll be able to relate to them more easily.
With that, you feel less need to hide, more ability to trust and extend yourself to others. Separations are overcome and connections grow. Our emotions extend into our view and our choices, and at the very least we must be aware of what powers so much of our outlook and behavior. As I say so often, it all begins with awareness, and willingness.
So, if you want to be happy . . .
So, if you want to be happy, start with identifying those mental states that move you further away from happiness and closer to suffering. What are they? Hatred, greed, jealousy, resentment, to name a few. They make you smaller, close up your heart and shrink your world.
At the same time, identify those emotions and behaviors that lead you to greater happiness – love, compassion, kindness, service. Focus on them, make the choice to let them occupy your attention. You have a choice in what occupies your mind.
Am I saying to ignore negative emotions? Not at all – we all experience them and we don’t grow spiritually or emotionally by ignoring them and packing them away. I started this talk by sharing my negative emotions arising from a tough week.
What the Dalai Lama, and others, teach us is that these emotions lose their sting when we stop running from them – when we accept them, sit with them, learn what they have to tell us, and move through them. How did I move through mine (to the extent I have)? By realizing they are passing, by moving my awareness to the present and away from regret of the past and fear of the future. By doing those basics we teach every week – sitting, breathing, listening. Smiling, being grateful, gaining perspective – all tools we’ve discussed before. These are tools that work, if you work them.
I need to be reminded every day, despite many years and many lessons.
Love more, fear less.
If you distill the lessons any spiritual teaching gives you, they are simple and they are few. Love more, fear less. You are beloved no matter who you are or what you do. Be kind, serve one another. Be who you came here to be – you can do it, and you are not alone. If you are like most of us, if you are like me, a lifetime is spent learning and living these truths.
The Dalai Lama acknowledges that change is slow, and is not easy. What are some steps that help? Here, we can look at practices from different faith traditions for some helpful guidance. For example, one of the five pillars of Islam is prayer, five times a day. Why not just morning and night, or maybe just once? Because it helps to be reminded, throughout the day, to stop and touch the sacred; to step back from all the busyness, and connect with Source in you and around you.
Other faith traditions do the same; many have mechanisms that permit us to stop during the day and simply be. Some involve prayer and others don’t – to quote Rumi, there are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
In his interviews with Bill Moyers, Joseph Campbell tells the story that someone once asked a Shinto priest to explain Shinto ideology and theology. After thinking for a little bit, he said “we don’t have any ideology or theology. We dance.”
So dance. The sacred is all around us, and there are so many ways to touch it.
These days it’s easier than ever – your phone will give you an app that reminds you throughout the day to stop, sit, breathe, and pray if you wish, in whatever form that takes for you.
The next step . . . ethical behavior.
The next step that comes, that moves us further into lives of joy, is what he calls ethical behavior. This involves getting off the couch, perhaps out the door, and putting principles into practice. This involves behaving with kindness toward others surely, but it also involves what he calls “wholesome” behaviors towards ourselves. Take those positive emotions, and that awareness, and focus it on yourself. Do we treat our bodies well, eating and drinking in moderation? Do we abuse substances, or smoke, or drink too much? Do we take time to rest, to exercise, to do those activities we love?
In other words, do we behave in ways towards ourselves that reflect love and compassion, or disregard and even dislike? Again, our choices have consequences.
I’ve found from personal experience that the changes we make in behavior towards ourselves don’t have to be huge to be meaningful. Sometimes we despair because we feel we can’t make big, significant changes. So don’t. Small steps, micro- choices, make a huge difference.
An image of transformation.
The brilliant polymath Buckminster Fuller has given us an image of transformation that I find incredibly helpful when I think about change. He came up with the image of a trim tab on a ship, a big ship. They have rudders, but just turning the rudder to move the ship creates too much pressure. So the rudder has a tiny, miniature rudder attached to the edge called a trim tab. If you move the trim tab just a little, it creates a pressure that pulls the big rudder around, and ultimately turns the ship. Tiny pressure, big change.
Fuller said each of us can be a trim tab in our impact on the world – just a little pressure from one can make a huge difference. On his tombstone in Massachusetts is engraved “call me trim tab.”
In the same way, tiny changes in our own lives can yield significant transformation, over time. Don’t despair if the big changes aren’t coming. Trust the power of the trim tab, and keep making the small changes.
My sister gave me a little plaque for my office awhile back. It reads, “Happiness is something you decide ahead of time.” Sometimes deep wisdom does come on a plaque, because it’s entirely right. We can decide ahead of time, and we can make the changes that take us where we wish to be. Trust yourself – you know what emotions lead you into greater joy, and which diminish it. Be aware of your choice, and you can open that door to greater joy.
About Rev. Melanie
Rev. Melanie Eyre is an ordained Interspiritual Minister and long-time student of the world’s many diverse faith traditions. She has served as One World’s Spiritual Director since 2015 and is the founder of the North Fulton Interfaith Alliance here in Georgia. Outside of One World, Rev. Melanie has a beautiful family and enjoys officiating traditional and non-traditional rituals and other special ceremonies that mark important life transitions – weddings, baby blessings, and celebrations of life.
For more about Rev. Melanie and her practice, visit her website: Memorable Services with Heart.
This service aired on June 6, 2021