Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Spiritual Practices A to Z: Joy

In 2015, I began "Spiritual Practices from A to Z" in which I explored for two weeks a different spiritual practice. I made it from A to H (January through April) and then stopped.

I began working with Olivia on the Washington County Barn Quilt Trail along with having more projects with 4-H and homeschooling Sophia and Olivia.

Then my mother died in August 2015; and my sister, brother, and I had to go through the home and possessions that belonged to she and my father (who died in January 2012). Between dividing them among ourselves, donating a lot, and inevitably having to throw a lot away - that was my focus from mid-August 2015 to February 2016.

So, I picked off where I left off and did one more spiritual practice: Imagination in February 2016. I didn't do anything beyond that.

So, now I'm picking up where I left off: with the spiritual practice of Joy. The ideas come from the website Spirituality and Practice. I've noted what I've done and what I would liked to do below.

Spiritual Practices:Joy
Enhances: Happiness
Balances/Counters: Sadness, Sorrow

The Basic Practice

Joy is an essential spiritual practice growing out of faith, grace, gratitude, hope, and love. It is the pure and simple delight in being alive. Joy is the elated response to feelings of happiness, experiences of pleasure, and awareness of abundance. It is also the deep satisfaction we know when we are able to serve others and be glad for their good fortune.

Invite joy into your life by staging celebrations. Host festivities to mark transitions and changes in your life. Toast moments of happiness you notice as you go through your day. Dance — jump for joy — as often as possible. Life is not meant to be endured; it is to be enjoyed.

One of my favorite photos representing joy is of Olivia on the swingset.
She has her head back laughing with pure joy. 
(Taken September 29, 2007.)

Why This Practice May Be For You

We often talk about this spiritual practice in the same breath with its companions. We say joy and sorrow, happiness and sadness, smiles and tears, the ecstasy and the agony. The experience of one intensifies our awareness of the other. Sorrow, for example, may be the price we pay for joy; when we have known great happiness in a relationship, we feel its loss more deeply. Or think of those times when you laugh so hard you cry.

Joy will usually be part of a set of symptoms presenting in your life. The best protocol is to be thankful for the intensity of these feelings. When you are experiencing sorrow and sadness, when the tears are flowing, remember they can be stepping stones to joy.

Top photo: Sorrow and sadness. Mom receiving the flag that covered Dad's casket.
Bottom photo: Mom and Dad together...joyfully celebrating Mom's 80th birthday 
after a delicious lunch at a Chinese restaurant.


To find joy in another's joy
that is the secret of happiness.
— George Bernanos quoted in Joy by Beverly Elaine Eanes

A life of joy is not in seeking happiness.
But in experiencing and simply being
the circumstances of our life as they are.
— Charlotte Joko Beck quoted in Open Mind by Diane Mariechild

I have merged, like the bird, with the bright air,
And my thought flies to the place by the bo-tree.
Being, not doing, is my first joy.
— Theodore Roethke quoted in Finding Deep Joy by Robert Ellwood

Pelican we saw flying overhead at Lake Shetek State Park.
(Taken on June 9, 2012)


I read Finding Deep Joy by Robert Elwood. Some things that I found interesting were:
- Joy lies hidden deep down at the heart of all things...dolphins, zebras, and ourselves.
- In some people and places it may be near the surface, in others deeply buried.
- Joy is not only your right, your heritage; joy is you at the deepest level....Yet so often we block deep joy. We get caught up in our routines, our little fears and goals. We merely skim the surface of little puddles of joy as we run by.
- After going through a great personal joy or sorrow...you come to a point where you just don't feel it so strongly anymore. You may even feel emotionally numb.
- Ways that others have experienced deep joy: when I am in nature and feel at one with a leaf or blade of grass; listening to the  birds or the laughter of my children; sitting outside and watching the sunset.
***Think aback over your life and record the moments when you have felt the most joy. Perhaps they have to do with the smell of autumn or the satisfaction of having helped someone. Consider keeping a journal for this purpose.***

I remember seeing these bleeding hearts in May,
not too long after the fire at our farm.
It brought such joy to see them blooming.
I needed to spend some time taking a close look at them, and 
noticing their form and color.

***Pain, disappointment, suffering, and death are realities in everyone's life. Think about your own greatest heartaches and hardships. What can you affirm of value beyond these painful experiences? What can you affirm of value in them? Whatever your present circumstances, list ten things for which you are grateful today.***
- Joy represents a state of equilibrium, one that is tension free.
- In spring, hundreds of flowers; in autumn, a harvest moon; in summer, a refreshing breeze; in winter, snow will accompany you. If useless things do not hang in your mind, any season is a good season for you. The Gateless Gate (Zen text)
- Find an image of your favorite saint. Look deeply into his or her eyes until you catch a little of that saint's joy - real sanctity is caught, not taught!
- What the joyous person has is a radiance, a smiling serenity accented by a twinkle. That person may be of any religion or none.
- You should abstain from harming others, falsehood, theft, and greed; you should observe purity, contentment, study, and religious devotion.
- When you set foot on the spiritual path to deep joy, you must give up all that is untrue to yourself and all that harms others, all that caters to the self-centered appetites of passions, and all forms of excess, while taking on a simple lifestyle, an even-tempered frame of mind, and emphasizing higher things.
- Live in a manner that is congruent with your spiritual practice.
- Your lifestyle and surroundings should be calming, tend toward joy, and foster a sense of living.
- Everything should support the deep unity of life. Work and leisure, friendships and family relations, spiritual and secular activities ought not be split off from each other with different values operative in each; rather, they should blend together as much as possible.
- If you want to find and keep joy, it helps to live in reasonable simplicity, neither in abject poverty nor choked with material goods.
- If you move toward simplicity - living in a clean and neat but unostentatious home, earning an honest living and spending within your means, eating wholesome food and keeping regular hours, you will set the physical conditions for joy.
- Cultivate creativity in your own way. If you enjoy cooking, prepare your wholesome food as creatively as possible. Ornament your house with art or furnishings made by yourself or your friends. Spend part of your free time writing or painting. It doesn't matter so much what you do, but find something creative that you like and feel good at, and spend time with it.

Scrambled egg bake in croissants 
that I baked for Easter 2018.

- Have a collection of books, tapes, and videos on topics consonant with your spiritual quest. Related pictures and symbols might be on the walls.
- You must not try to push anyone else in the household into a lifestyle they have not freely chosen. If they choose to live around different values, you must accept this cheerfully and not let it become a source of contention, just as they must accept your way. All this is part of the love and wise moderation of the path to joy.
- Bad things do happen to good people.
- We must make time to find deep joy no matter what. In times of great suffering, poverty, sorrow, or anxiety - above all, of sadness - it is even more important.
- No obligations imposed by troubles are so great that they preclude all recourse to deep joy, even if for only a few minutes saved for prayer or meditation.
- In real engagement with life, the seeds of joy are always there, for engagement means looking outward rather than toward the self.
- Live here and now, in the present moment. Remember that dep joy is now; pain is mostly past and future.
- Difficulties are opportunities. A stormy passage with another person, a parent, or spouse, may be a chance to build a new and deeper relationship based on better understanding. Or, if this relationship is genuinely hopeless...it may be an occasion for you to grow by realizing that you do not have to b e bound forever to a hopeless relationship. You can make the decision to take charge of your life, cut what chains have to be cut, and open yourself up to new relationships and new centers of meaning.
- The bad times can aid you in learning compassion.

Sophia playing the piano for a resident at the nursing home.
We began volunteering at the nursing home 
shortly after my dad died in January 2012.

- It is the nature of compassion and caring to do all that is humanly possible to  change the situation so that happiness rather than suffering is what is shared.
- We can look at life's ordeals as initiations moving us ahead, teaching us, opening us to wisdom and compassion, helping us explore unexplored worlds, inner and outer. Then we will engage life as it must be engaged, with joy.
*** Think about the major transitions in your life (adolescence, marriage, children, loss of a job, loss of a friend, loved one's death). At each stage, what part of you had to "die" in order for you to become a new person? Beyond the loss, what have you gained? Can you, in retrospect, see an opportunity in the ordeal that was not apparent at the time? Are you in a difficult transition now? If so, what might the opportunity be in it?

Looking at one of the many books that was 
lost in the fire at our farm on May 5, 2018.

I skimmed through Happiness - How to Find It and Keep It by Joan Duncan Oliver since I didn't have enough time to read it before it had to be returned to the library. Some key ideas that I liked:
- Express appreciation, love, and gratitude, even for simple things.
- True wealth isn't measured in assets or cash flower but in how abundant we feel.
- Make sure you're really living now so that later in your life you can say, "I regret nothing."
- Life is nothing but memory. We only know our experience in recollection. What we think, say, and do become the memories that make up our ongoing life story.
- Our life is frittered away by detail...simplify, simplify! (Henry David Thoreau)

Olivia and Sophia at the rest area overlooking Duluth.
Our floors were being redone because of 
water damage from the bathroom on the second level.
So, we got to take a family vacation together which insurance monies paid for 
since we had to be out of the house. 
How quickly these almost-ten years have gone.
(Taken on September 1, 2008.)

I read Jesus Laughed an Other Reflections on Being Human by Jean Maalaouf. Some points that I found interesting were:
- Jesus was fully human - he laughed; and was a radical and rebel.
- He was a catalysis.
- He practiced the art of letting go.
- He enjoyed life: he ate, rested, and celebrated with friends. He must have loved life. He lived with all his heart and out of his depth of being. He enjoyed all the things in life - even the smallest.
- He extended love to the poor, the rich, his friends, foreigners, strangers, "enemies"...to everyone.
- He wasn't well-connected. He didn't have wealth, fame, respect, or anything that the world finds impressive. He was simple and free.

Colorful edge of a quilt that was at a quilt show 
in St. Cloud in June 2018.
Looks like the shape of a cross in this photo.


I've watched both of these films in the past and enjoyed both:

Patch Adams - an unconventional healer dares to raise up joy as a way of life. He demonstrates that often the best medicine for patients is laughter, love, compassion, and play.

Awakenings - a doctor and his patient discover the deep down joy of life when caring rather than curing is the main emphasis in treatment.


One of the best ways to feel in your heart and soul the spiritual dimensions of joy is to listen to the finale of Beethoven's masterful Symphony No. 9, in D Minor, Op. 125. This choral piece is based on Schiller's poem "Ode to Joy."

This piece celebrates freedom by incorporating different musical elements — fugue, march, choral, and recitative — to create an unconventional whole. According to Spirituality and Practice website, "To ride wave after wave of this surging sound is to experience the exhilaration of true spiritual joy and freedom!"

I enjoyed listening to this piece one day, and it did, indeed, make me very happy as I listened to different parts of it. It's worth taking the time to listen to it...even if it is used as background music.


An image of abundant joy is Henri Matisse's Dance. In the first, a girl leans backwards, arms outstretched, as if to embrace the moonlight around her; her blissful look conveys her surrendering to joy. And in Matisse's famous painting, according to Spirituality and Practice website, "...five female nudes dance in a circle on a green mound set into a rich blue sky. Hands joined and limbs fully stretched, they are exemplars of exuberant joy."

I'm not sure I'm seeing exuberant joy in this picture, but maybe others do.

Daily Cue, Reminder, Vow, Blessing

• Passing a smiling person on the street is my cue to practice joy.

• Knowing how much pleasure there is in making others happy, I vow to practice joy.

Practice of the Day

Laughter is the jam on the toast of life. It adds flavor, keeps it from being too dry, and makes it easier to swallow.
— Diane Johnson quoted in Zen Soup by Laurence G. Boldt

To Practice This Thought: Make sure laughter is part of your breakfast menu.

Sophia laughing on Christmas 2010.
Both she and Olivia said it was the best Christmas.

Journal Exercises

• Some of your most pleasurable times with your journal will be when you are re-reading entries about joys. So don't let special events pass without recording what happened and how you felt. Every party deserves a journal entry; even if you only capture one happy moment.

• Occasionally, perhaps quarterly on the solstices and equinoxes, make a list of "What Brings Me Joy." Notice when the sources of your joy change, and add reflections on what this tells you.

Discussion Questions, Storytelling, Sharing

• When in your life have you been filled with great joy? Were you alone or with others?

• Who has been the patron saint of joy in your life? Who has stifled or spoiled your joy?

• Share the story of a time when an act of service gave you great joy.

• What can be done to create a greater atmosphere of joy in your home and community? What will be your legacy of joy to the next generations?

Household, Group, and Community Projects

• Come up with a strategy which will help you "dance the day" rather than succumb to a "been there/done that" attitude. For example, play bouncy music while you scrub the bathroom floor.

• Add a happiness ritual to your celebration of one of the annual holidays. Have members of your group recall three of the most joyous moments you have experienced together during the past year. Write brief descriptions of some of them in a "Moments of Happiness" book that you review as part of this ritual next year.

1 comment:

Rita said...

Wow! A lot to take in. But I totally believe you have to walk the talk...live your beliefs. Happiness is a choice. Joy is a choice. Lovely post. :)