Most everyone wants to be happy.
My journey has been all about seeking a higher level of JOY. Retiring early from a lucrative business career, founding an intentional community, participating actively in my religious faith and, most recently, building the Village 2.0 around serving and enjoying guests in our vacation cabins.
I make a distinction between happiness and joy. For me, joy connotes a higher level that transcends external stimuli. It is a quality of being that exists despite the frustrations, disappointments or even malicious attacks from the outside world. I work every day to attain that elusive place of sustainable joy.
I have found it useful / NO, essential in the pursuit of joy, to maintain a daily routine, even a ritual of deep personal meditation. There are many forms of meditation. Mine has evolved, sampling many of them over the years long before founding the Village in 2006. I respect eastern meditation traditions born out of Buddhism and Hinduism, having received instruction in Transcendental Meditation and the Japanese arts of Zen. Cultivating stillness of mind and body to synchronize and bring both into harmony is the essence, or at least the starting point for these powerful methods.
Over years of trial and practice, I found other elements in my meditation that brought additional richness to my daily routine. Going on two years now, I have made a practice of meditating each morning on a single verse from scripture. Perhaps too long to be called a mantra, it still quiets my mind and connects me with truth as experienced in the realities of the prior day. It is simply this:
“Adam fell that men might BE;
and men are, that they might have JOY.”
Distilled into this short verse is a purpose of life statement from God’s perspective. The why of creation is made explicit. Adam, like all his family, is no villain upon whom we can blame our sins. He is no scapegoat. He is our good father. He is part of God’s great plan to bring us all into BEing that we might find JOY. Like Adam, all of his children are fallen that we might BE. This is the existential statement that transcends Niche, Sartre, Thoreau and all the rest. If that isn’t deep enough to occupy one’s mind alone, the scripture relates the PURPOSE of BEING. It is to become Joyful, not in fleeting moments, but in permanent, existential, eternal being. It is a long journey of BECOMING . . . . joyful.
Much of contemporary Christianity focuses on overcoming, or at least being forgiven of the darker side of our human existence. I believe my scriptural “mantra” expresses Jesus’ purpose and intent better. Subsequent verses lay that out. The core of my daily meditation practice for some time now has rested on those two entrained thoughts of the how and why of man’s being.
It isn’t enough only to still the mind, although that is an excellent, even essential beginning. Having done so, I reflect deeply on my purpose, to achieve joy, while reflecting deeply on my prior day’s experiences. I observe what experiences enhanced or detracted from sustainable joy. I ask basic questions like why and how, under what circumstances and through what relationships. Then, through God’s promptings, I attempt to distill observations into universal principles that I can practice every day.
For example, I have found that many of the activities that consistently bring me deep feelings of joy relate to building things and then sharing my delight with others. The specific activities are far from universal. They are personal, even unique to me. I think most people would not derive joy from building the things I do, even finding that work frustrating or anger-provoking.
The treehouse I have been building for the past year and a half, the unique bar stools that go in it, the rocket stove, finding creative ways to repurpose discarded items like the live dome roof from a satellite dish or the deck made from plastic pallets.
One could call it art or simply the creative impulse that many experience as soul satisfying. The substance of my meditation is in parsing out what is universally joyful about these activities, distilling that into principles and practicing every day.
Reflecting on these feelings from real experiences every day as I contemplate joy grounds me in truth that I can test and prove from my own experience. Hence, I can conclude that it is true. I believe that one of many eternal principles of joy is the experience of creation. That truth is further validated as I read iconic stories from scripture like the biblical story of creation that ends with God standing back on the seventh day to admire His work and pronouncing it good. In doing so, He recognizes and celebrates His own goodness and His Godness. This is existential joy. The great religions all have their creation stories. That consistency across cultures and prophets further testifies to me that God derives Joy from creation. Like God, Adam and all of his children, we must fulfill that and other core needs in order to become a being of light and joy.
As I meditate daily on my purpose of being, I have discovered many other principles of joy. The objective is to become more like God, who is the consummate being of Joy. It’s a long, even eternal journey and I am getting better. Becoming better because I try every day to take my thought-s about joy out of the garden of Eden (meditation) into the challenges of real life. Then, the following morning, back to the garden where I try to synchronize my thoughts of joy with the experiences of the flesh from the prior day.
When I was a child, my parents sacrificed to give me private music lessons. I hated to practice my scales and arpeggios. But my mother disciplined me to do so daily. It was hard work. But, as with all good things, the hard work of practice is what enables positive change. Practice paid joyful dividends. I find joy in improvisational creativity on my saxophone regardless of the level of skill or perfection I have yet to attain.
In Christianity, the word for practice is called repentance, or in other words, positive change or growth. Repentance is the culminating step of practical meditation that completes the circle of finding joy.