The title of this new article offers you peace but not joy which is interesting for a few reason. Firstly it seems to imply that peace and joy are not linked as you may have though. Or does it say that joy and peace are mutually exclusive. Possibly it infers that our understanding of joy is warped.
In his second article for Inspire Daily, Jon Price talks us through why joy may not be the goal we are seeking.
Enter Jon on the concept of joy
Did you know that emotions, when habitual, excessively strong or prolonged are a cause of disease? No doubt on some level you do. We experience the full a full range of emotions on a daily basis, and that in itself is fine. In fact, it’s normal for our human experience. However, when we live with an emotion or experience it strongly over and over then we have trouble.
If you have reflected on or read just a little in this field you may already know this. Chinese medicine knows this too. Emotions are actually classified as internal causes of disease.
We all know at some level anger is harmful to us. It is the explosion that occurs first in ourselves. We process the emotion before it reaches the outside world and when it does we have to deal with the after-effects (both in our bodies and the effects that it has on those we have directed it at).
We know deep down how debilitating and paralysing fear can be. Even if we know breaking through fear brings great reward, the strength it has means that we might have been under its grip for the longest time.
These two bedfellows are easily identifiable as insidious emotions that can come and go seemingly of their own choosing. If left to run the show they will certainly create havoc. Over a prolonged period they will surely mutate into very real monsters.
Now, we all need assertiveness and the wisdom to discern and weigh up a situation. You could say we are surveying from the centre with these two virtues. But on the same spectrum, at the extreme end of the scale we have anger and fear and the problems arising. So balance is good. To be in the centre and to have the energy of anger and fear harnessed and in service to us rather than a rogue pathogenic emotion is ideal. To be in the centre and observe is the practice.
Again, we might know this already. Many wise people and tomes, ancient and current, have taught this and provided guidance. Books on fear, books on anger; all priceless for their insights and methods in dealing with, and recovering life back from, these two bandits of energy.
There are others though. Classically in the ancient Chinese medical texts there are seven. Seven emotions that can be as pathogenic as the cold virus and that are directly related to specific organ systems and their energy (Qi):
- Anger (relating to the Liver) – makes the Qi rise
- Fear (relating to the Kidneys) – descends the Qi
- Pensiveness and worry (relating to the Stomach and Spleen) – knots the Qi
- Grief/Sadness (relating to the Lungs)- dissolves the Qi
- Fright (relating to Heart and Kidneys) – scatters the Qi.
And the seventh?
Joy relates directly to the Heart, our spiritual centre.
But how could joy, such a lovely gentle, compassionate emotion even need to be harnessed or need some awareness placed on it? To experience joy in appropriate circumstances and in a way that brings relaxed contentment is healthy and much needed. But, like the other emotions, when it comes to joy as a cause of “dis-ease” it’s about it habitually manifesting or being in excess. As adults it’s more likely to be the habit rather than it being in a huge scoop of excess. We tend to see that more in children who get so excited, for example at Christmas time; after the overload of excitation there are often tears. I do know some adults like this though!
In my clinic I certainly see a lot of patients living under a cloud of fear or see the effects on their bodies of adrenaline and explosive outbursts but what I see so often is the over stimulation of joy. Or should I say the search for joy in stimulation.
The reason I see it so much is because joy as a pathogenic emotion comes in under the radar.
So what is this “excess” joy compared to the balanced state of being that promotes good functioning of the internal organs and mental processes?
It is the excessive excitement and craving that arises in people who live in a state of continual mental stimulation (regardless of how pleasurable that may be).
Now that heading may fit quite a few of us! Indeed our modern lives are set up so it’s almost unavoidable, which is why I recognise it in clinic so often and probably much more than the physicians of the past did. All manner of information, connection, stimulation and even vices are accessible 24/7 and at the end of our fingertips. So when, in it’s insidious guise it’s all those little (or big) addictions we have.
I happened to be listening to a talk by Taiji teacher Adam Mizner while taking a break writing this article and was pleased to hear very clearly;
“Distraction is not relaxation because awareness is outside of the body. Fixation on something is not relaxation because it’s tense. The enemy of peace is craving what we like and pushing away what we don’t like.”
“Excess joy” as it is called in the Chinese medical classics is disturbing when unremitting. It lures us with things that are no doubt pleasurable to one or more of the senses but we could do with a bit less of if we were being honest with ourselves. That’s certainly my own experience in the realm of time wasted in front of screens. The times when I seem to be serving the technology and apps I use rather than them serving me. Again, how many times do I get that mini ‘hit’ by checking my phone, Facebook, emails and find I have spent way too much time following video after video on YouTube?
I’m glad Candy Crush doesn’t appeal to me!
It doesn’t just rely on addiction to technology though and all can succumb. Ghandi is a figure that provides inspiration for many, especially in the realm of mastering self. He is definitely a great role model for me but this emotion in this context and intensity even seemed to be a challenge for this great man when you read about his sex life! Joy definitely gets in under the radar rather than crashes through the door.
To see a cartoon illustration of this problem watch the Disney Pixar film Inside Out, which portrays emotions as characters inside a child’s head. The character called Joy leaves no room for any other experience.
Warm, connected contentment is the balanced expression of joy. Desire or inordinate craving is an aspect of the emotion joy when it is left untethered. If you look at many of the teachers who guide in these matters, past and present, and the texts that form the foundation of their guidance, desire is considered to be a state that is injurious. You can see this especially in the philosophies that form the basis of Chinese medicine (Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism). Essentially, desire leads you away from your original nature.
But what about those of us who might not be seeking enlightenment but just want to be happy and healthy? Again the link between health, including that of the body, and the emotions (this time joy in its not so healthy form) is not tenuous but direct and distinct. This time though it gets straight to the Heart. Joy (in healthy expression or unhealthy) and the Heart are resonant.
So let’s be clear on what the Heart is in these ancient time tested traditions.
Here is the Chinese character for Heart:
The word is Xin and it translates as Heart/Mind. Most Chinese characters are made of several radicals. The characters that describe the organs include the radical that means “flesh” and so build an image that includes a relationship to the physical body.
The Heart character is different as it doesn’t have this radical and instead reveals a space or void in an attempt to show the aspect of us that is deeper and more subtle than the body. It is the part in us responsible for housing our consciousness and the spark of our animation. This space needs quiet. When it is quiet be in no doubt this is when we experience joy appropriately as contentment, easefulness and with great capacity for love. It doesn’t work the other way round, by looking for contentment in craving, drama and over stimulation. Again look at how it feels when we have too much of the craving. It absolutely matches with what acupuncturists expect in signs and symptoms manifesting from the Heart when imbalance occurs. All the acupuncture text books will tell you, as will every practitioner, that when the Heart becomes deficient of energy what will begin to show is:
- Poor memory
- Dream disturbed sleep
- Being easily startled
Interestingly how that person may look is as if they have an absence of joy or spark in their eyes!
All of this is a reminder to myself as well as whoever is choosing to read this far and hasn’t skipped along to the next hit. You and I can’t cure this with more drama, addiction, craving or stimulation.
In my own evolution I can tell you I knew this academically before I knew it in myself. Or rather, I intellectually recognised it but until I settled into finding calm in the practices I have I didn’t experience it.
For me that’s Taiji and Qigong but, it can be anything that takes us inwards and calms us. Formal practices like meditation and yoga or less formal activities like walking or art can help bring stability. Even crochet according to the famous seeker and guide Ram Dass!
He tells a story of his time in the sixties where much of his audience were enthusiastic hippies seeking nirvana. In one talk he kept noticing a middle-aged lady dressed immaculately in tweed and horn-rimmed glasses agreeing wholeheartedly with his experience and knowledge accumulated initially from his psychedelic journeys and later through practices with his guru in India. When he asked this seemingly out of place character how she had gained all this wisdom, she replied, “I crochet.”
This internal stillness seems to be essential if there is to be the growth beyond the shakiness of an agitated Heart/Mind. Many advanced teachers show this being possible through the example of their own lives. It doesn’t mean living like a monk in separation from the rest of the world. From the teachers I look to it means observation of self and a disciplined will to look after the sanctity of the Heart and the peace within.
Over the Holiday period can we observe ourselves? Do we observe peace or craving, a restful Heart or excess joy?
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Dhammapada: A New Translation of the Buddhist Classic with Annotations
There are No Secrets: Professor Cheng Man-ching and His T’ai Chi Ch’uan