Daily joy

What brings us joy? During a time of pandemic, when many of our favourite pastimes have temporarily been suspended, this question may have taken on a new sense of importance in our lives.  Many have discovered new activities which bring them joy, such as baking, or bike riding, or playing board games with their family. For some people, very little has changed during this time, while for others, their whole lives might have been upended. Whatever our circumstances, for many of us it has been a time for taking stock of our lives, and maybe re-evaluating some of our priorities.

Joy can be like a spark, bright and bubbly; or like a mountain lake, calm and deep. It can be a fleeting moment, barely a wisp, or something which permeates our life for days. Sometimes it can come upon us randomly, seemingly out of the blue, and at other times we may have done a lot of work and preparation for our moment of joy, such as when we are graduating with a degree or getting married.

 The practice of mindfulness can help us to discern which aspects of our lives bring genuine joy rather than a brief distraction. Perhaps one of the reasons why Marie Kondo’s book ‘The life-changing magic of tidying up’ and the related TV series have been so popular is because she encourages us to ask the question – ‘does this spark joy for me?’ She invites us to tune into our bodies and become attuned to when that spark of joy is present, and when it’s not. Moreover, she then suggests that we let go of what is no longer needed with a sense of gratitude, for what it has given us while it was part of our lives. Noticing what sparks joy, and being grateful for whatever comes into our lives, even if only briefly, are both wonderful practices, and they remind me of a quote by the Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh:

            ‘Joy comes from touching things that are refreshing and beautiful, within and outside of ourselves.’

Years ago, I came across another way of regularly bringing a sense of joy into life, when I worked through the twelve-week program in Julia Cameron’s book ‘The Artist’s Way’. This course is designed to stimulate our creativity, and one of the key practices is the ‘artist’s date’. This is a commitment to take the ‘inner artist’ out on a weekly date to somewhere quirky and slightly unexpected. It could be visiting a little shop you’d normally just walk past, like a train enthusiast shop or tiny art gallery. Or perhaps stopping and walking through a park you often drive past, attending a lunchtime student concert at a conservatorium, visiting a community festival at the local temple, booking into a star gazing evening or a behind the scenes tour – whatever awakens our curiosity and openness to the unexpected. Pretty soon, after a few of these ‘dates’, we find that sense of curiosity and delight spilling over into the rest of our lives, and notice moments of delight in all kinds of places we would have usually just rushed past.

 During these times of disruption, tuning in to what ‘sparks joy’ for us, and setting aside regular times for those joyful activities, can be one way to strengthen our internal resources in a way which is most true for us.     

Mindfulness practice:

Take yourself on an ‘artist’s date’ – somewhere quirky and delightful. It may be local to start off with, and as restrictions lift, somewhere further afield. You could even, for now, make use of the many online offerings to explore a new unfamiliar area. Notice what ‘sparks joy’, and how this feels for you.

Anja Tanhane

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Crafting moments of tranquility

 

The Japanese expression wakei-seijyaku is made up of four characters – wa means harmony, kei is respect, sei stands for purity, and jyaku for serenity and appreciation. It means taking the time to deliberately ‘craft’ an experience of inner tranquility, to rest in the present noticing a moment of beauty.

During a time of a global pandemic, such a concept might seem sweet but irrelevant, better suited to happier times when it made sense to stop and smell the roses from time to time. And yes, there is a lot to be anxious about, on a personal but also a global level. The impact of the pandemic has been massive, and no one knows what the long-term effects of this upheaval will be. This is not a sprint, not even a marathon – there are likely to be some permanent changes to our way of life, but it will be some time before we have a sense of what this may look like.

One of the strengths of the human species is our adaptability to changing conditions. We can’t control everything which happens to us, and we have complex interpersonal and emotional lives which mean that our reactions to a crisis are also complex and deeply-felt. Yet we do have some choice about how we respond to our circumstances. For most of us, a certain amount of anxiety during this time is a given. It’s not helpful to ignore it, but neither do we need to add extra fuel to the fire. In the same way that a skilled craftsperson takes time and care to create a valuable object rather than a cheap piece of throw-away junk, so we can take the time and care to create some beautiful moments rather than just rushing through the days. We can use the skills of mindfulness and attention to enhance the fleeting special moments which are already there, and to also create some new ones.

I like the idea of ‘crafting’ some moments of beauty and tranquility, instead of just hoping they might suddenly arrive in our lives. To craft an object means to collect the necessary materials, to practise certain skills, and to set aside time and mental space to create new objects. We might ask ourselves – ‘what are the materials which I could gather for my moments of tranquility’? These are different for all of us – for some it might be time in nature, listening to music, baking bread, knitting, meditating or praying. Once we have these materials, how often can we practise with them? Who can guide and teach us, as the master craftsperson used to teach the apprentice? What helps me to create the time and mental space to consciously craft a few moments of calm, harmony and appreciation?

The Japanese tea ceremony creates a setting where every detail is designed to enable those who participate to experience it richly and fully. It has evolved over many generations, as have the rituals of other cultures which enable people to stop and simply experience the preciousness of the moment. We don’t need elaborate rituals, but it can help to deliberately cultivate the conditions which lead to moments of peace.

An aspect of wakei-seijyaku is that of appreciation, of having respect for what we have, and I have found that mindfulness often brings out these qualities in us. We may not have a Japanese garden with its own tea hut, but the act of making a cup of tea or coffee can become a mini tea ceremony in our lives, if we bring to it some of the qualities of wakei-seijyaku.

Mindfulness practice:

Set aside some time and reflect on what the ‘materials’ in your life are which can give you moments of inner peace. Without aiming to be ‘peaceful’ all the time, how can you use these ‘materials’ to cultivate small sanctuaries of tranquility in your life?

Anja Tanhane