(Keeping to my pledge to write thirty-four blogs, one every Monday, on how the Camino continues to affect my life– the same number as the days I walked the 500-mile pilgrimage)
This past Sunday the Joy candle on the Advent wreath at church was lit–another promise of the season. It got me musing about joy. Joy to the World plays this time of year. Holiday cards wishing me peace and joy. Signs in shops, sweatshirts, lights declare JOY! So much awareness and expectation of joy at this time of the year. I do love the word and the feeling it evokes. I feel joy to see the colors of these midwinter sunsets or wake up to a winter wonderland. I have joy in listening to Handel’s Messiah and joy in watching my grandchildren get excited about the season. I have deep joy in a quiet dark morning meditation. I recognize joy as this deep upwelling in my soul that seems to spill out and make my experience glisten. And like all things of my soul, it’s connected to love. It’s not something I can make happen. It just arises when I am aware.
But what more is there to joy? The spiritual teacher, A.H. Almass, talks about joy in a way that shakes my understanding of joy. Not only is it not something I do to receive, but he proposes that we are joy. I am joy? Wait. What does he mean? He writes,
“We are always looking for pleasure, frantically seeking happiness in many ways, and totally missing the simplest, most fundamental pleasure, which actually is also the greatest pleasure; just being here. When we are really present, the presence itself is made out of fullness, contentment, and blissful pleasure.
Our habits and conditioning lead us to forget the greatest treasure we have, our birthright–the pleasure and lightness of existence. We think that we will have pleasure or delight if we fulfill a certain plan, if a certain dream comes true, if someone we care for likes us, if we take a wonderful trip. This attitude is an insult to who we are. We are the pleasure, we are the joy, we are the most profound significance and the highest value. When we understand this, we see that it’s ridiculous to think that we will get pleasure and joy through these external things–by doing this or that, or receiving approval or love from this or that person. We see then that we have been misinformed; we have been barking up the wrong tree.” Diamond Heart Book Three, p.12).
Fifteen years ago, when I walked the Camino, my joy was oriented to the externals of that journey–whether I got a bed for the night; whether the weather was good or at least not raining, whether my back hurt, or whether we reached our goal of Santiago. Yet the learning of the Camino was how little I really needed those external things. So much of that was stripped away over and over, as my ego and its fears were exposed again and again. It was relentless–and such a gift (only in hindsight!) That was the essence of my Camino. Learning that joy doesn’t come from external things.
But what Almaas is saying takes my understanding of joy into unfamiliar territory. Joy does not come from getting or doing external things. I understand and agree what Almaas is saying. Yet I do have joy from experiencing external things. To move from knowing joy within me to being joy and seeing it as my birthright–that’s a big step. I say it to myself– “I am joy. I am pleasure.” Simply who I really am. Could it be? I wonder if it is the fact that I am joy, that I recognize a true joyful experience, I see through the lens of joy, I choose joy from my being joy? I have never considered this. I know that simply because I am joy that all life experience will not be joyful. As Almaas said, it is not dependent on my external experience. I believe he is saying I can be joy and know joy independent of the external things which may be pleasurable or not.
I feel the freedom in that possibility.
I’m not writing this saying that I know I am joy after reading Almaas’ book. But I am willing to be shown that reality on my little Camino of daily life. To see if it is true. It’s nothing I can comprehend. Yet I have long heard the good news that I am of “profound significance and highest value” in being claimed by Christ and his teachings on the way of Love. I have not claimed that birthright fully, the just being here, the simply being me. I relax into the wonder of that now and know I share that birthright with every human being. I relax and wait and wonder. After all, it’s Advent.