Tripping Over Joy

Tripping Over Joy

What is the difference

Between your experience of Existence

And that of a saint?


The saint knows

That the spiritual path

Is a sublime chess game with God


And that the beloved

Has just made such a Fantastic Move


That the saint is now continually

Tripping over Joy

And bursting out in Laughter

And saying, “I surrender!”


Whereas, my dear,

I am afraid you still think

You have a thousand serious moves. ~Hafiz


I began this past week by listening to the insightful Mary Catherine Bateson, daughter of Margaret Meade and Gregory Bateson, speaking in an On Being podcast. She says, “To me, the starting place [of praise] is the sense of wonder. And that can take you into science. It can take you into art. Other human beings are amazing and beautiful. The natural world around us — the more we study it, the more fascinating and intricate and elegant it turns out to be. ” My week ended  with the discovery of the above poem by Hafiz, which was printed on the front of my local church bulletin. Joy and wonder: these are qualities I try to cultivate, although recently, I have found them sorely lacking. And not because there isn’t joy and wonder to be had, but because of exactly that last line in the Hafiz poem. Because, indeed, I often see the “thousand serious moves” before me.
So often I hear this very thing in the complaints from fellow students, friends, and family members. There is, for most of us, too much busy, too much stress, too much pain. So many of us are too something that is keeping us from noticing just how much joy there is to trip over. All the time we spend with the noise of the world screaming in our ears, we manage to miss the incredible wonder of the world around and within us.
Quieting the noise a bit might be the first place we begin. Make a list of the times when your day is quiet –truly quiet. Is there even one? I read recently that an acoustic ecologist named Gordon Hempton has spent the last 30-odd years compiling what he calls “The List of the Last Great Quiet Places.” It consists of places with at least 15 minutes of uninterrupted quiet during daylight hours. In the whole of the United States, there were only 12. This speaks to me about why, in part, I take life so seriously. When the constant noise of the world tells me all I must do, must produce, must offer, must become, all that must be healed and attended to, there is hardly a speck of room for one to just simply be. I am thinking of the way that part of the job of the inner ear is to help us find physical balance. When the ear is tuned to the noise of the world constantly, I wonder if it is possible to ever find balance at all. And without balance, is it possible to see anything but the thousand serious moves that keep jostling us about?
I don’t know what the answer to that question is for you, but for me I’ve made it a practice to tune into the silent, still place within me every day. This is a practice that I often begin on my yoga mat or meditation cushion. However, some days I can not attend to the practice in those places, and so instead, I might meet my still place on a long, quiet walk or during a time of journaling. To attend to the practice of stillness does not imply a set of rules around how or where that practice might come to be. It’s the commitment to attending that matters. It’s the quiet that takes me from a mental place of imbalance, focused on all of the minute and often mundane daily needs that push and pull me, leaving me intently trained on so much doing, to a place of being, where I can tune my inner awareness back to balance and allow wonder, and joy for that wonder, to reveal itself.
Isn’t it a wonder, I sometimes have to remind myself, that 43 years of living in this body, and sometimes abusing this body, that it still can do such marvelous things, like feel the subtle nuances of a yoga pose, even one like triangle that I’ve done literally hundreds, maybe even thousands, of times? It is a wonder; and if I slow down to notice myself being there, I find some joy for this miracle. It is a wonder that I have with me at all times an anchor–my steady breath–that can take me from a heightened state of emotion to calm in a short amount of time. It’s a joyful wonder, too, that after nine years of seeing the same woods around my home transform from summer to autumn, when I pause in that same way, I find the subtle nuance within this autumn that I missed previously. And it is a wonder that even after 20 years of yoga practice, it is revealed to me daily how little I know, and how much work there is to do. I find joy in that, knowing I am not even close to done.
This makes me think of the words of Ruth Haley Barton, author and spiritual director of The Transforming Center: “The journey of transformation requires willingness to relinquish control and give ourselves over to a process that we cannot fully understand or of which we can predict the outcome.” Relinquishing control means to me that I turn my focus away from mediating the outcome of all of the thousand things that I work with such serious concern to balance on my small shoulders. And from this, I tune into a quiet that may not exist outside of me, but very much does exist within me. Transformation holds an understanding that I can not know how the work of practice will affect or change me, but knowing that it will, and that the transformation that comes will be wonder-full if I am tuned in and aware of its unfolding. The journey to learning to be in this world is one that reveals to me such joy and so much wonder when I finally let myself become comfortable with the mystery that is unfolding around me and within me, rather than trying so hard to plot and plan. I am not good at not planning, I admit. I must work very hard sometimes to remember to turn down the noise and tune into the wonder of being alive. But these days as I transition closer toward mid-life, as I transition with the world through difficult and destabilizing seasons, I know for sure, there’s no more important work that this: to learn to let go of my own controlled footing and become light enough to trip over joy a bit more.