Joy: The Love That Celebrates

February 13, 2018 Group Meditation

This talk happened at the Boundless Love Project’s Group Meditation. Before listening to the talk, we the movement meditation of qigong, which is not yet online.

JOY: The love that celebrates

"Joy isn't found in the objects that surround us; it's found in the innermost recesses of the soul. One can possess it as well in a prison as in a palace.” These are the words of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, also known as the Little Flower. She was born in 1873 and died from Tuberculosis at age 24. She wrote in her book, The Story of a Soul, "I've suffered a great deal since I have been on earth, but if in my childhood I suffered with sadness, I no longer suffer that way now; It's in joy and peace. I'm truly happy to suffer.... suffering itself becomes the greatest joy when one seeks it as the most precious treasures."

To an awakened being, everything can be joyful, even suffering. To someone lost in egoic delusion, they could have all of the power, fame, and fortune in the world, and still be miserable.

In this talk we are going to look at this quality of joy: the love that celebrates.

Joy Defined

Let’s start by trying to define this beautiful state of joy.

This state is variously called joy, loving-joy, or gladness. Just as compassion is the love that is intimate with suffering, joy is the love that is intimate with beauty, success, and skillfulness. When we are intimate with these things, we experience pleasure, or even bliss.

The reason Saint Thérèse of Lisieux could feel joy while suffering, is that in those moments, she is connecting to what is beautiful, successful, and skillful. In these moments she may be focused on how her suffering serves or benefits others; the courage and fearlessness required to willingly endure suffering; how the suffering helps her grow, develop, and mature; or hundreds of other skillful or beautiful qualities that could be present in those moments. By celebrating our successes in this way, joy helps us transcend our conditioned egos and learn to accept and appreciate the tests, challenges, and discomforts that life hands us.

Not only is joy open-hearted and intimate with the success, beauty, and skillfulness in our life, but also with the success, beauty, and skillfulness found in all other people, beings, and life forms. Because we can be happy for the happiness of others, joy is often called altruistic joy, sympathetic joy, or empathetic joy.

We can also draw a distinction between happiness and joy. Happiness requires your external situation to be a certain way. If external situations conform to what your conditioning requires for you to be pleased, then you are happy. On the other hand, joy is not dependent on things being a certain way. Joy arises from within as a byproduct of an open, appreciative heart, and a mental attitude that views things clearly and truthfully, appreciating how everything in the universe belongs and works together for the greater good.

With this open heart and clear seeing, joy is both peaceful and content. Joy does not cling to, want, or need things to be, or remain, a certain way.

To summarize, joy is intimate with the success, beauty, and skillfulness of self and others. Joy comes from within, appreciates the goodness in all life, and is not dependent on the outside world being a certain way.

A Mother Celebrating Her Child’s Successes

The Buddha’s example of joy is a mother celebrating the successes of her child. She sees her child as a miracle, appreciates him, and cares for him with an open heart. When he smiles his first smile, takes his first steps, says his first words, responds to his own name, and so on, her heart leaps with joy at his achievements.

She shares in his happiness as if it were her own. There is no separation between them. Sharing in another’s happiness in this way is a profound sign of connection with someone else.

In this example we can see how the mother is intimate and open-hearted with the success of her child. Although it may seem like her joy is dependent on the successes of her child, the joy spontaneously arises because her heart is wide open, her mind is balanced and seeing clearly, and joy is an appropriate response to the situation. When our insides are primed in this way, joy spontaneously arises to celebrate the successes of others and our own.

How Joy Feels in the Body

Like all other kinds of love, joy has a mind that is balanced and spacious, a heart that is open and connected, and a body that is calm and relaxed.

In addition, joy is very pleasant, sometimes even blissful. Joy lightens, brightens, and energizes the mind. There is a lot of alertness, creativity, playfulness, and often inquisitiveness in a joyful mind. Joy often provides us with a lot of inspiring and empowering ideas.

The joyful mind can easily become quite concentrated and focused. At times, this focus allows us to feel the subtle, pleasant energies in the body that can be described as vibrations, tingling, warmth, movement, energetic flow, or a feeling of tiny bubbles spreading through parts of the body. When we anchor our awareness on these subtle, joyful energies, this leads to even deeper states of energetic peace and tranquility.

Due to joy’s spacious mind -- which is a mind that does not fixate on any thoughts and stories -- and connected heart, there is a sense of profound connection or oneness with life. This oneness allows us to experience the joys of other people, animals, and life forms as if they were our own.

Because of this heartfelt intimacy, Joy, like compassion, often moves us to tears. When we see the inner beauty, successes, and skillfulness of others, tears of joy may flow. One of my friends who enjoyed watching football would become teary-eyed whenever a player helped a rival team member get to his feet. I often get choked up or cry when witnessing, hearing about, or remember stories of unconditional love.

Joy is the Antidote for Overwhelm

Because of joy’s buoyant, inspiring, and empowering qualities, it is a wonderful antidote to overwhelm. You may recall that overwhelm is often mistaken by the ego to be compassion. Overwhelm has an open heart, but an unbalanced mind that takes the suffering of others personally.

Joy, especially joy in the successes and skillfulness of others, helps us gain a more balanced perspective on life. Where overwhelm convinces us that everything is awful, miserable, and hopeless, joy exposes the lie to these delusional thoughts.

Joy shows us that beauty, success, and skillfulness are also realities in this world. Joy empowers us and let’s us know we have the energy and power to take action, help, and serve others. We may not end all suffering, but we can let the life energy in us do what it can to make the world more peaceful, harmonious, and joyful.

Now that we have a sense of what joy is, let’s also be really clear about what it is not.

The Near Enemy: Hedonism

Hedonism is the pursuit of sense-based pleasures that harm yourself or others. Hedonism is the near enemy of joy. Hedonism may also be called self-indulgence or exuberance. In hedonism, we are looking for the outside world to make us happy. Hedonism can be thought of as having a party attitude where the purpose of life is to eat, drink, and be merry.

Unlike joy, with hedonism, the heart is usually closed and disconnected from others. In hedonism, it is all about you. You are on a mission to get your wants, desires, and lusts fulfilled. There is an agenda behind hedonism.

The object of one’s hedonic desires is nearly unlimited: alcohol, sex, drugs, cigarettes, porn, shopping, cutting, food, TV, internet, video games, shoplifting, work, fame, acquiring money, violence, laughter, and so on. Although some of these things can be enjoyed skillfully, the distinguishing quality of hedonism is that the behavior is harming yourself or others.

Joy can be thought of as an outward flow, and hedonism as an inward flow. Joy arises from within and flows outward benefiting all who you come in contact with. Hedonism has an insatiable desire to consume external sensual pleasures in a doomed attempt to sustain a never-ending high.

Hedonism is an inward flow because it looks to the external world to provide the inner relief it seeks. Hedonism mistakenly believes that by “consuming” or obtaining these external things, that it can finally find the inner peace and relief it seeks.

This storyline of hedonism seems plausible, because it often seems to work temporarily in the short-term. Ultimately, however, this strategy is unsustainable due to the law of impermanence. Everything changes. The fourth cookie, glass of wine, or joint is not as satisfying as the first one, which leads to binging as you try to reclaim the original sense of satisfaction. The emotional high inevitably transforms into an emotional low.

Like all delusions, hedonism leads to shortsighted, unskillful behaviors that ultimately harm ourselves and others. Ample evidence for this is provided in the many stories shared by the members at the meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous, and other Anonymous and addiction recovery groups.

Let Your Body Guide You

Although both hedonism and joy have a pleasant aspect to them, you can use the sensitivity of your body to help distinguish between the two of them.

Hedonism is one aspect of the delusion of greed. As a kind of greed, hedonism has an underlying restlessness, dissatisfaction, compulsive, and addictive quality to it. These felt aspects of hedonism are all unpleasant. When we give into our indulgences, it is largely in an attempt to cover-up, or “get rid of,” these unwanted feelings.

When searching for the next fix, hedonism also partakes of the delusions of judgment and future-ing. When on the hunt, hedonism judges the present moment to be boring, not good enough, unimportant, or bad in some way. It can’t wait until the next time it gets its “hit” of whatever sensual pleasure will help to numb or mask the discomfort: TV, shopping, unhealthy food, video games, drugs, sex, alcohol, or what-have-you.

By tuning into your body, you can notice these underlying unpleasant aspects of hedonism that are not found in joy and start to distinguish the one from the other.

Peace is the Antidote to Hedonism

When hedonism arises in you, use peace as its antidote. When you can become peaceful accepting, welcoming, and content with the fear, anxiety, dread, lust, and other feelings that drive hedonic behavior, you short-circuit hedonisms ability to control you. When hedonism arises, and it is likely to over take you, it is best to take a break from what you are doing and meditate.

What you often find is that hedonism is the outer layer of a delusional onion. Doing insight meditation will help you to peel away the layers and see what is really going on. Say I have a strong urge to gorge unhealthy foods while binge-watching TV. Noticing this hedonism, and seeing that it is likely to derail my day, I do a mindfulness meditation. 

During this meditation I start by feeling and investigating the hedonism. I feel restless, compulsive, and unpleasant aspects of it, and notice how it wants to drive me to do unskillful things like eat unhealthy foods and squander time in unproductive ways. But what is really going on here? What stories are active in my mind?

Asking this question, I see I have a lot of fearful stories about a looming deadline that is causing stress and anxiety. I also see there are stories about doing the project incorrectly, which is causing even more fear to arise, and this fear prevents me from getting started on the project. I also see that there is a sense of overwhelm from a story in my mind that I may not have what it takes to do this project at all. The hedonistic desire to binge on TV and food, arises as a way to escape these unpleasant feelings that are arising from these deluded and aversive thoughts.

This inner layer of the delusional onion has the falsehoods of self-view, future-ing, and fixed-view driving it. Layered on top of them is the hedonistic desire to binge, in an unskillful and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to escape these core discomforts.

By meditating, I was able to infuse the situation with peace and start to see more clearly what was really going on at a deeper layer. Once that is seen, I can mentally jiu-jitsu those stories and chart a skillful way to respond.

Hedonism is often a challenging delusion to address, because it frequently masks deeper delusions which are the driving forces. Without bringing in the peace necessary to discover, investigate, and see these underlying issues, you can’t effectively address the hedonism. In this way, peace is the antidote to hedonism.

The Far Enemy of Joy is Envy

The far enemy of joy is envy. Where joy celebrates the success of others, envy resents and covets the success of others. Envy is an unpleasant emotion that may contain a lot of bitterness and lead to and ill-will and acts of cruelty against those seen as more successful. Envy can also be used as a weapon to tear yourself down, because you don’t measure up, or have what other people have. Either way, envy is unskillful.

The source delusion of envy is self-view. Envy has a closed heart and an unbalanced mind. The closed heart prevents us from connecting with others and feeling joy from their successes. The unbalanced mind allows us to mistake the self-centered thoughts in our head as the truth, causing envy to arise.

The more you are mindful of envy when it arises, the more you weaken it within you. Conversely, the more you are mindful of joy, the more you strengthen joy within you. When joy is strengthened, envy is weakened.

Before we talk about how to strengthen joy, let’s talk about why our mind’s habit pattern is to fixate on failure, ugliness, and threats of all kinds.

Negativity Bias

Psychologists have found that our mind has what they call a “negativity bias.” This mean the mind naturally focuses on dangers and threats. Biologically, our mind gives failure, ugliness, and unskillfulness more prominence and importance in the mind and body relative to those things that are successful, beautiful, and skillful.

This negativity bias made a lot of sense for our preverbal ancestors. Given that language did not yet exist, their minds were not continuously occupied by conceptual thoughts. Instead, all of their awareness went into their senses: feeling the body, hearing, seeing, tasting, and so on. Everybody lived in the present moment and was mindful by default. Since language had not yet been invented, delusion had not yet entered the world. All life lived in alignment with the universal laws of truth and love.

For our preverbal ancestors, there was no mentally-constructed past and future, so the only threats that upset and riled them, were those that were actually happening in the present moment. When there is an immediate threat to life or safety, the negativity bias helped our ancestors focus on, and instantly respond to the threat, helping them survive and thrive. If responding to threats was equally important as looking at a pretty flower, they would not have responded immediately and appropriately to ensure their survival. Thankfully, such life-threatening dangers were few and far between, and because they did not have a conceptual, language-based mental life, when the threat has passed, they could easily return to a peaceful, relaxed, calm, and joyful life.

Flash forward to today, where egoic delusion has a strong hold on our culture and our mind. We are frequently disconnected from our senses, because we live largely in a mentally created world inside of our head.

Within this delusional conceptual world, things that are not life-and-death threats, are responded to emotionally as if they are. Being laughed at, rejected, disagreed with, or having to give a speech or go to a job interview, as well as other things, can feel like a dangerous threat to our life and safety, even though they are not. The ego, through delusion, multiplies what it considers to be a threat.

Adding to this, the ego does not live in the present moment, as our preverbal ancestors did. As a result, because of our negativity bias, the ego obsesses about past traumas and future threats, leaving us perpetually anxious, frightened, worried, stressed, and overwhelmed.

Inclining our minds towards joy is one skillful way to compensate and regain balance for  our biologically-conditioned negativity bias.

Intentional Joy

By inclining the mind to connect with the goodness, beauty, and skillfulness in our own life as well as in that of others, we enter the state of intentional joy or pre-joy. By setting this intention, we soon see all of the delusions that prevents us from feeling joy.

Pre-joy requires that we identify the delusions, see the delusion in them, and mentally jiu-jitsu them. The envious thought of, “How could they pick her over me for the promotion!?” becomes, “May I share in her joy and happiness over her getting a promotion. May her happiness be my happiness, that we may celebrate together.” Or the envious thought of, “I wish I was as pretty, talented, and successful as she is,” becomes, “I celebrate her beauty, talent, and success, and allow her good qualities to inspire me to be my best self.”

At times, these truthful and loving responses may feel forced or lacking in sincerity. There may be internal resistance to these responses. If so, look at that, investigate it, and see if there is a deeper layer of delusion that also needs to be addressed. Challenge all judgmental, discriminating, self-centered delusions of mind that close your heart to the joy of others.

These intentional states help you confront the delusions that hold you back. Pre-joy allows you to investigate them, understand them, befriend them, and transcend them. This is where the work happens that will lead to wonderful insights and more and more frequent moments of true or full joy.

Pre-joy also requires you to actively cultivate joy in your life by connecting with the simple joys, being appreciative, sharing in the joy of others, and enjoying your creativity and imagination. Let’s look a little closer at each one of these.

Simple Joys

During intentional joy and actual joy, we slow down, pause, and actively seek things to be joyful about. Through this, we learn that joy can be as simple as paying attention to, and appreciating, the details in our life.

Such details could include the warmth of your clothes, breathing fresh air, feeling sunshine on the skin, seeing the beauty in a passing cloud, feeling the subtle energy sensations of the body, or awe at the miracle and mystery of life that is within and all around you. You could even have joy at the skill and care that went into crafting a piece of furniture, tool, or appliance.

These simple joys are limitless, and always with us, but you need to make the space in your life to connect with them whole-heartedly.

A trick to help with this is to put your awareness in your senses, and relate to things directly, while letting go of any and all stories that do not help you to joyfully connect with whatever is arising. Let this intention to connect with the simple joys in every moment be part of your practice.

Gratuitous Gratitude and Complaint Flipping

Joy is often called appreciative joy because when you appreciate things, joy naturally arises. Do your best to appreciate everything, by looking to see the skillfulness, beauty, and success in everything. The more you do this, the more you realize everything belongs and everything has a role to play in this ordered cosmos of ours. The unity of all life becomes more apparent.

At times when I am down in the dumps, I engage in what could be called, “gratuitous gratitude.” Even though I don’t feel grateful, I go through the motions of being appreciative and grateful.

For example, say I am tired and exhausted and have a lot of work to do. I just start being appreciative of all of that. “I appreciate my tiredness. I appreciate this work and these deadlines. I appreciate this exhaustion.” It’s strange, but thinking the words leads to the question: “Why do I appreciate these things?” When that question is asked, oftentimes the answers arise: This is an opportunity to learn how to be skillful with tiredness and exhaustion. This work helps people, and allows me to serve them and benefit their lives. This situation cultivates perseverance, skillfulness, mindfulness, self-compassion, and concentration so that the life in me can do what wisdom says needs doing. On and on the answers start flowing and pretty soon genuine gratitude, empowerment, and focus arise that make it easier to do what needs doing.

Prior to doing gratuitous gratitude, the mind was lost in aversion and judgment, now it is honestly seeing the value of the situation. This loosens the hold of those delusions, and often allows some joy along with its inspiration to filter through. As Melody Beattie so astutely wrote in Beyond Codependency, “Deprived thinking turns good things into less or nothing. Grateful thinking turns things into more.”

Gratuitous gratitude may not work for you every time you do it, especially when you are new to the practice. But even if it works only one out of ten times, isn’t that worth it? Moreover, every time you do it, you are reinforcing a skillful habit that will serve you for your entire life.

Another particularly helpful form of pre-joy appreciation is a type of mental jiu-jitsu we could call “complaint flipping.” Whenever a complaint arises in me, I simply flip-it. “I am so tired,” becomes “I appreciate all of the energy in my body.” If I notice I’m grumbling about a part of my body that is in pain, I start to appreciate and notice all of the parts of my body that are not in pain. “I am so hungry,” becomes “I appreciate all of the food that I have eaten throughout my life,” “I hate when so-and-so does such-and-such,” becomes, “I appreciate when so-and-so does such-and-such because it gives me the opportunity to practice mindful awareness, and cultivate unconditional kindness, peace, compassion, and joy.”

To further incline your mind towards joy, it is helpful to ritualize appreciation by having set times when you do it throughout the day. Easy times to remember to be thankful are first thing as you rise in the morning, before meals, and before going to bed. This will give you practice being appreciative as many as five times a day. Ultimately, you want to come to a place where you rejoice always and appreciate everything. When this happens, you will be a very joyous person indeed.

Altruistic Joy

Of course, if you try to share in the joy of all people over the entire world, you increase your odds of being joyful 7.6 billion times. If you further expand your connection to all beings and all life forms, you increase your odds of being joyful an infinite amount of times. I like those odds.

Increase your chances to be joyful by rejoicing in the beauty, success, happiness, and goodness of all beings and all life forms. In moments when you are free from delusion, this joy for others will naturally arise. Until then, use some phrases to help express that joy for others who are celebrating:

“May your happiness continue, increase, and never end.”

“I am happy that you are happy.”

“May your success continue, increase, and never end.”

When celebrating the successes of others, it should be noted that these successes may be on an absolute/spiritual level, or on a relative/worldly level. There is no reason why we can’t share in the joy of a friend who got hired for a job they have always wanted, or finally published their book, or purchased a new home, or who is having a birthday, or finally got the new tattoo or piercing or hair color that they always wanted. It doesn’t matter if we wouldn’t enjoy what is causing them joy. We can still celebrate with them.

Because worldly joys are temporary, that is all the more reason to celebrate them while they are happening. Of course, we must also be mindful that worldly joys are impermanent. They cannot be expected to bring us the lasting happiness we seek. To do this is to fall victim to the delusion of greed and set ourselves up for disappointment.

When it comes to sharing in the unskillful happiness of others, it gets a little trickier. If you discern someone’s happiness is derived from unskillful means, there is no need to share in their happiness. If their ego derives happiness by berating others, picking fights, or beating people up, that is not a time for joy. In such a situation, compassion, for both the perpetrator and the victim, is the appropriate, loving response.

However, we need not hesitate to grade people on a curve. Maybe what they did is unskillful, but it is a marked improvement for them. If you are a teacher and a student who gets into frequent physical fights is proud that she only verbally berated and cursed out another student who was goading her into fight, that is a reason to celebrate. This action, although unskillful, was more skillful than usual. All signs of progress are to be acknowledged and appreciated.

A Word of Caution

Be aware that the delusions of judgment, hatred, and cruelty will attempt to use this caveat of not celebrating people’s unskillful actions as a way to establish themselves into your life. If we witness a brutal dictator joyfully crying for the marriage of her son, and we do not feel her joy, we are likely in the grip of these delusions because we are mistaking the ego in her to be her true self.

We must remember it is the ego in her that drove this (fictional) dictator to acts of ethnic cleansing, warfare, and the use of chemical weapons on her own people. The ego in her is strong and in charge, but when you are lost in ego, you are at the mercy of your conditioning which you had no control over. Since she is a victim of circumstances, blaming and judging her makes no sense, nor does hating her, or wishing her cruelty.

For people who are lost in ego, and harm lots of people, a good phrase to use to incline your heart towards altruistic joy with them is, “May your goodness continue, may it increase, may it never end,” Then see if that feels sincere, or see if there is a delusion that arises within you in response to these words.

I use this extremely difficult example to drive home the point that these four kinds of love, including joy, are unconditional in nature.

Our true self of boundless love, will never mistake this dictator to be her ego. Our true self knows that her true nature is the same boundless love that makes up our own nature, so we relate to her on this level. Because of this, when we see goodness in her emerging, we rejoice with her. 

Imaginative Joy

Another way we can nurture our joy is through mental creativity, play, and goofiness. When I am doing the movements of qigong, the joy in me can be increased through the use of visualizations. In one movement, called punching mud, I imagine my arms to be eels peeking out of holes in the coral reef, and something about this thought puts a smile on my face and in my heart.

Certainly such thoughts are imagined, but there is nothing unskillful with the imagined (which actually includes all language-based communication) as long as we know that is imagined. Go ahead and feel free to derive joy from skillful mental creativity, play and goofiness.

Summary of Intentional Joy

By noticing simple, everyday joys; by practicing appreciation regularly; by complaint-flipping and gratuitous gratitude; by sharing in the skillful joys of all people, beings, and life forms; and by enjoying the skillful play of the imagination, we incline our mind towards joy. Through these joyful intentions, we peacefully battle all of the delusions that block our joy, and transform them into truth and love. As a result, we find true joy arising in our life more and more.

A lot has been covered in this talk, so let’s briefly summarize what we have discussed.

Summary of Joy

Joy is the love that celebrates the inner beauty, successes, and goodness of all life. Joy comes from within, appreciates everything, and is not dependent on the outside world being a certain way.

The Buddha’s example of joy is a mother celebrating all of her child’s successes.

Joy is a pleasant or blissful state. It lightens, brightens, energizes, and empowers the body and mind. This is why joy is the perfect antidote to overwhelm which feels disempowered and hopeless.

The near enemy of joy is hedonism. Whereas the source of joy comes from within, the source of hedonistic pleasures comes from without. Hedonism seeks its own pleasure at the expense of itself and others. Because hedonism is a type of greed, peace serves as its antidote.

The far enemy of joy is envy. Envy resents and covets the joy of others. Envy fosters bitterness and ill will towards successful people and self-judgment and self-loathing for not measuring up. The more one cultivates joy in their life through intentional joy, the more they will transform the envy of their ego into joy.

Intentional joy allows us to incline our heart and mind towards joy. As we do this, we see all of the delusions that get in the way of joy and we mentally jiu-jitsu them into truth and love. We can incline our heart towards joy through several ways. By slowing down and paying attention, we notice all of the beauty and goodness in the simple things all around us. By attempting to appreciate everything, we start to see the essential goodness of all things. By engaging in complaint flipping and gratuitous gratitude we continue to mentally jiu-jitsu delusions into appreciation. By sharing in the joys of others, we multiply our capacity to experience joy. We can also experience joy and delight through creative and playful imaginings, as long as we remember that they are mentally-constructed fictions.

Saint Paul summarized well how to incline our mind towards joy: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”


Source Material for Quotes

• Therese, de Lisieux, Saint. Translated and edited by Robert J. Edmonson. The Story of a Soul. Brewster, Mass.: Paraclete Press, 2006. Pp. 156, 233, 244. Print.

• Beattie, Melody. Beyond Codependency. Hazeldon Foundation. 1989. P. 118. Print.

The Holy Bible. New International Version. Philippians 4:8.