Aspects of Joy: Awe, Play, Goofiness, and Creativity!

February 20, 2018 Group Meditation Part 2 of 2

This talk happened February 20, 2018 at the Boundless Love Project’s Group Meditation. Before listening to the talk, we suggest you listen to this guided loving-joy meditation, which preceded the talk.

Aspects of Joy: Awe, Play, Goofiness, and Creativity!

“Humor is an antidote to all ills.” This quote comes from Hunter Adams, better known as “Patch” Adams. He is a US physician, social reformer, and a clown.

Patch experienced much suffering before graduating medical school. His father died while he was still a teenager, he had three hospital stays due to suicidal thoughts, and his close friend was murdered. These experiences led him to understand that the health of the individual is dependent on the health of their family, community, and larger world. From this understanding arose in him a passion to serve all people.

He has said, “The role of a clown and a physician are the same - it's to elevate the possible and to relieve suffering.” To relieve suffering, he has taken clowns into the war in Bosnia, and the refugee camps of Kosovo. He loves how the simple act of wearing bright colors can make a stranger smile, and how wearing a clown outfit, and being zany, allows him to rapidly awaken love in others.

As an example of his zaniness, he once said, “Wearing underwear on the outside of your clothes can turn a tedious trip to the store for a forgotten carton of milk into an amusement park romp.”

His antics are also useful in a hospital setting. “I'm great at a deathbed,” he says. “I've never given tranquillizers or psychiatric medicine. I've given love and fun and creativity and passion and hope, and these things ease suffering.”

Patch Adam’s uses humor and goofiness to spread joy. In this talk, we will summarize the qualities of joy as well as talk about several aspects of joy that include awe, play, and goofiness. Let’s start with a summary.

Summarizing 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.

An 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.

The antidote to hedonism is kindness. When you are friendly and gentle with yourself and all life, harmfully indulging in sense pleasures makes no sense. When you are friendly and gentle with yourself and all life, you engage in sense pleasures skillfully in a balanced, healthy way that benefits yourself and others.

When hedonism arises, you may find it helpful to say this slogan to yourself: “I love you, keep going.” I learned this slogan from my friend Scottie, who founded Dharmacore, the queer meditation practice group at Common Ground Meditation Center.

I love you, keep going. What a great slogan! The “I love you” reminds you of your intention to remain kind, friendly, and gentle with yourself. The “keep going” reminds you of your intention to remain skillful at all moments.

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 judgment and loathing towards oneself 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 thoughts of envy, jealousy, and overwhelm that get in the way of joy and we mentally jiu-jitsu them into truth and love.

Joy is also the antidote to overwhelm. Given Patch Adam’s wonderful cultivation of joy, it is no surprise that he is very empowered. “Unlike a lot of people, I don't feel powerless,” he says. “I know I can do something. But anyone can do something. It's not about being special. It's about deciding to do it - to dive into work for peace and justice and care for everybody on the planet.”

There are several ways to incline our hearts and minds towards joy.

• By sharing in the joys of others, we multiply our capacity to experience joy. We can see the happiness, success, and joy of others and open our heart to that, so that it makes us joyful as well.

• By slowing down and paying attention, we notice all of the beauty and goodness in the simple things all around us, and experience more awe.

• By attempting to appreciate everything, we start to see the essential goodness of all things. Through the mental jiu-jitsu of “complaint flipping” we can take any complaint and turn it into something we can appreciate. “I am so tired” becomes “Thank you for all of the sleep that I have had in my life,” or “Thank you for this opportunity to learn how to relate skillfully with sleepiness.”

• Through “gratuitous gratitude” we can also appreciate everything that we are aversive to. “Thanks life for this tiredness. Thanks for this tiredness which motivates me to go to bed earlier, and truly love and care for this body. Thanks tiredness, for helping me learn to be peaceful with these sensations of tiredness.”

By sharing in the joys of others, slowing down, appreciating everything, using mental jiu-jitsu, complaint flipping, and gratuitous gratitude we use intentional joy to both experience joy more often and see what gets in the way of joy.

Now that we have summarized joy and intentional joy, I’d like to talk about three other qualities that are aspects of joy: awe, play, and goofiness.

Awe is a Kind of Love

Joy can also be experienced as awe, or wonder. Awe happen in moments when the mind stops thinking and is entirely free of thoughts. Since most of us have a mind that is constantly jibber jabbering, awe can be quite rare to experience. However, even people who spend most of their life lost in ego will experience moments of awe and moments where the mind becomes free of thinking. Such moments typically happen when the mind experiences something that it feels warrants all of your attention. This includes times when there is immediate danger, during novel experiences, or while doing challenging activities that require total focus.

When dangerous experiences cause awe to arise, awe will feel like compassion. A friend of mine who pedicabs in downtown Minneapolis had an awe-producing experience when he witnessed one man shoot another on the street. Witnessing this caused his mind to stop, and in that quiet freedom from delusion, he experienced awe, which in this situation probably felt more like compassion.

In situations where awe arises during successful or beautiful experiences, it will cause joy to arise. Many of us experience a lot of awe when appreciating the beauty of nature, be it a cloud formation, a flower, a waterfall, or what-have-you.

Professional athletes, musicians, dancers, and others performing at the limits of their abilities may also “get into the zone.” This means they enter a “flow state” of complete focus that stops the mind’s mental noise and produces a state of awe, wonder, and ease. These flow states often feel like either peace or joy, or a mixture of the two.

Awe, especially when brought on by dangerous or challenging experience, may also be accompanied by a sense of time slowing down or becoming distorted in some way.

The ego in us shuts down the arising of awe and wonder because it mistakenly thinks that because it can name something, it knows what it is and how it works. Through meditation and mindfulness, we see the illusory nature of the ego’s thoughts and stories, and better appreciate the paradoxes and mysteries of life. This helps us realize that vary little can actually be known. Realizing how little we know, we show up more and more with a “beginner’s mind.” A beginner’s mind is an empty, open, receptive mind that is intensely aware in an effort to better understand what is happening. Showing up with such a mind, we experience more and more wonder, awe, and therefore states of love, like joy.

Play is Joyful

The activity of play is firmly grounded in the state of joy. Play is purposeless activity done for its own sake as its own reward. Play is creative, and often cooperative and social. Body play, such as dancing, martial arts, and cheer leading involves finding joy in the way your body moves. Object play involves using or manipulating objects. Examples include basketball, the ring toss game, board games, sculpting with clay, or playing a musical instrument. Social play involves interacting with others, such as happens during sports, card games, comedy improv, and role playing as when youth play house or actors put on a play. Mental play includes creating songs, poetry, jokes, and doing visualizations.

Granted many kinds of play are careers for some people. When play becomes work, the feeling tone of it can also change from joy to fear, stress, and anxiety.

The key to keeping our work joyful, is to have our intentions behind our work come from a loving desire to serve and inspire others. Let go of all thoughts about making money, becoming famous, winning, or obtaining trophies and honors. Such thoughts arise from greed, and will cause stress and suffering to arise, as well as unskillful behavior. We need to do our best to let our work be fun, creative, and playful, and have faith that by enjoying the process and serving and inspiring others, life will provide for our needs too.

Some people think Patch Adams is weird, because of his antics. Adam’s responds, “Everyone who goes to a job he doesn't like is a lot weirder than I am.”

The Feb 17, 2008 New York Times Magazine had a cover article on play. The cover featured twenty images of people engaged in play. All of them were children. In our culture, we encourage children to play, but often adults don’t get the same encouragement.

Play is important at every stage of life. No matter our age, we should incorporate play into our regular routine. Whether that means we whistle and sing songs while doing household chores, or that we dance instead of walk down the halls at work, we need to be on the lookout for opportunities to play. Having hobbies, scheduling time to play, and incorporating play into our routine can all be seen as pre-joy activities as they incline our minds toward joy. 

The Virtue of Goofiness

Another often-neglected virtue is a kind of play known as goofiness. Now goofiness can come from egoic or non-egoic intentions. When our goofiness is egoic, its intentions may arise out of a greedy need to have other people like us, or as a strategy to avoid unwanted situations, or in an effort to enhance our image in the eyes of others.

Goofiness can also be non-egoic. Goofiness can arise from the skillful intentions to bring joy, light-heartedness, and healing to others, as Patch Adam’s goofiness did.

When goofiness arises from a non-egoic place, there is no greed, aversion, or self-view. The intentions behind it are joy, compassion, and love. It does not matter if the joke works, or even if it is liked. If your goofiness doesn’t bring joy to people, you simply move on and let it go. Having no self-view, means that others cannot hurt you if no one laughs at your jokes.

Look for appropriate opportunities to be skillfully goofy. 

Imaginative Joy

Another way we can nurture our joy is through mental creativity. When I am doing qi gong, the joy in me can be increased through the playful use of visualizations. During the movements I can imagine being a bird flying through the air, a dancer performing on stage, or that my hands are eels sticking their heads out of a coral reef. Such playful imaginings puts a smile on my face and in my heart.

Certainly such visualizations are imagined. Some might understandably think that imagined things are thus untrue and delusional. Let me remind you that all language-based communication is imagined. However, as long as we mindfully remember that language is not the truth, we can relate to it, and use it, skillfully. In the same way, there is nothing unskillful with using imagined visualizations as long as we mindfully remember that they are imagined and not true. So go ahead and feel free to mindfully derive joy from skillful mental creativity and visualizations.


To summarize, set your intentions towards joy. Be on the lookout for opportunities to skillfully play, laugh, and be goofy, and let all of your joy come from loving intentions.

As Patch Adams wrote, “Love is an important instrument in care, especially when partnered with humor and play. Anyone can love! It’s a way of being! Love breaks down the barriers and allows peace to flourish!”

May we all be mindful of the love, beauty, skillfulness, and successes all around us, that we may experience endless joy.