I’m sure that Rev. Mugo joins me in wishing everyone a joyful New Year. Joy is something that doesn’t seem to get talked about much in Zen teachings, but for me it is an integral part of the spiritual path. By joy, I mean that quiet contentment and enjoyment of life that does not depend on outer conditions. It can come as if by grace and it can also be cultivated.
When we think of giving more attention to our spiritual practice (and at this time of year perhaps we are thinking in terms of New Year resolutions) we often decide something along the lines of: “I must get up earlier and meditate more, make more of an effort to get to retreats and meditation group meetings etc.” And these are often good things to do that will help us to bring the mind of meditation into a greater part of our lives. But sometimes cranking up the number of hours we spend on our meditation seat is not what is being called for. What is it that makes us feel we must do this? Is it genuinely the meditation beckoning to us or are we being driven by something? Are we pushing ourselves or allowing ourselves to be drawn?
I often find myself asking a person who has come to talk to me about the difficulty of finding the motivation to practice: “what gives you joy?”. I recommend making time for going for a walk or a bike-ride, playing with the kids, taking an art class or joining a book-club, playing music, whatever it is that makes your heart sing. When I do something that is purely enjoyable for me it is no effort to let go of the fearful controlling mind, it just isn’t there. I become a calmer, happier person and I think I am an easier person to be around and that it is easier for me to respond to others in a helpful way. Perhaps you could describe it as a practice of opening the heart, though I don’t feel a need to call it anything.
I guess we can try too hard to do the “right thing” sometimes, and we could be better off doing what gives us joy, because if it gives us joy we are spreading joy to others since we are all inter-connected. If you can find that quiet, contented enjoyment of life, I think you automatically help others to find it too. And, surprise, surprise, it often becomes a lot easier to find your way to your meditation seat.
Perhaps we don’t have to try as hard as we think!