When I think of living a life of joy, I do and I do not think of happiness. Both are true, I think. A great paradox. Happiness can offer joy, but is happiness the main ingredient to live a joyful existence? By this I mean, more specifically, does a joyful life mean we will always also be happy?
Joy feels like a brave act amidst the paradox of life. Our hearts can hold both. The tragic and the joy. Yet maybe not alone or without a little creative help now and then. I turn to the masters—Father Gregory Boyle, illuminating the lives of men and women who have come to Homeboy Industries to find a home and acceptance, conveying enormous joy alongside the tragic reality that so many who are transformed by deep love will also die in violent and untimely deaths; Archbishop Desmond Tutu whose effervescent smile and laughter permeated every interview, every book, even as he experienced the truth of Apartheid and of the world’s atrocities; Tara Brach, who offers practices to find True Refuge to abide in the vastness of love and compassion while staying present for the truth of life as it is.
Each time I read the stories Boyle offers, I am broken up again. I so want the transformed to get more time to live. Yet, this isn’t the promise. And though pain and death are part of the story, death doesn’t have the last word here. There has been transformation, the homecoming to joy and to a loving community, which I think might be a bigger part of the story. A loving community bringing people home to wholeness.
Much like Desmond Tutu illuminated when he reminds:
“You show your humanity by how you see yourself not as apart from others but from your connection to others…Yes, we’re capable of the most awful atrocities. And God weeps until there are those who say I do want to try to do something. It is good also to remember that we have a fantastic capacity for goodness. And then you look again…when a disaster such as 9/11 happens, we realize we are family. We are family.”
In community, together, remembering we are family, we grow better, I hear him saying. And in this, joy is possible within the weeping. How many times I’ve experienced this collective reminder when the pure joy of coming together speaks louder than the tragic that brought us there.
Just a few weeks ago, Krista Tippett rebroadcast an episode of On Being that features her interview with Archbishop Tutu. Throughout the episode, as the two discuss all manner of life, Desmond Tutu’s effervescent laughter bubbles up. It is the sound of one containing the whole truth of life. There’s a marvelous picture of the Archbishop and the Dalai Lama in The Book of Joy conveying this same thing. It’s effervescent. And it holds the paradox.
I sense part of this ability to hold the paradox, to live in joy and respond to the world’s atrocities; to experience deep sadness and exquisite and abundant joy, happens in community when we find a kind of acceptance for one another. This is the second of three important teachings from Tara Brach about finding True Refuge. Finding refuge in each other, we discover moments of joy.
Sometimes, I’m aided by remembering these moments of community. So I relive a beautiful series of moments that blend together and synthesize into the whole moment of Jala Yoga, a reminder of a bunch of people who came together and became a loving community. I’m remembering nights with the room full of beloved faces—Theresa, David, Adrienne, Jen, Molly, Jess, Lauren, Cheryl, Dana, Jeremy, Kimber…folks who arrived with tightness on their face and in their body and eventually came to rest back into themselves, quieter, less constrained. We shared a homecoming to love. There was certainly joy. Remembering this, my whole body rests into it all over again.
I scoop up the memory. It’s not a crumb at all. It nourishes every bit of me in this moment now. Mary Oliver says it and so does Desmond Tutu; Gregory Boyle and so many others too. We are often unkind and there is so much that is unredeemed. Yet, as Tutu said, “You must keep everything in perspective. The world is getting better…. We are growing and learning how to be compassionate, how to be caring, how to be human.” In community, remembering we are family, when love arises. Joy. For just this moment, I’m not going to doubt or miss its plenty.
Join a modest community finding joy in togetherness:
Friday, January 28 • 9am -10:30am
This class will blend yoga movement, contemplation, meditation, and conversation for a new way to explore our practice in community. Covid vaccinations required for in-person practice at the Harmony Space in Shepherdstown. Limited spacing available.
Online practice via Zoom. Video recording sent to all registered guests.
$15 Reserve your spot via text to 401-440-0279.
Advance payment required to Venmo or Paypal.
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Venmo to: @Christa-MastrangeloJoyce