This is the fourth of a series of blog posts examining Joy in Work. I have been calling it: A Work of Joy! It is part of an ongoing discussion between Dave Kopacz and Sandy Carter on this topic and will include each of our thoughts individually as well as our dialogue on Joy in Work. This fourth blog follows Sandy’s personal reflections on joy with Dave’s personal reflections. These personal reflections then will set the stage for our later writings on Joy in Work.
Dave Kopacz, M.D. works as a psychiatrist at the VA in Primary Care Mental Health Integration. Prior to this he was Clinical Director at Buchanan Rehabilitation Centre in Auckland, New Zealand. He is Board certified in Psychiatry and Integrative & Holistic Medicine. He is the author of Re-humanizing Medicine: A Holistic Framework for Transforming Your Self, Your Practice, and the Culture of Medicine.
Sandy: “How about you Dave? Has joy always been a part of your life? If not, when did you first experience it and what is your relationship with joy now?”
Dave’s Personal Reflections on Joy:
Sandy, thank you so much for your story of opening to joy in your life. I like the descriptions you give of joy and I think similarly, that it can happen in the most ordinary moment, and yet it is transformative. Creative, surrender, flow, deep connection, expansion, light, grounded – all these words you use I relate to.
For me, I think I have always had moments of joy at different points in my life, while at the same time I have had painful times with a lack of that feeling. The essence of my personality is introverted, creative, and idealistic. These aspects of my personality can both contribute to and hinder my experience of joy. I think I am a serious person with a good sense of humor and when my seriousness and humor are balanced, it is easier to be open to feeling joy. When I have time to myself, when creativity is flowing, and when I feel a sense of meaning and purpose in my life, I am more open to the possibility of joy. But when I feel overly pulled into the mundane demands of the external world, when I don’t have a creative project or outlet, and when I don’t live up to my own ideals or the world does not live up to my idealistic view of how it should be – I become overly serious and can get quite pessimistic and negative.
Since at least when I was in high school, I have embarked on a conscious project of personal growth. I have become more capable of enjoying extroverted activities and I think this has increased my capacity for joy. Deep connection is an integral part of the joy experience for me – generally connecting Self, others, and nature. I have come to think of this like an epiphany or a theophany – a sudden in-breaking of the Divine into my life. This can be very expansive, as you say, but it can also be very grounding, maybe the most mundane thing suddenly takes on a vast and important meaning.
With joy, there is this component that it comes unbidden (theophany, epiphany), but there is also a component of making one’s self capable of joy. It does have a paradoxical nature, as you note. The scholar of esoteric Islam, Henry Corbin, writes of “making oneself capable of God,” (Alone with the Alone: Creative Imagination in the Ṣūfism of Ibn ʻArabī). That has stuck with me since I read it. He goes on to speak about how we can only experience that which we are capable of experiencing. To me, this means our baseline capacity for joy. However, he also implies that we can make ourselves more capable of God/joy through inner, spiritual work. What this means to me is that, through spiritual work, we can experience deeper and more frequently God/joy in our lives.
I equate God with Joy and I think this can thus apply in a secular or spiritual framework. To me, the two words are interchangeable. We could also use words like the Divine, or a word that Jung uses frequently, the numinous. In the Kashmiri Shaivisim tradition, which flourished in Northern India around 700 to 1100 C.E., the ultimate reality is described as a “compact mass of bliss” (Dyczkowski, The Doctrine of Vibration). I think this is what is meant in the Christian tradition when it is said that “God is Love.” Love and joy are deeply connected. When I come home from work and our dog (who happens to be named Henry Corbin) greets me – bouncing, spinning, barely able to contain himself – I feel the experience of love & joy.
I’ll include two photos of myself that capture this sense of joy. This first one is from a journey I took after I graduated from university. I took a backpack filled with books and food and camping gear, took a 50 hour bus trip from Chicago to Seattle, and went on a solo backpacking trip in the Olympic National Park. There was a great deal of physical and emotional suffering that I went through in the early part of the trip. I think that suffering and joy are not necessarily opposites. I do think that suffering is sometimes necessary to help break us down and open us up in order to become more capable of joy. Just as you describe, Sandy, your opening of joy following a sense of suffering, I think this can often be the case. Native American visionary, Joseph Rael, even speaks of the use of “intentional suffering” (fasting, physical exertion) as being a necessary part of vision quest. This “crying for a vision” is what helps us to become more capable of God/joy. I took this photo as I crested a mountain ridge and a panoramic view opened up before me.
Here is my journal entry from that day:
Today I am born. I AM ALIVE. Today alone was worth the price and troubles of the trip. I am seated atop a mountain. The view is breathtaking and it is even more spectacular because I climbed up the whole damn thing! I passed snow in the shady spots coming up. Except for a couple of chirpers and a multitude of bugs…it is silent. What more could there be?
When nothing is lost
nothing is gained
When nothing is gained
things are not as they should be
With a hat on my head and a sack
at my side
I walk with the breeze and the
moon on my staff
And here is my journal entry for the next day:
Right now I am at Kyak.
Yesterday…well, there is that earlier entry. After that I went up still higher and a view opened up that was indescribable. I had been on the north face of the mountain and had been viewing the smaller mountains to the north. After I crossed over to the south side and climbed a bit higher, I could see the entire Olympic Range, along with snow/glacier covered Mount Olympus. Breathtaking is the only way to describe the section of mountain I stood on. There was about a 60 degree slope of about 150′ without trees. The only thing between the mountains and valleys beyond and myself was air. I stood and stared for quite a while. I think it would be hard to say that you had been alive if you have not seen something so spectacular.
By the time I had hiked 9.2 miles and found a decent site, I was in a foul mood once again. If I would have seen the guy who wrote that shit about nothing lost, nothing gained, I would have pushed him off a cliff. In the last dying light of the day I opened Zen Mind, Beginners Mind and the only word I could make out was “constancy.”
Yesterday was anything but constancy, from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. I don’t want constancy in the form of a continual mellow, but it’s just that the way I felt last night seems so childish. Can that be overcome while still maintaining the ability to feel and express anger and frustration?
I think my journal entry points to some of the things we have been discussing with joy. This episode came following intense physical and emotional suffering as I got my feet under me, adjust to being alone and the constant neurotic chatter of my own mind, and as my body gradually built up strength for mountain hiking.
Then – comes this sudden epiphany, I take a photo, write some lines and have an intense experience. (A note on the photo, the most important thing is seeing my face and remembering that experience, but I have so much “baggage” that you can barely see the scenery around me – well, anyway, that was not the important thing at that moment). Then, this experience is blown away by an even greater experience of joy – the joy beyond describing – and I don’t write about it or take a photo, there is nothing but pure experience. Then, this is followed once again by a descent into despair and I turned to my friend Shunryu Suzuki and he said, “constancy.” Maybe that literal peak experience was only possible from the suffering that led up to it. Maybe the constancy is allowing ourselves to be pulled apart by the extremes of life, while still resting on some inner sense of being that is constantly expanding which is both painful and joyous.
Here is another photo that comes to mind when I think of a joyful moment that has been captured on film. This is a photo from a Holi celebration we had at Buchanan Rehabilitation Centre, where I was working down in New Zealand. We had a small group of amazing and fantastic staff who put on the Exploring Mental Health through Yoga group. Sneh, a wonderful Fijian Indian social worker led us in the yoga and would put on these holiday feasts for us. Sneh would often have us do “laughter yoga” at the end of our sessions. Hearing her spontaneously laugh always made me laugh really deeply.
The Hindu festival of Holi involves throwing handfuls of colored powder at each other. It is kind of like a water balloon fight, only with colored powder. We were so covered with colored powder – it was everywhere! My friend, Arishma, took this photo of me, but right as she was taking the photo, I threw a handful of color at her. While this was all a blast, she did get some powder in her eyes while taking the photo and I felt bad about that, but this photo is right before that happened. This photo captures, for me, the joy that I had working at Buchanan in New Zealand.
What is my personal relationship to joy at this time in my life?
Joseph Campbell coined the popular phrase, “Follow your bliss.” He took this from the Hindu concept of reality as consisting of Sat Chit Ananda, which means Being, Consciousness, Bliss. Campbell wasn’t sure he knew what proper Being or proper Consciousness was, but he did have an internal sense of what brought him joy, Bliss, and rapture. He choose to follow that. While this has often been taken to mean some kind of hedonism in popular culture, Campbell did not mean it in that way. In fact at a later point he said in an interview, “I should have said, ‘Follow your blisters!” This perhaps captures it if we combine both – follow where you are pulled and called to go through your Bliss, but be prepared to develop a lot of Blisters in the process!
Ok, well, for me, at this point in my life, I am trying to have an awareness of the deep reality of joy that is the fundamental nature of Consciousness, Being and Reality. The emotions on the surface are often not joyful, sometimes they are, but sometimes they are not. I am always working (Joseph Rael’s grandmother told him, “work is worship”) to create more capability for joy in my life. This is what makes life worth living, opens us up to colorful, peak experiences, and sustains us through the inevitable trials and tribulations of life.
How about some pet photos to end with? These always make me smile and feel joy in my heart!