I began by wondering how interesting it was that the Vinyasa sessions had been so well attended, but for ‘Finding Joy’, so many people couldn’t get away for one reason or another, and I had had to cancel it. There was something appropriate in that, as the previous sessions have been so joyous. Nonetheless, Jill and I found plenty to discuss on the theme, even without a Vinyasa session to prepare. I am considering combining the sessions in the future though – it feels like Satsang straight after the Vinyasa might work to our advantage.
To joy, then. Jill shared memories of being a small child and having spontaneous experiences of total joy or bliss, for no remembered reason – like ‘being filled with golden light’. I could completely empathise, and felt that I immediately resonated with what she felt. I think many of us do. For many of us, this type of experience seems to fade as we get older, although whether the experiences change or just the way we store and recall memories changes – this might be open to debate. At any rate, we identified three possible barriers to curtail those early experiences of undifferentiated joy: growing self-awareness; increased dominance by the logical mind, and mainstream schooling.
I know that for me, the kind of logical awareness that can, for example, calculate pocket change, is relatively incompatible with the kind of somatic awareness that feels deep joy, without seeking to understand, analyse or contextualise it. For myself, that need for an elusive, lost, childhood joy endured into adulthood. I mourned its loss in a vague way, without being able to properly define it. What first brought me back to bliss was, like many of my generation, dance culture and, in no small part, the substance use associated with it.
I was lucky enough to realise that this wasn’t a sustainable way to live, even at weekends. So my early efforts at searching for meaning in the world (what some might call becoming a ‘spiritual seeker’), were a search, in effect, for more experiences of joy. I have learnt how to make those moments more likely in my physical and meditational practice: repetition, simple engagement of the logical mind with something like counting or balancing, the right level of challenge to stimulate without distress, and a profound emphasis on the somatic, or sensory experience. This is, in essence, what is known as a ‘flow’ state, but with added emphasis on the sensuality of the process.
When these elements are in place, sometimes the world aligns and we experience joy to a greater or lesser extent. The more we practice, the more likely this is to arise. But is it functional? Is it useful? What purpose does joy serve in the world?
We agreed that complete bliss can be a non-practical, even non-functional state. Connecting to other living, communicating beings can become nearly impossible if we are too blissed out. But there is much to be gained from experiencing joy, not least a sense of communion or common feeling with each other and our world. Joy can be a great antidote to a culture characterised by anxious over-consumption.
I would argue, and we agreed, that knowledge of the world – all its suffering and challenges – is as essential as that sense of joy in communion. Indeed, something of the preciousness of joy is its transient, fragile nature. I was reminded of the difference between the aims of jnana yoga – the yoga of knowledge, and bhakti yoga – the yoga of devotional bliss.
The fact is, our yoga practice can give us an increasing sensitivity to injustice and suffering in others. Whether our practice also enables us to act more creatively and effectively to counter and ease such things is another matter. These days, I would ask any yoga practitioner: is your practice helping you to serve the world as well as to feel it and understand it? At its best, our practice should help us not just to find joy in every moment, but also aid us in the responsibility to help each other to our various experiences of joy. Joy is oppressive if it comes at the expense of other beings – if my idyllic retreat in a sun-kissed location entails the exploitation of local water resources, or adds significantly to the amounts of carbon in the atmosphere. And joy is not sustainable if it is experienced in isolation from the living, breathing world, and the needs of all its multiple, manifest citizens.
We have just one more Vinyasa session left in the series, on 1st July. The theme will be ‘Questing for Mystery’. Do come if you can, so we can end this stage of the project on a high. It’s been so very rewarding, and the work will return in some form or another later in the year. It has certainly been full of joy for me.
On this glowing summer’s day, may you, and all beings find peace, and find joy.