There’s a poem by Jack Gilbert called “A Brief for the Defense” that has this reflection:
We must risk delight. … We must haveJack Gilbert, “A Brief For The Defense”
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
The twenty-four hour news cycle is built on highlighting much of the injustice in the world, but what they don’t show is at the same time, some parents are beaming as their baby takes their first step; someone successfully defended their thesis after years of work; a frontline worker gets their first dose of the COVID vaccine; a dog wags their tail gleefully as their person walks in the door.
Tuere Sala, a teacher at Seattle Insight, was a guest on the Ten Percent Happier podcast last fall, and she talked about mudita, often translated as sympathetic or empathetic joy. Many teachers describe this as having joy in someone else’s joy, but I think Tuere brings a subtle nuance to this: she describes it as borrowing another person’s joy.
I invite you to check out episode 292 The Opposite of Schadenfreude | Election Sanity Series | Tuere Sala, if you want to hear the whole thing… but I’ll pull a few pieces that seemed relevant to me.
Tuere echoes something that Jeanne has mentioned in talks and retreats this past year: before we can experience peace and calm in our practice, we need some joy.
It’s almost like joy is the bridge that turns our efforts of practice, of returning to the breath and returning to the breath… The joy is what enables us to let go of striving and relax into this more tranquil, calm, peaceful place. We need the joy to do that, because without that joy, the basic effort or energy that we use to return again, to be nonjudgmental, to be accepting, allowing, returning again to this neutral object, returning, returning — it in of itself can get mundane. It can get boring.https://www.tenpercent.com/podcast-episode/tuere-sala-292 at approx 28:33-29:18
So one of the ways Tuere encourages us to feel the joy when someone is joyous.
Borrowing joy is necessary so that we can get acquainted with joy, because we don’t have enough joyful things happening to us as an individual, for it to happen at a level that we need to be able to sit through whatever. So we borrow it from other people so we can begin to get acquainted with it, to get used to it.https://www.tenpercent.com/podcast-episode/tuere-sala-292 at approx 37:08-37:49, and 41:30-41:56
it’s learning to feel another person’s joy so that as humans we can learn that joy is abundant, it’s always abundant. Someone’s always in some joyous state.
Tuere also explains how joy is necessary in our work against injustice. She talks about the civil rights movement:
There was, I am certain, a degree of rage that was in the Black community like it is now. So in order for them to actually move in against a system that was that volatile towards them, you would have to sing gospel music to the rafters in order to get their inspiration and the energy and the joy that you can do this, this is what it takes in order to do that. … To me they were borrowing each other’s joy. They were cultivating enough mudita that would inspire them to stay through whatever difficulty they had to have.https://www.tenpercent.com/podcast-episode/tuere-sala-292 at approx 44:02-45:37
There are different ways to cultivate joy in meditation. Here’s a guided meditation led by bruni dávila, a teacher with IMC and in the teacher training program at IMS with Jeanne and Tuere.
bruni will be the guest teacher for the Saskatoon Insight Meditation Community on January 27… so if you want a chance to practice with bruni and my Saskatoon meditation group, check out the SIMC website for details on time and how to connect.
Your reflections on the blog or by email are always welcome.
May joy support you in your practice and in the world,