The Three Base Practices for Joy

Joy, part 3

Some spiritual practices might be your thing -- or might not be. Other practices are worth a try -- even if you end up only doing them once. Then there are the kinds of spiritual practice that are slogans to keep in mind and try to live by. Beyond these three categories are the basics for a life of joy. (They're all listed HERE.) The basics are things like: Get Enough Sleep. You can’t be happy if you’re sleep deprived.

Exercise has actually not yet been the subject of a "Practice of the Week" post, though I expect it will be, and “Nourish Your Brain” is listed as a “keep in mind” exercise. A healthy diet and exercise are also among the basics of a life of joy. I’ve seen people sick in hospitals and in hospice who have a deep inner joy, but if you don’t have to be sick, doing what you can to be healthy and vital helps with joy. Taking care of yourself is a form of self-compassion, which is a practice of and for joy.

I also include in the basics category three practices that aren’t just some people’s thing but help everyone, aren’t just worth a try, but are worth sticking with, and they aren’t just for keeping in mind because they do require setting aside some dedicated time -- every day if you can, or at least every other day.

Three practices, 10-15 minutes each.

So, yes, if you do all three, we’re talking about half an hour to 45 minutes a day, and I know your schedules are already full. But I have a duty as your spiritual leader to tell you what I know about building more joy in your life, and this is what I know. Whatever else you are able to do of all those practices that are described on the website, these three will lay down a base that will facilitate all of them – will help you be better able to keep in mind the "keep in mind” practices and will deepen and enrich your “your thing” practice, and will strengthen the experience of the “worth a try” practices.

Most people find that the morning is the best time for these, and doing all three one right after another is a good routine, but, really, wherever you can fit them in, fit them in.

One: Journal for 10 or 15 minutes a day. (See also: "Morning Pages.") A cautionary note: not all journaling is equal – there are some ways of journaling that are just perseverating about one’s unhappiness, and that really doesn’t help. I’d say start with listing some gratitudes. There is a post about journaling at cucmatters.org that will provide you with some further helpful perspective.
“Studies have shown that writing about oneself and personal experiences can improve mood disorders, help reduce symptoms among cancer patients, improve a person’s health after a heart attack, reduce doctor visits and even boost memory....The power of writing — and then rewriting — your personal story can lead to behavioral changes and improve happiness.”
Two: Read wisdom literature. Wisdom literature is writing that’s inspirational or spiritually insightful. Choose for yourself what counts as wisdom literature for you, though I’d say the latest spy thriller or romance novel probably isn’t it. Essays of Thomas Merton, or Thich Nhat Hanh, or Pema Chodron, or writings of Rabindranath Tagore are certainly good. The poems of Mary Oliver or Walt Whitman, perhaps would work for you. The post on “Study Spiritual Texts” provides a sampling of over 30 titles just for a start.

In my own morning study, I find myself returning periodically to re-read certain ancient sources: The Dao De Jing, the Bhagavad Gita, the Bible’s Book of Psalms. There are always fresh.

Pick a book. Dip into it for a 10 or 15 minute period each day. When you finish, move on to another. Spending some time learning and reminding yourself each day of the wisdom of the ages builds joy.

Three: Just attention. Not attention TO anything predetermined, not moving, not talking – attention that is JUST attention. Find a posture that will allow you to be perfectly still without having to adjust yourself for 10 or 15 minutes. Decide beforehand how many minutes it will be, and set a timer, so you don’t have to be glancing at a clock to guessing when you’ve been at it long enough. Almost but not quite close your eyes. Sit motionless. Bask in silence. Start off by bringing attention to your breath – the sensation of air going out and coming in. When a thought arises, notice that you are thinking that thought. Watch the thought, watch yourself thinking that thought. Under this watchful attention, the thought will fade. Return to watching the sensations of the breath. And so on, until the timer rings.

You are not your thoughts. Thoughts are just things that happen to you. Once you truly grasp this, your own thoughts don’t have such a grip on you, and that’s very freeing, and very joyful.

So those are the three base practices I encourage. A final note about joy, and maybe a caution.
One of the sources that I have adapted from in several of the Practice of the Week posts is Jonathan Robinson’s book, Find Happiness Now: 50 Shortcuts for Bringing More Love, Balance, and Joy into Your Life. Another of the sources I draw on is Norman Fischer’s book, Training in Compassion. I mention these two titles by way of pointing out that finding joy and training in compassion turn out to be the same. So that’s the caution. This joy thing and the compassion thing go together. Joy makes us more compassionate, and compassion brings us more joy.

If you’re not interested in being a more compassionate person, then you might want to stay away from the practices that cultivate joy. If you’d really rather focus on guarding your resources and making sure other people aren’t taking advantage of you – if you’re more interested in assessing other people’s worthiness for whatever you might offer than you are in just offering it freely and profligately – then maybe joy itself isn’t your thing.

Is it?

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This is part 3 of 3 of "Joy"
See also
Part 1: Joy and Happiness, Evolution, Money
Part 2: Joy Practice
On Joy
On the Journey: 2017 May: Joy

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