In this post-industrial information society we are ingrained from a young age to value metrics. Such metrics may reflect how punctual you are or how quickly you can pluck the feathers from a chicken. But the most important metric reflects how well you are tracking toward the completion of your goals within a fixed time frame. So then, is it even possible to track our progress toward experiencing joy?
We program ourselves like computers and then we wonder why we aren’t happy. While task-oriented, utilitarian approaches to time management may be beneficial for improving the efficiency with which routine tasks are completed, these methods do not serve to improve the experience of anything in life that matters. Happiness cannot be scheduled. Inspiration doesn’t abide timelines.
So when we consider a question like: “When was the last time I had an experience that I would describe as ‘pure joy’?”
If you are now lost in thought and counting numbers of years in your head, then you can relate to the challenge posed by the quest for joy. The biggest stumbling block for most people is that they continue using a metrics-based approach to monitoring their progress toward their goal: Joy.
The most glaring problem with this sort of approach is that it assumes from the beginning that you know enough about your overall goal to be able to define a set of milestones by which to judge your progress.
The second biggest issue lies in not being capable of recognizing joy when you are directly in the presence of it. This is a result of a lack of personal self-development (alchemy & yoga). Without some intentional efforts made to consciously retain the wonder of youth, such joyous optimism in the mysteries of the unknown fades. Over time, that optimism is replaced with its opposite: pessimism.
Being pessimistic about the mysteries of the unknown leads people to double-down on behavior patterns that are not working, such as endeavoring to attain some modicum of control over their lives or, even worse: create and maintain a sense (illusion) of personal safety.
It is wildly arrogant of us to imagine that we know ourselves and the world well enough to prescribe ourselves a potion for joy. To do so would require us to know everything about every possible way of experiencing joy and also be able to determine which way of experiencing joy is best for ourselves.
This same pattern is more commonly called out in discussions about finding a romantic partner and the self-defeating practice of creating a mental image of your “ideal mate”, against which all suitors are to be measured and judged.
If it’s impractical, if not impossible, to know which form joy may take to reveal itself to us, the only other option is to introduce some element of uncertainty or randomness. In this case, it is a matter of letting go of a portion of the iron-clad control we love to rule our lives with. Of course, the goal isn’t to throw your life into complete chaos; instead just open the valve a little bit and see what drips in.
The biggest problems with attempting to exert control over every nuance of your life is not only that it is exhausting, but also that control is an illusion. To make matters worse, in our efforts to exert control over our environment, we are actually closing ourselves off to the one thing most people say they want most in life.
Being optimistic about the mysteries of the unknown opens doors that no one who has not experienced them first-hand can ever truly appreciate. To open the door to the unknown is to take the first step in the path of true enlightenment. It represents an acceptance of one’s own limitations and a desire to grow that is so intense we are willing to leave the presumed safety of our comfort zone.
Joy is the result of one’s appreciation of the vast complexity of the Universe, which is reflected within the soul of every human, combined with an intense desire to explore oneself through interaction with the environment. Once the reality has taken hold that everything you see is a reflection of who you are at some fundamental level, it is no longer any wonder why the Buddha is laughing.