Find happiness and joy in this now moment
When we wake up every morning, we have a decision to make – will I approach this day from a place of joy or not? In his talk Joy Is Our Natural State, guest speaker and Unity Spiritual Center congregant Jeff Hutchinson shows us how we can maintain or reclaim a joyful heart and an appreciation of life based on a foundation of gratitude.
Jeff was recently visited at his home by Rev. Joanne and her three-year-old granddaughter. A happy and curious child, on that day Zoe exemplified the natural state of joy that Jeff describes. She explored the new environment with wonder and excitement, fully open to the unfamiliar sights, sounds and aromas of Jeff’s home. Not burdened by preconceived notions or expectations that may be present in adults, Zoe was simply fully present in that “now moment,” able to completely enjoy and appreciate her new adventure.
At some point in the course of our development from young child to adolescent to adult we lose that open-hearted joy of living in the now moment. In part, this may be because as we mature we have responsibilities that require planning for the future, either short term or long term. For a three year old, long term planning might be minding their parents’ instructions to behave, with the promise of receiving an ice cream cone as a reward. For a three year old, tomorrow is as far away as next week or next month.
Yet as adults, we are certainly capable of recapturing the ability to be fully present in a current experience. Jeff told us a story about a USC congregant who was watching a hummingbird in his yard and as it came closer set out his finger as a perch. As the bird landed on his finger, he was perfectly present in the experience of that moment.
We all have had some similar experience where time “stood still” and we were fully present in the moment. This can happen when listening to music, walking in nature, or while engrossed reading a compelling novel. Every time we experience this it is, almost by definition, not a conscious effort. If we try to actually think about living in the moment, that is not living in the moment. We must simply allow ourselves to be fully present to whatever is happening to us at any given time.
This is not to say that we should never remember the past nor plan for the future. Our present experiences are in part shaped by our past experiences. If sometime in the past we touched a hot stove and burned ourselves, recalling that memory will keep us safe from injuring ourselves again. Similarly, if we are so rapt in reading a wonderful book that we stay up way too late doing so, and then we oversleep and are late for work, well, that’s not good either.
Jeff reminds us that our actions, however reflexive or seemingly small at the time, can have very long-lasting consequences for ourselves and those around us. He shared with us a story of a mother and daughter. The daughter loved to sing and was quite good. It was her habit to sing around the house and fill the air with beautiful music. One day the mother came home from work in a particularly bad mood and in an unguarded moment of irritation snapped at her daughter, “stop that noise, your voice is so ugly.” This was a crushing blow to the young lady and she never sang again. Perhaps the mother felt pangs of guilt and regret, too.
The mother was living in the moment, expressing what she was feeling. While it is acceptable, perhaps even expected, that irritation and anger are parts of normal human experience, and that the mother should be in the moment while experiencing those feelings, it is very important to be aware that this does not grant us the right to say or do anything we please. As mentioned earlier, our current and future experiences are often shaped by our past experiences and behaviors.
Emotions affect our physiology. Everyone has had an experience where we received good news then felt an extremely pleasurable sensation in our bodies. Dopamine and serotonin are secreted by our endocrine system when we experience things we perceive to be good. Everyone has also had an experience where we received some bad news. “It felt like I was kicked in the stomach. I was heart sick. It felt like such a burden.” These types of statements are not simply similes or metaphors. Our bodies do in fact react to our emotions, positively and negatively.
Hindu and Buddhist tradition both have the idea of Samskara. According to various schools of Indian philosophy, every action, intent or preparation by an individual leaves a samskara (impression, impact, imprint) in the deeper structure of the person's mind. These impressions then await volitional fruition in that individual's future, in the form of hidden expectations, circumstances or a subconscious sense of self-worth. These Samskaras manifest as tendencies, karmic impulses, subliminal impressions, habitual potencies or innate dispositions. In ancient Indian texts, the theory of Samskara explains how and why human beings remember things, and the effect that memories have on people's suffering, happiness and contentment.1, 2
Jeff explains that our experiences can become locked in our tissues, creating a bio-memory. The young lady in the example above undoubtedly had samskara at some level. So how can we move back to being in the moment? by realizing that we are not our thoughts. This is a tricky business, but can be accomplished. If we are not our thoughts, then what are we? Who is having the thoughts, and who is realizing that we are having the thoughts? This may seem like it is a case of “turtles all the way down,” but it is not.3 By simply being aware that we are spiritual beings having a human experience and not the other way around, we can transcend the trap of identifying our physical and mental beings as our true self. See below for a recommended reading list for more information on these ideas.
You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Psalm 16:11
The Guest House
by Jalaluddin Rumi
Translated by Coleman Barks
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
Using Rumi’s poem The Guest House as a model, Jeff offers us a simple (but perhaps not easy) way to practice the idea of Radical Acceptance:
Make an agreement with yourself to be open to whatever is coming your way and allow yourself to fully experience it. This includes the good, the bad and the ugly. Pleasure, pain and the mundane.
Starting from a place of gratitude for everything in my life, this week, I will make an agreement with myself to be fully in the now moment. Will you follow Rumi’s advice and be willing to “welcome and entertain them all?”
1 Ian Whicher (1999), The Integrity of the Yoga Darsana: A Reconsideration of Classical Yoga, SUNY Press, ISBN 978-0791438152, pages 99-102
2 Stephen Philips (2014), Epistemology in Classical India: The Knowledge Sources of the Nyaya School, Routledge, ISBN 978-1138008816, pages 7-46, 134, 163-170
3 "Turtles all the way down" is an expression of the problem of infinite regress. The saying alludes to the mythological idea of a World Turtle that supports the earth on its back. It suggests that this turtle rests on the back of an even larger turtle, which itself is part of a column of increasingly large turtles that continues indefinitely (i.e., "turtles all the way down").
O’Malley, Mary (2016), What's in the Way, is the Way, Sounds True Press, ISBN 978-1622035243
Tolle, Eckhart (2004), The Power of Now and A New Earth, Namaste Publishing, ISBN 978-1577314806
Green, Glenda (1999) Love Without End, Heartwings Publishing, ISBN 978-0966662313
Singer, Michael (2007), The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself, New Harbinger Publications, ISBN 978-1572245372