Joy Is a Decision
In the seventh, and final, talk of our Fall Program series based on See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love1 by Valarie Kaur, Rev. Joanne reminds us that we are not alone. As Kaur tells us, living in Revolutionary Love is a community endeavor.
Over the past six weeks, Rev. Joanne has helped us to understand that the Revolutionary Love that Valarie Kaur writes about is a stool supported by three legs – love of self, love of “others,” and love of opponents.
When we consider love of self, Kaur tells us, this aspect of Revolutionary Love is important, but if we stay only there, it is nothing more than escapism – where we “spiritually bypass” to a place of just wanting to feel good. Unity teaches the ideas of self-improvement and self-realization that may be part of what Kaur describes as “love of self,” and when we are ready to move deeper into Revolutionary Love we must then work on our love of “others.”
In this context, “others” refers to people who we may view as different from us in some way – cultural, religion, race, sex, gender, nationality – of whom we may know little or nothing and may form preconceived notions based on identity. It also refers to every person, even if we may be culturally aligned, and even know them personally. As given in title of her book, Kaur says that there are no “strangers” in this world, merely people who are a part of us that we do not yet know. Kaur tells us that while love of others – beginning to view all people as brother, sister, daughter, son, etc. – is also an important aspect of achieving Revolutionary Love, if we remain in this stage it can become ineffective because risk running out of energy. This is why stage one, love of self is important.
The third leg of the stool that supports Revolutionary Love is love of our opponents. Such people may be entire groups who are of a different religion, nationality, or political party than us. Opponents also includes individual persons with whom we are in direct conflict, such as an ex-spouse, a rival co-worker, or unfriendly neighbor. Kaur tells us that to achieve love of opponents it is necessary that we allow ourselves to feel the emotional reactions we have towards them, be it anger or even rage, and process them in a safe way instead of ignoring, denying or repressing those feelings. When we are able to do that, we can arrive at a place of deep listening with our opponents. Listening that is not focused on what we will say in response to their words, but from a place of wanting to understand their perspective, motivations, and desires. Kaur tells us that just as with the first two legs of the stool we must not limit ourselves to those stages, nor must we limit ourselves to the stage of love of opponents, because that can lead to self-loathing.
In order for Revolutionary Love to work, Rev. Joanne explains, all three aspects must work together. Sometimes, one aspect make take ascendency over the others. This is okay because it may be that we must work a bit harder to strengthen one area so that it will be able to work fully with the others. Also, because Revolutionary Love is a community effort, if we are focusing our attention on one aspect, those within our community will be able to provide the supporting work in the other areas, until the time when we are ready to take that responsibility as well.
In describing Revolutionary Love, Kaur provides us with a framework for working toward and arriving a place of peace in our lives. But she also cautions us that when we open ourselves to love, the cost of love can often be grief. Anyone who has lost a parent or spouse or anyone else dear to them, knows the feeling that can sometimes overwhelm. As with most things in life, there is also a flipside. While love brings with it a cost of grief, it simultaneously holds a great gift – joy.
What is joy? Rev. Joanne tells us that sometimes happiness and joy are considered the same thing. Roget’s Thesaurus does provide these two words as synonyms for one another, but they are not identical. Happiness, she explains, is an emotional response to a specific event or experience. We may feel happy when we graduate, get married, or buy our first house. These feelings may be fleeting, or fade over time. But joy, she tells us, is something deeper than an emotional response to an event. It is something that can be experienced at all times because it is something that occurs when we respond to our world from a place of love of self, and love of other people.
Regardless of circumstances, we can always experience joy because, as Unity teaches, we all have the ability to go within and touch the Christ-self and feel the joy of the presence of God. Rev. Joanne reminds us because of this ability, we have the power to manage each moment, to do the work that is ours to do, to meet the “others” and our opponents and to process our negative emotions so that something new can be born within us – the overall sense of well-being that is joy.
Living up to the ideals set forth in Revolutionary Love, and to experience joy regardless of circumstances are quite a challenge. It is difficult, and may seem impossible, to love an “opponent” of an ex-spouse who is intentionally creating chaos in your life. And where is joy to be found in losing your job or having a terminal illness?
Kaur tells us that joy can be found in the idea of charhdi kala. In Sikhism, chardi kala is the Punjabi term for aspiring to maintain a mental state of eternal optimism and joy. Sikhs are ideally expected to be in this positive state of mind as a sign of their contentment with the will of God (bhana), even during the times of adversity.2
It can be translated as "positive attitude,” or "ascending energy". It is also described as being in "high spirits" or “positive, buoyant and optimistic” attitude to life and to the future. Chardi kala is the state of mind in which a person has no negative emotions like fear, jealousy or enmity. Instead the mind has many positive feelings including joy, satisfaction and self-dignity.3
Everyone knows the old saying, “A pessimist sees the glass as half empty, and an optimist sees the glass as half full.” I would offer the idea that no glass is ever even partially empty – it is half full of liquid and half full of gas. That is true optimism!
No one claims that the ideals of chardi kala and Revolutionary Love are easy or that our work is done once they are “mastered.” That is why taking personal responsibility for one’s own joy and drawing strength from community support are essential. Like so many worthwhile things, they require a lifetime of practice to fully reap their benefits. Knowing that we all have Twelve Powers within us, we have the tools to succeed. Let us choose love and joy.
Now Go and Be the Light.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13
Make noticing your joy a daily practice. Notice how joy feels in your body. Ask yourself what people, places, and actions bring you joy and remind you of what is good and beautiful, and worth fighting for. Start with a gratitude practice for the small things in you life, especially when things are hard. Share your joy in community.
1See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love: Kaur, Valarie, Random House Publishing Group, Jun 16, 2020.
2Rebecca Sachs Norris (17 February 2012). Religion and the Body: Modern Science and the Construction of Religious Meaning.
3Dr. Harjinder Singh Majhail, 2010. Philosophy of 'Charhdi Kala' and Higher State of Mind in Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Deepak Publishers, Jallandhar.