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Permission to Be Happy

Joy does not require a reason. When we let go of everything, what is left is pure joy. On a deep level we all know this, but many people have forgotten it. With the current pandemic, this wisdom has become buried even deeper.

As we connect with our innate nature and feel the joy bubble up, an odd thing happens. We feel guilty for being happy. We see all the horrific things happening in the world and we might even be facing some personal challenges. Then through our spiritual practice, or even at a random moment, we experience joy. There’s no denying it, yet we feel like we don’t deserve to embrace the joy because of all that is happening.

In the early days of my spiritual path when I had begun to meditate every day, I would experience intense bliss. I couldn’t help but smile. This earned me some strange looks during my morning commute on the subway in New York City. At the morning office meeting, people would occasionally ask me, “Why are you so happy?” They would expect a story about how something wonderful had happened. I was in debt living paycheck to paycheck, struggling to survive in the Big Apple. There was no special event; I was simply happy. As my confidence grew, and if I was feeling snarky, I would reply with my own question: “Why are you not happy?”

Through daily meditation practice I learned joy is our natural state of being.

We never need a reason to be happy, but whenever we are unhappy there’s always a cause. Several years later, when my body began collapsing due to a chronic illness, my theory was tested. Even as my body screamed in pain, if I held still and looked past the body and outer events taking place, the joy remained present. Twenty years later, it remains a weird experience to be aware of ecstasy in the midst of pain and sorrow. Yet I cannot deny the truth.

I know my findings are not unique. Buddha and many other spiritual teachers have discovered the same thing: we are not these fragile bodies and we are not the mind. What we truly are cannot be put into words, but when we strip away the conditioned responses of our mind, we are an expression of joy.

This is why I’ve written Unreasonable Joy: Awakening through Trikaya Buddhism. I created this guidebook to share my path, but more importantly I want to remind people that joy does not require a reason. Sometimes we hold ourselves back and we need permission to let go. If you are waiting to be happy, please take this as permission to allow your Unreasonable Joy to shine!

Our society holds the promise of joy out in front of us like a carrot on a stick.

We’re told we can be happy when … when we finish our degree, when we land the high paying job, when we buy the house, when we find the perfect relationship, when we do something. But the truth is, joy is already here, now.

We’re taught to use the idea of future happiness as an incentive to work hard and be productive. What people don’t realize is we are much more effective when we are happy.

We’re better at every aspect of life when we embrace joy.

Our minds are sharper and it’s easier to concentrate. We’re more creative and we can see solutions beyond the problems in our world. In a state of joy, we’re content yet we can still see areas of improvement. When we act from a place of joy, we’re more confident and can be honest in our relationships. Our communication is clearer and we see the benefit of helping others.

Think back to the last time you were really happy and remember how gracefully you were able to handle any issues you faced. We all know the truth of this, yet we still buy into the carrot and stick routine. This is the mental conditioning that keeps us in a state of suffering.

We’ve been sold a lie that if we’re happy, we will become lazy. Or even worse, we’ve been told people who express joy are fake.

Embracing our unreasonable joy does not mean we’re bouncing off the walls laughing – although sometimes that happens! Nor does it mean everything in our lives is sunshine and roses. Mostly there is a serene, quiet happiness permeating our being. We still struggle with challenges and we still feel all the human emotions.

There is a phenomenon I’ve seen of saccharine sweetness in the spiritual world.  In some circles, there’s a whole lot of “stuffering” going on – where people stuff their feelings behind a wall of denial and silently suffer, all while forcing a smile. They pretend to be happy because they’re confused about what spiritual success means.

On the Path, to be successful we need to be real.

To reach our innate, unreasonable joy, we have to break through our mental conditioning. We cannot go around it or bury it. If we want to be free, we must be willing to face all that we are. This includes the good, the bad, the beautiful, and the ugly parts of our being.

As we meditate and open the Pandora’s box of our mind, everything spills out. In the course of learning how to meditate, we learn concentration and control. We learn how to focus on a single point to the exclusion of everything else. But this is only the beginning. We then learn how to be still as thousands of thoughts and feelings pass through us. Through the fire of meditative practice, we discover how not to cling to any of it.

If we deny what we feel or what thoughts are parading through our mind, we wind up clinging to those very thoughts and feelings. They become a barrier between us and our true nature. Stories about who we think we are spring up. Justifications for our blocks drag us into suffering.

This is where our teacher and our spiritual community help us. By being brave and willing to admit where we are stuck, our companions provide a mirror. We can then see our hang ups and attachments with more clarity. They help us get a close look at the mental conditioning preventing us from experiencing our unreasonable joy.

The more internal baggage we release, the more compassionate we become.

There’s no longer a need to be anyone special, or anyone at all. We are here, exploring this wild and wonderful world. We’re able to be fully present with those we encounter, without judgment or expectation. In this joyous state, we can respond to the suffering of others with genuine concern and care. We then become the mirror for others who are ready to be free.

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Published inBuddha Lessons / Mindfulness