Tripping Over Joy

All meaningful practice requires effort. In fact, much of the meaning comes from the effort. After (and while) working hard on projects, relationships, or creative endeavors, we feel satisfaction and contentment. Persistent practice reaps benefits.

Yet I still find myself striving—pushing too hard—toward an end goal. This over-efforting dulls my satisfaction and contentment. Sometimes it removes my interest and willingness to proceed. In meditation, we talk about posture and effort: not too tight and not too loose. This instruction applies broadly to life. Where am I too tight? (Gripping, controlling, tensing.) Where am I too loose? (Distracted, unaware, apathetic.)

I’m too tight in my judgments about myself, in my reactions to injustice, and in my “save or help” mode with loved ones in pain. I’m too loose with my work schedule, the evaluation of my own time (monetarily with clients and heart-wise with friends), and with regular upkeep and projects on my house.

I lean toward too tight. I’m organized, responsible, and disciplined. I intentionally counter this with creativity, laughter, and play. I’ve sat many meditation retreats where the teacher says, “Enjoy your practice.” This makes me smile. How do we enjoy any practice? It’s a balance between tight and loose; honest and gentle; effort and playfulness. When we veer toward one end, we use the other end to pull us back. Yet the first step is noticing. Where am I too tight? Where am I too loose? How can I move forward with integrity, compassion, and grace?

For those of you, like me, who tend toward tightness, I encourage you to lighten up, relax, smile, and make space for joy, wonder, and play. Meditation (and life) doesn’t have to be “serious business.” Hafez, a Sufi poet born in 1325, wrote of the difference between saints and everyday people: saints are “tripping over joy” while we mortals “still think [we] have a thousand serious moves.” We experience joy when we’re paying attention; when we’re present and open-hearted. Joy arrives not in grand-canyon moments but in ordinary moments when we see anew. It’s accessible to everyone. We can, indeed, enjoy our practice.

Here’s a short meditation to get you started:

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