At a recent retreat, we were looking at this poem by Hafiz.
The saint knows
that the spiritual path
is a sublime chess game with God
and that the Beloved
has just made such a fantastic move
that the saint is now continually
tripping over joy
and bursting out in laughter
and saying, "I surrender!"
Whereas, my dear,
I am afraid you still think
you have a thousand serious moves.
While there was a rich discussion around the many teachings in this poem, our exploration focused on one particular theme: the difficulty of finding joy when circumstances are not inherently “joyful.”
How is it possible to trip over joy and laugh when
someone you love is dying,
you’ve just lost a beloved pet,
you’re constantly in physical pain,
you’re reeling from the dissolution of a lifelong partnership,
or assimilating the news of having to give up something you love doing because of an injury?
Framed this way, there is only one answer to the question: you can’t. There is no joy in content. No thing in life – no circumstance, no object – is joyful. It just is.
We don’t have to believe that. We’ve had the experience! Is this familiar?
We might say we feel joy
when the sun is shining,
after the chores are done,
at the end of a delicious meal,
or during a restorative yoga class.
In other words, we claim our sense of wellbeing is a result of these externals.
But if I am identified with ego –
worrying about the performance review next week,
simmering with resentment at what my partner failed to do,
calculating how I can afford the vacation I want to take and make the car payment,
composing an email to decline an invitation without causing offense,
planning the dinner menu –
even when the sun is shining, after the chores are done, at the end of a delicious meal, or during a restorative yoga class, joy is NOT my experience.
The fact that the same set of circumstances can be experienced as miserable or joyful might be a clue that a causal relationship doesn’t exist between circumstances and joy/misery. As we practice awareness, it becomes apparent that the process that has our attention determines our experience.
If we pause for a moment and consider the common denominator in times of suffering, we notice that attention is on non-acceptance. Whatever is going on, it needs to be different from how it is. There is no joy in the process of “not this!” There is only dissatisfaction!
If we are paying any attention at all, we know that in a human lifetime we age, get sick, experience pain, death and loss. And yet when those things happen to “me,” there is frustration, resentment, fear, resistance, despair, anger, and disbelief that life includes what it has always included. The conditioned conversation in these situations may go like this:
It shouldn’t be this way.
It’s so wrong.
Why is this happening?
What did I do to deserve this?
Why is life treating me this way?
I don’t want to feel this way.
Why is he that way!
How could he/she/they/Life do this to me?
This can’t/shouldn’t be happening to me!
Leading to the inevitable question…
“What do I do to fix, alter, change, and avoid thisherenow?”
In the face of the inevitable, the ego thinks it still has a thousand moves. But as awareness practitioners, we can take a page from the saint’s playbook and surrender. The only thing we surrender is the process of “not this.” With time, this practice becomes joyful. How can it not be? When we surrender that which denies how Life is, we get to receive WHATEVER is arising. In fact, as we summon the Mentor for support, encouragement, and assistance, we have the ultimate human experience of completely embodying what it means to be human while being aware of the divine embrace of Unconditional Love and Acceptance.
If we keep surrendering ego’s moves and submitting to Life’s terms, each circumstance that gives rise to “not this” is a gift. “Not this” could be seen as beliefs, opinions, preferences, desires, and perspectives that limit how we experience the Intelligence That Animates. As we surrender these limits, intimacy with Intelligence grows. We get to know aspects of it that were previously off limits. At some point we break through all ego boundaries and receive the grace that allows us to appreciate the sublime chess game. The Beloved reveals itself as not other than what we are. At this point, there is a re-contextualization of our orientation to Life, and we “trip over joy” and laughingly acknowledge the “masterful move of God!” – not just in that moment of enlightenment but at each check in the chess game. We surrender to the mystery that the checkmate to the ego is a necessary, painful, and joyful process of Intelligence knowing itself.
The “mystery of knowing” is reflected in a passage by Dogen:
Enlightenment is like the moon reflected on the water. The moon and the entire sky are reflected in dewdrops on the grass, or even in one drop of water. The depth of the dewdrop is the height of the moon. Each reflection, however long or short in duration, manifests the vastness of the dewdrop, and realizes the limitlessness of the moonlight in the sky.
Joyfully surrender at least one ego move today as a way of realizing the limitlessness of the moonlight in the sky.