what may be a meditation on the word joy

WITH YOU, I BREATHE: A FORTY DAY YOGA COLUMN

#30: what may be a meditation on the word joy

About a year into my yoga practice, I started thinking a lot about the word joy and the word seemed to appear everywhere. There was Amy Fusselman’s 8, the last book I loved, the book that changed the way I thought about revising and editing. In her memoir, Fusselman writes for pages, just on the word joy. There was the post-it in Miranda July’s hallway. There was Audre Lorde’s “The Uses of the Erotic,” which encourages the reader to discover joy and not settle for anything less. Around this same time, I read one of now favorite quotes in from Lynda Barry’s “What It Is:”

The real joy is knowing that if you felt trouble in the story, your kingdom isn’t dead.

There was the time I wandered into a store in Pasadena that sold crafts from another country and started talking to the old woman who worked there. She invited me to eat lunch with her, her friend was supposed to come by and eat with her. She had cooked and brought food for her friend, and her friend wasn’t coming, and there I was and we were talking, so I said yes.  As I sat behind the counter with her and ate a homemade Indian meal, I  felt happy talking with her about her store and her grandchildren and the love of her life. When I finished eating, I looked around the store, found a stone with the word joy etched into it, and purchased it.

This is not a rare occurrence and by this, I mean these meetings with people, these offerings, finding the word joy and not just finding the word joy but experiencing a sense of joy as I see the word.  I feel a sense of joy when I read “The Uses of the Erotic” or 8 or look at  art, like “The Hallway,” or hold the stone with the word “Joy” in the palm of my hand.

It’s a wonderful experience to feel a sense of joy. I would say it’s probably my favorite feeling. But it’s not necessarily easy to obtain and once obtained, it is not easy to sustain, precisely because of the culture in which we live. From the essay “The Uses of the Erotic:”

The principal horror of any system which defines the good in terms of profit rather than in terms of human need, or which defines human need to the exclusion of the psychic and emotional components of that need – the principal horror of such a system is that it robs our work of its erotic value, its erotic power and life appeal and fulfillment. Such a system reduces work to a travesty of necessities, a duty by which we earn bread or oblivion for ourselves and those we love. But this is tantamount to blinding a painter and then telling her to improve her work, and to enjoy the act of painting. It is not only next to impossible, it is also profoundly cruel.

Day-to-day, most feel like this:

Or they feel worse.

My point is not that it’s easy. My point is that it’s entirely hard to aspire to feel a sense of joy and to sustain that feeling. I am not talking about a sense of joy that is superficial, I am talking about an intense emotion that has a transformative quality and can shed light on that which is dark. That is what I’m talking about. I aspire for joy and I suppose it’s a noble endeavor and I see the possibility of failure–all the time, there is dread and despair, there is misery and misfortune. There are days when I feel pretty dismal and I turn to my yoga practice or art or find myself wandering around and talking to people. I turn to those things and I find a bit of joy there. I tell myself it is something, I believe it is enough.

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