The poet Jack Gilbert in his poem A Brief for the Defense says we must risk delight. In nature, there is astonishing beauty that coexists with ravenous pain; it is the way of the universe. Buddha has said that suffering is intrinsic to the nature of this world. In the shadow of every moment of our lives be they joyful or sorrowful, is the inevitable arrival of old age, sickness and death. It is how we respond to this suffering that makes the difference, and as Gilbert says, we must respond with an affirmation of joy, despite everything.
It is not an easy task for us to remember the affirmation of joy, especially for those of us living a life of relative ease. Those struck down by abject poverty and in the throes of the worst seem to more easily be able to find joy in their lives, perhaps because at the bottom there is no way to go but up. Whatever the case may be, we have learned all to early in our lives to give up our joy. As young children we respond to the world with joyous glee. All to quickly a parent or elder tells us to be quiet, and we learn that to raise our voice above the crowd is to open ourselves up for ridicule and criticism. We begin to doubt ourselves, for the sake of keeping peace and mediocrity sets in. All to often I have seen this in my own actions, afraid to speak up for fear of being ridiculed. Take the risk for joy, be willing to stand out and live the compassionate life you were meant to live.
Compassion is the expression of the awakened heart, and when we blunt our joy we dull our hearts and close off the flow of life. When one is compassionate, they are fully aware that both heaven and hell exist in the here and now and are willing to lean into both ends of the spectrum. It is important to feel the full depths of both sorrow and joy when they arise. Whenever the unexpected hits, it blows us open to an amazing clarity, everything is brought into sharp focus. This I have experienced in the depths of grief, everything is raw and sharply focused, as if time had stood still. What we must realize in such moments is that there will be music despite everything. This is the privilege of living, and the privilege of joy is always available to us if we pay attention. We must be willing to take the risk for joy, and joy can always be found, from the simple aspect of being mindful of one’s breath. Our attention is our gift to the world. Do something joyful today, let your heart sing and share your compassion with the world, let go of your fear of ridicule and know that is all worth the risk to shine.
“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.”
~ Eric Roth, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button screenplay