Joy to the World
*Talk originally given at Unitarian Universalist Church of Pittsfield, MA Sunday 12/7/08

Yesterday morning I was driving up from Stockbridge toward Lenox along Rte 183.
This is a drive I make several times a week, so I'm pretty used to it. It’s part of my work routine.
But yesterday something happened as I drove this familiar route.

It was late morning and the sky was slightly overcast, with the sun beginning to fade behind a thin sheet of clouds, and the daylight was taking on that wintry look, like snow might be coming. And as I emerged around a curve and started to climb toward the Stockbridge Bowl area, the road and the sky seemed to open up before me.

And that’s when it happened. I felt my chest grow warm and my heart give a little leap, and seem to expand a bit, and then my eyes started to tear up. And I saw this magnificent beauty that surrounds me. I mean I really saw it! And this sense-this feeling washed over me-consumed me, and for a moment I forgot everything else in my life-where I'd been or where I had to be. And then, as quickly as it had come, it was gone.

But I recognized it, because I know this feeling, I've had it before.
It was Joy. I'd experienced a sudden, random onset of Joy. Through no efforts of my own, predicated on no particular set of circumstances being as I needed them to be, I experienced a moment of Joy.

Although my car was empty, I spoke out loud and said “Thank you-thank you for this experience! and thank you that I know what joy actually feels like.

I know that there are people who don't. And that is a sad thing to me.
We need joy in our lives, and we need joy in our world, and the more the better, so bring it on!!!
But that is up to us.

Here’s the thing about Joy: although a scene of beauty, or a wonderful fragrance, or a haunting melody, or the touch of a lover, may seem to bring Joy to us; it really rises up from within us to meet these things-to embrace these things.

It is in us at all times-waiting to be tapped.

It may be dormant, but it is there.

The trick is to release it- to set it free.

Joy is a spiritual experience because
It is our spirit experiencing itself.

In the movie, “The Bucket List” Morgan Freeman says that the ancient Egyptians believed that when you died you traveled to heaven and were met at the entrance by a guard who asked you 2 questions, and depending on how you answered these determined whether you got in or not. The 2 questions are:

Did you find your joy in your life?
Did your life bring joy to the lives of others?

This brought up a question for me. Is there a difference between finding “your” joy and finding “the” joy in your life?
The answer in my opinion is yes, there is.

My experience on Route 183 yesterday was an experience of “the” joy that can seem to come out of nowhere and wash over us unexpectedly. It’s sometimes thought of as a moment of Grace, and it is certainly that too.

When I hold my wife in my arms I feel “the” joy of being with the woman I love.
When I think of my children and family, I know that they are “A” joy to me.
But saying “your” joy indicates something that comes forth from inside of us- originating there at our center.
It is not just the experience, which is what I had yesterday. It is the cause as well. It is both.

I think what that ancient Egyptian story is really talking about is that “thing”- the cause and the effect that resides inside of each one of us that is unique to only us.

That is that special thing within that, when we discover it, brings us joy in the doing of it.
And that Joy is the very heart of our being.

For some it may be music. For some it might be tinkering with cars. For some it might be gardening or astronomy or writing or dancing or singing or poetry or painting.

But whatever it is, it is not something passive. It is alive and when you connect with it, it enlivens you.
If there are 6.5 billion human beings on this planet, then there are potentially 6.5 billion unique versions of Joy.
Like snowflakes, no 2 are exactly the same.

If you find that your joy in life is playing flamenco guitar, you don't have to become famous or be the best, or compare yourself in any way to others. All you need to do is give yourself to the joy of expressing it in whatever way you are able to express it! That’s it. Then it will be your joy, because it is you coming through that Spanish guitar!

Say you love to paint, but that critic within you tells you that you're not very good. Yet you feel wonderful when you do it.
Still you know you're no Rembrandt. Who Cares! There’s already been a Rembrandt. Why would we need another one??
Paint and let the joy come forth. Give yourself to the process and let it be whatever it will be.

As a little girl my sister, Kathy, was always drawing and painting. But by her late teens she'd put down the brush and the pencil. One day when we were talking I told her that I'd always thought she was going to be an artist. That’s when she shared with me that, even though she loved it, she quit because she didn't think she was very good.
I asked her if she could remember how it used to feel to her when she allowed herself to paint and draw. Her face lit up. I thought to myself, “Bingo-Joy!’
And I said to her some of the very same things I'm saying here this morning.

I'm glad to report that she picked up the brush again a little before turning 50 and began taking lessons. Today she is an artist who works mainly in pastels and has sold many of her works and is a juried artist on Cape Cod, shown in a number of galleries.
It is my delight to have one of her paintings on display over our mantle at home.

Here’s the thing about people who find their joy. They tend to be fun to be around. They feel alive-they are alive. They live life with enthusiasm.

What keeps so many people from their joy is the inner critic, the one that compares and expects perfection and looks at others and always holds you up as less than. And that inner critic is part of us and we've listened to it and nurtured it, rather than listening to and nurturing our joy.

People who deny their joy will never be happy-not truly.

Oh sure, they'll have times when they laugh and feel pretty good and to all, including themselves, they will think that they're happy, but that happiness will always be based in conditions and situations because without joy there is nothing to anchor it.
Don't get me wrong; discovering your joy doesn't give you permanent happiness. There’s no such thing. You will not be joyful all the time. But you will have happiness with deep roots. Happiness that is not contingent on possessions and situations, titles or prestige.

Discovering and, more importantly, nurturing your joy will allow that thing which is “your” joy to spill over in to other areas of your life.
And that leads to feelings of contentment and gratitude, even when things in the world seem pretty awful and scary…like right now.
Much of the awfulness in this world comes from the denial and the suppression of the joy.

C.S. Lewis wrote that human beings were made for joy but that some of us don't know what to do with our yearning for joy.
He said that if you have Spiritual joy in your heart, then you can mingle that joy with food, drink, fellowship, laughter, sex.
Real joy makes those things even better.

However, if you don't have any real joy, then you grab hold of these other things to take the place of joy. Lacking real joy, you look for happiness in a bottle or a pill, or in the brief bliss of a sexual ecstasy.
As Lewis wrote, "Joy is not a substitute for sex; sex is often a substitute for Joy, however."

So folks, don't settle for a substitute: get the REAL THING!

But how do you find “your” joy if you really don't know what it is?

Well, the first thing is you ask yourself “what is my joy? And then you start to pay attention to things.

What calls to you? What are you interested in? What do you love to do?
What did you love to do as a kid?
What did you love but thought you were no good at?

What do you avoid?

When you were a kid did anyone ever tell you that you were lousy at something that you really like doing-like singing?
And you believed them? Ask yourself these questions-and any others that you can think of.
And then get quite and listen.
Listen to what your heart tells you.

Become willing to be a beginner. Become willing to be bad-as matter of fact. Become willing to be awful!
It’s really very freeing. Really. Trust me, Discover the joy of daring to suck!
We will sabotage ourselves if we expect, or demand, perfection from our joy.
Joy is not about perfection.

My son Alex, who is a very gifted musician, told me that he didn't seem to be much of a songwriter, although he wishes he were.
I asked him if he enjoyed trying to write songs and he said he did. But like most of us, Al also tends to compare himself to others. So I suggested to him that he should dare to be bad. I think it’s especially tough when you are good at something to allow yourself to be bad as well. But I told him that sometimes you need to write a lot of bad songs to get to a good song.

The Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia often said that when you go diving for pearls you're going to come up with some clams.
Jerry dared to play the clinker notes in order to get to the good ones. But there was joy in his guitar riffs!

Wayne Dyer says that no one should die with their music still in them. This is what he’s referring to: that special something we each have.
Dare to discover your Joy and let it express itself through you. Use it up-give it away, and keep giving it away.
And when your joy comes to you …and then through you, the people you come in contact with will turn toward you and your joy, the way a flower turns toward the sun.

You will become a Joy to their world.
And, your life will be fuller than you can imagine.

And when you finally leave this life, if there’s anything to that old Egyptian belief, you'll be able to say a resounding “Yes” to that guard when he asks those 2 questions.
And the people who knew you will mourn your passing …but they will rejoice in your memory.
And you will live in their hearts.
And this world will be the better for having had you in it to give your joy away.