2021-03-05 Mindfulness of Breathing (46) Joy Factor of Awakening
4:35PM Mar 5, 2021
Continuing on this series of the Seven Factors of Awakening, the factor for today is joy. The particular joy that is a factor of awakening is a product of doing the practice of mindfulness. It's not joy that comes from reflection that wonderful things are happening to us in the world. It's really joy that arises out of the practice, doing the practice, really engaging in the practice in a sincere, wholehearted way.
I like to think of this joy as an expression, enactment, or manifestation of our freedom that grows as we practice mindfulness. The Seven Factors of Awakening can all be seen as enactments of freedom. Rather than waiting for freedom to occur – a big bang of enlightenment down the road, if we just huff and puff, and get concentrated enough. Eventually, maybe by magic, there will be a big transformational moment. Boom! Now you'll live happily free for the rest of your life. You have it made. Enlightened retirement.
I think it's much more valuable to appreciate that we're taking a seed of potential for freedom inside of us and germinating it. Caring for it in the greenhouse. Tending to it carefully. Transplanting it out into the world. Letting it grow, develop and mature into freedom, full freedom. Now we're beginning to take a bit more responsibility for this freedom ourselves, rather than thinking that something else is going to do it for us.
So recognize the little movements of freedom that we all use all day long. I would guess that most of us have more moments of freedom throughout the day than non-freedom. But the reason we don't feel like we're free is that we let our attention focus on the ways we're unhappy – what we want, what we don't want. We get swept up into the world of thinking. In thinking there's not much freedom, more often than not. We get hijacked by our thoughts, concerns, fears, or desires. So it might seem that in important psychological ways, we're not free – but there are plenty of ways we are free.
If you sit down in a chair, you have a fair amount of freedom about how you adjust yourself into that chair. You probably never really gave much thought to how you sat in the chair, or how you adjust yourself to be comfortable. But that movement of sitting down and choosing how you sit in the chair is a manifestation of some freedom.
Reaching to open your front door is an expression of freedom that you can do that. There are people who can't do that, for all kinds of reasons. There are a lot of little moments when you choose to do something, and there's freedom in doing it. Through mindfulness practice, we can begin to recognize how mindfulness itself can be an enactment of freedom.
That's hard to do if mindfulness is burdened by shoulds and shouldn'ts. Or, "I've got to do better." Or, "I'm supposed to get somewhere." Or, "Am I there yet?" Or, "I'm not a good meditator. Someone else is a better meditator. I'm going to really push and strain."
All this extra stuff can come along with mindfulness. But a moment of mindfulness is phenomenally simple. Just to know, in the moment, what's happening. You have many of these moments throughout the day, where you know something without the burden of anything more complicated than knowing it.
When you open a door, something inside of you knows it's a door handle. It's not anything more complicated than that. Comparing your door handle to your neighbor's door handle: "Who has the better door handle? I should have a better door handle." It's just a door handle.
But the practice of mindfulness is also the practice of appreciating that simplicity of awareness in the moment. There's freedom in that knowing, before all the extra stuff is added on top of it.
There is also the freedom to choose to investigate. As soon as you choose to investigate – to look more carefully and recognize what's here – you're not being swept up in your thoughts. You're not being swept up in your agendas, desires, or wishes. "I'm choosing to take a second look at what's happening." That's enactment of freedom.
Effort, having to do with choices – choosing the endeavor that is more healthy for us. As soon as we make a choice toward health, skillfulness, and wholesomeness, we're enacting our freedom.
We don't recognize it so much, because many of us carry with us this huge backpack everywhere we go, full of: shoulds, desires, agendas, self-concepts, self-criticism, aversion, and all this stuff we carry along. Because of that heavy backpack, we don't recognize the ease, simplicity, and freedom in these choices to move in a healthy direction. Part of this practice is to begin recognizing something that's probably there to some degree all along: the enactment of freedom, the expression of it.
That brings us to joy. The word for joy is 'pītī'. 'Pītī usually translates as joy, sometimes as ecstasy, or rapture. But that's a particular Theravāda or meditation slant on this word. It could also mean pleasure. It can mean delight, enjoyment. 'Priti', the Sanskrit word, can also mean friendliness, pleasure, and affection, which shows an emotional quality.
We're tapping into an emotional connection to the practice, to being free, to what's present – that comes from an emotional contentment. "I'm doing a practice. I'm practicing a path of freedom. This is worthwhile. This is a healthy thing to be doing."
We're enacting the freedom, which feels so good – to feel like we're not entangled, trapped, caught in things. Because the mind has become free in the enactment of these freedoms.
The continuity of this free act of mindfulness, of concentration, tends to give birth to a variety of different kinds of contentment, joy, and happiness. There are different types, but some of it is like sliding down a long slide. There is the joy of freedom, of just letting go. It's just a delight.
If you have the continuity of these moments of freedom, continuity of choosing, engaging, and being mindful and aware – you start to get more of a taste for freedom. The same kind of continuity gives birth to joy and delight. "Boy, am I lucky! This is a great thing." It's not so much that we evaluate that. But there is delight, joy, and gladness in the freshness.
It used to be in United States that there was the joy of driving on an empty, open highway. This joy – this open, free highway of meditation, of practice. The amazing thing about this is that it doesn't matter so much whether what's happening to us is pleasant or unpleasant. Because we discover how to be free – to be mindful, aware, investigate, make healthy choices. This inner freedom is discovered, even when things are unpleasant. Even when things in the world around us are not so good.
What an amazing thing to have discovered that, because we know how to be mindful, investigate, make choices, and appreciate we're doing this – that there can even be joy and delight at times when the world expects (or wants) us to be miserable. I'm miserable, so you're supposed to be miserable. We're supposed to commiserate in our misery. "Isn't it terrible? Things are awful."
Maybe you will decide to get off the factors of awakening path, because when you get far enough along, you won't be inclined to complain anymore. Because you have something much better to do. Much more wonderful to do: the enactment of your freedom through mindfulness, investigation, effort, endeavoring, and the wonderful joy of freedom.
May you find that "complain free" zone of freedom, and delight in it. Thank you.