As spiritual seekers, we all have an origin story of how our journey began. For many of us, our journey started when a difficult situation forced us to look inward. Perhaps the use of alcohol to cope with stress caused arguments with friends and family, or maybe issues of withholding emotion were a source of tension in a romantic relationship.
Our desire to transform our lower nature by following a spiritual path is an amiable one and is in no way a cause for shame or insecurity. What we should look out for, however, is the unintentional connection that forms often between self-critique and spiritual development, because in reality, our spiritual path has the potential to be one of great joy.
This idea of joy as central to the spiritual path is somewhat unique to the Higher Self Yoga teachings. The idea is that personal destiny is actually full of joy, fulfillment, and purpose. When we have the capacity to live with a sense of positivity towards our prospects, new and liberating possibilities begin to emerge. In many ways, this sense of reaching potential is met when we are living a life that is cultivating joy.
It can be difficult for us to apply a mind of joy to our life and world; as a result, we get stuck in patterns where only the options right in front of us are attainable.
But when, through the work done alongside our Higher Self, we uncover the ways in which conditioning manifests as insecurity or discontentment, we are taking the first steps toward moving beyond fear-based decision-making and into a life that is directed by joy.
The Positive Power of Imagination and the Beginner’s Mind
Life can sometimes feel like an exercise in choosing between or among a series of finite terms and limited possibilities. We choose a college and a major, we take a job, and we move to a certain city – all chosen not from a mindset of possibility but from a categorical selection of predetermined options. It’s not so much that the choices would be very different, it’s more that we are not given the chance to consider them with an open, creative, and imaginative state of mind. We did not develop our life as a means of creating happiness or joy. Here is where the power of imagination and the beginner’s mind becomes an important aspect of the spiritual practitioner’s journey.
If you are looking for an inspiring example of joy as spiritual liberation, look no further than a children’s playground. In childhood, we are rooted in the power of play, laughter, imagination, and creative thinking. Because children are less conditioned than adults, they exist more closely to their intuition, following the laws of attraction to guide their choices.
Many spiritual traditions discuss the power of the “beginner’s mind,” as a vehicle for releasing us from the tyranny of a life led only through intellect and rational thought, ego-centric decision making, and our ever-present swaying between insecurity and self-importance. In contrast, a playful, imaginative, child’s mind lives closer to the surface of life’s natural state, which is one of ease, lightness, and of course, joy.
Why We Resist Joy
In our culture, joy is often portrayed as a euphoric, out-of-touch emotion that isn’t serious enough to withstand the ‘real’ world. But taking a joyful attitude towards your life does not mean that you suddenly lose all semblance of perspective and accountability. It simply means that in addition to the more challenging aspects of being alive, you are allowing for its counterpart, the more beautiful, touching, poignant aspects of this life to also exist.
In this way, you are more in touch with reality than a person who only prioritizes difficulties. For all the tragedy of our world and the challenges of our life, there is, simultaneously, an infinite series of simple, small encounters that can touch our daily lives. Being enchanted by a piece of music, glimpsing a shifting sunset, or catching the sound of children laughing as you pass them playing on the sidewalk – to name a few.
Joy is felt in any relationship where love or even a gentle, respectful kinship is present. Joy abounds in nature – the hearty resilience of a stretching flower, a chilly breeze on your warm face, or the scent of a nearby body of water and all its brisk beauty. When we live in communion with these aspects of our world, we are acknowledging and fostering their very existence, giving them power and making them larger in ourselves and our world.
Joy and the Higher Self
It is no coincidence that many of the great spiritual leaders, like the Dalai Lama, radiate unconditional happiness that’s seemingly unshakable. It’s not that they are incapable of experiencing the emotions of sorrow, loss, or disappointment, it’s that they trust those emotions will pass and they will once again discover the quiet joy of the world around them.
This method of relating to life touches on how we can live when we are in connection with our Higher Self. When we are in regular dialogue with our highest guide, we have access to a great expanse of possibilities, outcomes, and understandings. Of course, our Higher Self will always be working with us on our journey to overcome the demands of our lower nature, but it is the role of the Higher Self to guide you towards fulfillment and purpose that is singular to your life.
The direction being offered by the Higher Self isn’t one of escapism. The Higher Self is not, for instance, directing you towards a life above or outside of the reality of the world, but is instead assisting you in realizing the unique life that is possible when you cease to avoid the reality of your own skills and potential and embrace the joy that is possible when you live in alignment with a life that brings you natural, unconditional happiness.
Fostering Joy through the power of simple beauty
By training ourselves to accept the joys that life has to offer, we can begin to understand that when we stop striving to make a fear-based life work, we can embrace a life that is naturally harmonious.
One of the best pathways to joy is through beauty. Beauty in this instance is not limited to physical, romantic attraction but to any aspect of your world that inspires, gives life, or energizes. Some may access beauty in the presentation of a delicious meal, others in the symmetry of a beautifully designed space. Part of the practice of cultivating joy is to hone your personal exploration of beauty. Whether your beauty is a well-delivered song or a perfectly passed soccer ball, make it a goal to express and experience as much beauty in your day-to-day life as possible.
As this joy begins to flow in your life it may be expressed through laughter, stillness, tears or simple sighs of nourishing relief. You may also notice a continued sense of distrust of or resistance to joy. It is important that we continue to work with the places within us that are resistant to joy, because that is where our conditioning is keeping us back.
Higher Self Yoga Founder Nanette V. Hucknall offers the following exercise for sparking joy in our daily lives –
Find a quiet place and sit comfortably. Take some deep breaths and relax your body, breathing deeply until you feel peaceful within. As thoughts and feelings arise, let them go, and rest in gentle stillness.
Next link with your heart chakra in the middle of your chest. Try to experience the heart chakra. It can be a slight pressure, a movement, a light, or even an image.
When you feel you are experiencing your heart’s center, place something that you experience as beauty in that heart space and simply be with it.
As you share space with your object of beauty, lean into the aspects of it that are moving to you.
As love and appreciation for the object grows, feel it expand throughout your being. When you feel you are verging on joy, give into the sensation. Allow that feeling to take center stage, resting in its uplifted spirit.
If you encounter a wall or a limitation to the expansion of that joy, see if you can explore that resistance. You can ask your heart,
“Is there anything preventing me from fully and regularly experiencing this joy?”
If the answer is yes, ask “How do I overcome the block?”
Try working with the block, again repeating the exercise at another time. Notice if there is a difference in your experience.
As you let the exercise dissolve, remember that you can always return to the source of your joy to prompt you if you’re feeling flat or uninspired by your world. Simply place your source of joy in your heart and rest there with it until you are nourished and inspired.
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