by James Van Auken, PhD: “Joy is found in discovering the bigger view, the purposefulness of the cycles of life, and the recognition that the cycle continues and never stops…”
Another friend called today. They’ve been diagnosed with a critical illness. The pain returns as I revisit the years that I watched my mother suffer, and the years that I directly suffered from my own life-threatening illness. As a survivor, people know they can speak to me of their illnesses, and they do. But each time, it hurts so much. I don’t want to lose anyone again; I don’t want to fear that I might leave others behind.
As a mindfulness practitioner, I do my best to recognize what is occurring with me in the present moment. Yet, the present can be too much at times: tightened chest, clenched jaw, reliving sad and fearful memories of dealing with health crises, questioning “why,” and sometimes pleading in prayer, “heal them, please.”
When I can gain some space and really sit with what is happening, I can begin to see more clearly what is happening to me. I am craving happiness and joy, and the news of my friends and family who have health crises feels like it has robbed me of that joy. We are such complex individuals, layered with motivations, some hidden just beyond our emotions and reactions.
Seeing more objectively, after sitting in meditation, feeling my body breathing, seeing my state of mind, seeing the content of my thoughts, feeling my emotions, and understanding what I am seeking, more space arises, all these parts of my reality are slowed down and more settled.
Seeking inner wisdom and deeper perspective, I see that my viewpoint was limited. Holding onto all things, especially good friends and family, as stable and unchangeable inevitably yields a shocking reaction when that stability is threatened. Sadness arises with this fuller view: all things are subject to change, subject to old age, illness, and death. It hurts.
Going deeper again, asking, “where is joy and happiness amidst the pain and suffering of a world that is subject to old age, illness, and death?”
Viewing the cycle of old age, illness, and death and pausing to view it, one must notice that while those elements are a truth in this organic world, they are limited. While the seasons change, children are born, and we have the opportunity to use the reality of change as the only constant to develop, to grow, to appreciate the beautiful moments we have, to bring forth the deeper, more full version of ourselves and really live, truly live in the moment, not grasping on great memories and pushing away negative memories, but incorporating the full view of reality—all of this exists together, harmoniously: life and death, happiness and sadness, health and illness, youth and aging. As one’s viewpoint expands to include the fullness of life, experience is a gift, this whole experience is a tremendous gift, an opportunity for soul development, expanding perspective, and even enlightenment.
What does it mean to live a life awake?
It means to see the whole system occurring, unfolding, and recognizing the purposefulness, the never-ending nature and cycles, that with the bad comes the good, with ill-health comes the appreciation and recognition of well-being, that amidst the suffering of the world, there is also the transcendence of suffering through the gift of impermanence and the opportunity for wisdom through experience.
There is a difference between one year of experience repeated 30 times and 30 years of experience transformed into wisdom. Joy is found in discovering the bigger view, the purposefulness of the cycles of life, and the recognition that the cycle continues and never stops. Then the present moment is a place of simplicity, of joyous experience, and place where it is safe to fully reside and just be, just breathe, and smile.