Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Kissing the joy as it flies

When you experience something beautiful there is often a kind of high that accompanies it; and like any high it is hard to sustain intensely. Consider Blake:

He who bends himself to a joy
Does the winged life destroy
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise

To “kiss the joy as it flies” is an important idea. Joy is always flying; you don’t know where it will show up. To anticipate where you will encounter joy -- being in the same place at the same time where you experienced it before -- guarantees nothing. The impulse is to control the relationship, because we want to contain the high. We bend ourselves to our own idea of what we must do to remain joyful, only to end up miserable instead.

If you pursue the things that are most meaningful to you in life, I think you can live with a kind of joy. But how you are has to become a bigger part of who you are. You see, many of us come to our ideas about identity as though it is a received space that we occupy. To some extent this is true: we exist in the world in a particular way, and the world acts on us accordingly. There are always injustices attendant to this. We develop an awareness of them, and get very preoccupied with how others are toward us. Often we’re correct in our judgment that things aren’t fair.

But if we depart from identity at the point where we meet ourselves, we never begin to ask, “OK, how am I in response?” It’s a totally different question. How others are toward us is not the same question as how we are toward them; we have a totally different measure of control over each, respectively. We don’t control how other people are toward us; what we control is how we are within the relationship. The latter can influence the former, that’s all. Strategically, it’s very important to know where you exert control.

If you imagine yourself and another person in a prison cell, of course it’s meaningful to acknowledge, “We’re in a prison cell.” But that doesn’t mean you’re the same person. How you are will demonstrate who you are in that context. Surely there are people who won’t get past the fact that they are in a prison cell, because they believe there can be no joy or beauty there. Before these can be fulfilled, conditions have to change. We all have our prison cells, of one sort or another, and you see this reaction all the time. Recognizing the obvious wrong -- what is happening to us -- is usually as far as we get.

But now we recall Tolstoy:

Happiness does not depend on outward things
but on the way we see them

The whole scenario changes if prison is part of our objective. As with many imprisoned people, this might stem from the choice to live a principled life. In other words, if we aspire to live a principled life, we may accept that "prisons" of one sort or another -- "roads less traveled" -- will be part of it, and to a degree greater than someone who “bends” in order to avoid imprisonment. If we are already at peace with this reality, our energy isn’t used up by it. Our energy is available for other uses, like creating the conditions necessary to walk out of our cell. There can be great meaning in that pursuit, if only we begin.

"Kissing the joy as it flies" means embracing the things you don't control without forgetting your capacity, after all, to kiss. There is joy in developing our own capacities, even if this isn't easy; there is beauty in developing as a person, even though this comes with age. These things are available to us, regardless of what is not. We don't control all outcomes, but we can push toward the ones we desire; and it is through the mastery of our own abilities in different contexts that invites the highest grounds for joy.

38 comments:

almostinfamous said...

i needed to hear (read) these words.

once again, your writing casts some light upon matters that have left me in knots.

Cüneyt said...

A very detailed discussion of something very delicate. I like it, Mr. Boyd.

Abonilox said...

You are on your way to guru status.

JRB said...

Thanks -- I will look into the going fee for gurus so I can live up to the calling when it occurs.

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