The Pathway to Joy

For the raindrop, joy is entering the river. —Ghalib

Sunrise over mountains on a bright summer morning. Moonrise over oceans on a clear winter night. Those with hearts open are continually surprised by joy.(1)

“Tell them that joy is not the same as happiness.” The voice is my wife’s and the distinction is one she has long utilized in teaching and counseling.(2) The distinction is this: happiness is dependent on circumstances; joy is not. My wife Gregg’s image is a bowl. For her, events are like items — or small packages — in the bowl. Life is the bowl itself, hence not identified with the contents of the bowl. I fully agree.(3)

Let us look more closely at this way of proceeding. Here, “happiness” is dependent on circumstances. As the song says: “Sometimes I’m happy. Sometimes I’m blue. My disposition depends on you.”(4) Yet the incidents come and go. So do our commentaries and emotional reactions. Joy, as I am using the term, is deeper. Joy comes from a place where we realize we are already connected to the Whole. With practice, we can evoke joy even in the midst of sadness. We do this in at least three ways:(5)

  • By seeing life as richer than stories, we let go of judgments and negative emotions. Freedom arises; we come home to joy.
  • By seeing life as gift and allowing gratitude, gratefulness or great-fullness to emerge, we realize that, in ourselves and those who companion us, we have all we need to live a life of quality right here and right now.
  • By seeing life as creative and endlessly capable of surprising us, we smile and, with the smile, joy appears as well, humanizing our imperfect perfection.

Ghalib writes, “For the raindrop, joy is entering the river.”(6) Yet perhaps that too is an incident, an occasion. Perhaps joy resides still further down — in the depth dimension of the ocean, in the place to which all rivers flow, a place where we mirror the whole — in union and communion, all at once. Ghalib may well be pointing to the same thing, seeing joy as arising from the depth dimension of life, a reunion with the Whole, a homecoming.

The raindrop descends, releasing from the cloud, heading for the river. We follow the raindrop by releasing from the surface occasions and our commentaries on them. Releasing our story-driven judgments, releasing our emotional reactions, evoking gratitude, returning gratefully to what is. Then “deep calls to deep.”(7) Then joy is found to have been there all along awaiting the invitation to manifest in things both great and small.

I am exploring four dimensions of dwelling in wholeness, namely, dwelling in love, compassion, joy, and peace. All four aspects are present in each moment. All four aspects intertwine to help us dwell more fully in the present moment. Hence, joy arrives with three companions: (1) love (or loving kindness), (2) compassion (arising from an awareness of how fragile we are) and (3) a sense of peace and equanimity. Joy arrives, we might say, lovingly, compassionately and peacefully. In fact, as we shall see, the way to joy is indirect. Imagine practicing joy grimly! The reality is far simpler.

“We all have within us a center of stillness surrounded by silence.” So spoke Dag Hammarskjöld in dedicating the meditation room at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City.(8) I experience joy connected to that stillness, joy as a quality of that silence. Joy has different colors, different moods — sometimes exuberant and liberating, sometimes quiet and content. Always available. We already have all we seek. That is the secret of secrets. Joy, born of gratitude, is the affective dimension of that realization.

Returning to stillness
Basking in silence
Gratefulness rising
Joyful the day.

Celtic mythology tells of a pool surrounded by purple hazelnut trees — deep in a mysterious forest. The hazelnuts drop gently into the pool. The salmon — the Celtic wisdom fish — come to the surface to feed. Nourishment descends effortlessly. Wisdom arises effortlessly. In a mythic way of understanding, the wisdom pool lies before us and within us — in the heart of all. That center point is a threshold where the two worlds meet. Ever-present, yet veiled — until the veil lifts, until the mists clear. Every moment, touching stillness. Every place, touching center. Such a pool — deep within us — provides us living water. Such a pool unites the Great Mystery, my never-fully-known Self and the equally mysterious Circle of all life. The spirit of the pool is suggested by a smile.

This Celtic image suggests three aspects of joy, all to be unfolded as we go.

  • Joy as linked to releasing. When the hazelnuts release, the salmon arise. When we release our identification with thoughts and emotions, roles and fixed ideas, then for a time we are free and joy wells up.
  • Joy as grounded in gratefulness. The salmon and all that is — these are present as pure gift, beyond anything deserved, simply given. When this is recognized and we choose to live from this awareness, then joy arises from gratefulness, as thanks, prayer and praise.
  • Joy as linked to a smile of the heart —bringing humility and gentle humor to all we do. As if the whole — the pond and the hazelnut trees and the salmon — all exist within the feeling tone of the great heart of us all. A heart that smiles and blesses.(9)

In some moments, we glimpse the beauty of the Whole in every part. Then, every moment can be a joyful receiving, a joyful releasing, and a joyful remembering of life as gift, life as grace. Here is the power of distinguishing joy and happiness. We see that joy partakes of the unconditional, the ever-surprising, the unlimited. As the gospel singer Shirley Caesar says: “This joy I have — the world didn’t give it, the world can’t take it away.”(10)

1. Love as agape reaches to the unconditional — to love “no matter what” — to love throughout a life — for richer and poorer, in sickness and in health.

2. Compassion reaches to the unconditional.
 I think of the gentle monk Ryokan, Japan’s counterpart to St. Francis of Assisi, who writes:

Oh that my monk’s robes
Were wide enough
To gather up all
The suffering people
In this floating world.(11)

  Terrible are the harms we do and terrible the harms we suffer. Yet some among us can forgive beyond any bounds we set for forgiveness. In so doing, they remove the last suffering from ourselves and others. They show an unconditional compassion. No enemies, only the “wounded miracles” that we continue to be.(12)

3. Joy also reaches the unconditional, arising from a place not dependent on conditions — from the bowl of life itself, not the events that are in the bowl. If we have eyes to see and heart to feel, this joy — born of gratefulness for the sheer gift of life and all it contains — can shine through, even on the worst of days.

Journey to Joy: a Parable

Once upon a time, a group of seekers had heard that there was a wise person in a certain city who knew the way to cultivate joy. The seekers were told the city but not the person. Near the city gates, they came to a great sports arena and spoke with a renowned coach. He said that the way to joy was through winning, being all you can be, excelling. “Joy,” the coach said, “is a byproduct of such skill and self-giving.” But one of the seekers had been a famous athlete. She had known victory and defeat. And she remembered that, even though a loss could bring great disappointment, there were other things in life that could bring a quiet joy in the midst of such disappointment. So to seek a deeper joy meant letting go of thinking that joy only manifested in winning or, more generally, that it only appeared with good fortune.

The next person they met was a popular statesman. Sounding a similar note, he broadened the discussion. “It is about reward and punishment,” he said. “Indeed the rewards are varied: material rewards, yes, but also approval, praise, fame.” “Joy comes ,” he declared, “from the reward of fame or fortune. Even praise or blame can be seen this way,” he added. “Joy comes when we achieve praise and escape blame.” Yet one of the seekers, a saintly gentleman, spoke up: “Not getting good things and having to deal with bad things is hardly what people wish for, yet I have known some saints and sages who were able to let go of thinking in terms of reward/punishment, praise/blame altogether.(13) And they found joy still.” He quoted the Sufi woman saint, Rab’ia who prayed:

O my Lord,
if I worship you from fear of Hell, throw me in Hell.
if I worship you from hope of Heaven, exclude me from Heaven.
But if I worship you for your own sake, come to me.(14)

For this seeker, joy is linked to equanimity, with the ability to face whatever comes one’s way and, curiously, to learn from each event, each messenger. “ Yes,” affirmed a man from China. He reminded them of the Buddha’s teaching about the roots of suffering: the three poisons: (1) greed-clinging-attachment-addiction, (2) hate-condemning-aversion-avoiding, and (3) ignorance-confusion-identifying (with features less than the Whole). The more one recognized and detached from these poisons, the more room there was for joy to manifest, for the world to manifest as already spacious and unique in each moment. And so the bounds of joy were the bounds of the Great Mystery and the mirror of ourselves and the circle of all life. Joy was ever available — not by making it happen but by clearing the way for it to appear. As a road goes on and on, so the joy appeared as “more and ever more.”(15)

“Ah yes,” said one of the older women, “now I understand why Meister Eckhart called it Wandering Joy.”(16) Finally the oldest among them remembered the words of the old Bedouin who met Laurence of Arabia in the desert and said to him: “The Love is from God and of God and towards God.”(17) “So too,” this companion said softly, “the joy is ever deepening as we walk in mindfulness open to the mystery. The joy too is from God and of God and towards God. No wonder, the Jesuit scientist and mystic Pierre Teilhard de Chardin could say: ‘Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.’”

So in the end, the seekers who sought joy from others found the font of joy in themselves. To do so they had to release certain fixed ideas, go beyond reward and punishment thinking, find in the Great Mystery the world as total gift.

Joy and a Smile

The verb form of joy is to rejoice, to enjoy.(18) Rejoice always. A theme in many scriptures. Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh tells us: “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy." One of his themes is to enjoy one’s practice whether mindful sitting or walking or whatever else we are doing.

"Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile.
 Dwelling in the present moment
 I know this is a wonderful moment."(19)

Smiling, besides a great relaxation, is also a practice of joy. Enjoy your practice.

A wife made a request of her husband, asking him to do a task. He started to set about it, but she stopped him. “One of the conditions of satisfaction for my request,” she added, “is that you do the task happily, joyfully, wholeheartedly, not with a grim and grudging spirit.” Joy here appears as an adverb, modifying and shifting the feeling tone of what is being done.

Joy and Gratefulness

Joy has its roots in gratitude, gratefulness, great-fullness. Here, we can do no better than take as our guide the wise Benedictine monk, David Steindl-Rast.(20) Gratitude is a practice for invoking joy. As we grow in gratitude, our joy grows too. If we could be grateful for every moment, seeing all as gift, then would not our joy be unbounded?

Brother David has a mantra of sorts: “In daily life, we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.”(21) In our context, I would rephrase this as: “In daily life, it is not joy that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that brings us to joy.” Recall again my wife Gregg’s analogy of life as the bowl and events as circumstances within the bowl. Gratitude begins with the fact that we are not owed life, it is a gift. We do not deserve the life we live. It comes to us gratis. Not owed, not earned, not deserved. Life is given and gift, if we choose to so see it. Breathing in life as gift, we learn to breathe out gratefulness.

What I am calling the Whole or Great Mystery, Brother David speaks of as “the more and ever more.”(22) Suppose we think of joy as an aspect of “the more and ever more.” Then, anytime we touch the real with love, compassion, and peace, we are apt to be surprised by joy. As I have said, such joy appears in many modes — from quiet contentment to ecstasy and abiding bliss.(23) All deserve respect.

We are beginning to see that joy, at its depth, is unconditional, independent of circumstances or conditions. Similarly, the great love called in the West “agape” is unconditional. The great compassion is unconditional. Deep inner peace or equanimity is unconditional. All three proceed from the deepest core of our being which has many names and no name.(24) Once again we encounter the secret of secrets — that we already have all we seek, that the union/communion is within and surrounding us at every moment. It follows that one of the ways to evoke joy is through gratefulness, great-fullness. A sign in a local coffee shop says: “There is always, always, always something to be grateful for.” Grateful for what we are receiving, we give thanks. Giving thanks, we evoke joy. The joy arises out of sufficiency (or intersufficiency). We already have — in ourselves and those who companion us — all we need to live a life of quality right here and right now.

Furthermore, the gratitude points us to the spaciousness and specialness of the whole and of each participant. William Blake reminds us:

To see the world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
and eternity in an hour.(25)

This echoes an Eastern theme. Sunyata is the spaciousness of all things, empty of fixity, open to all possibilities. Tathata is the particularity of each thing, uniquely itself and uniquely mirroring the whole from a particular point of view. Joy flourishes when we encounter all that is with new eyes and a new heart — open to the spaciousness and specialness of each being.

A Test Case: Sympathetic Joy

In what I am calling The Fourfold Path to Wholeness, the third mode of dwelling is “joy.” However, it is often called sympathetic joy, that is, the capacity to take joy in the success or achievements of another. For many, this is a test case — something many believe is difficult to do. Why should this be so? Surely if I love you, I wish you well and desire your good. Indeed, a prime example of taking joy in the success of another is rejoicing in the success of my children.(26) When this does occur, it may be that I see my children as part of myself in ways I do not see a colleague. If I broke the spell of separateness and saw all beings as my brothers and sisters, then perhaps I would experience their success as enhancing my own. At some deep level, I would realize how deeply we are intertwined.

What stops me from rejoicing in the success of, say, a colleague or neighbor? Our first clue is noticing that we are entering the realm of comparison. In the tradition, comparison is called the near-enemy of joy, meaning it is a close facsimile. Close enough to confuse us but not to enlighten us. Once comparison infects us, it suggests a “zero sum” game (I win, you lose; you win, I lose). It suggests life as a see-saw. If you are up, I must be down. At the core of this is the first falsehood — that life is insufficient, that there is not enough praise to go around. The second falsehood is that we are radically separate. One remedy here is to go beyond (a) the superiority complex, (b) the inferiority complex, and (c) the equality complex!(27) Reduce envy and jealousy. Envy is a form of greed — I want what the other has or seems to have. Jealousy is a form of hate — I do not want you to have what I have. I want to diminish you in certain ways.(28) Reducing envy and jealousy, we die to a smaller sense of self and rise to a larger minded sense of our interconnection with all.

When I don’t know my true size, I am tempted to put myself above others (self-inflation) or put myself below others (self-deprecation). Thinking equality alone is good, I fall into comparison — a kind of scorekeeping that is also destructive. Here is my version of an old teaching from India:

When I deeply don’t know who I am, I manipulate you.
When I realize a bit better who I am and who you are, I serve you (without servility).(29)
When I near enlightenment, I am you. Or more modestly, we are “not one, not two.”

Joy and Autumn Simplicity

Letting go is also a way to joy. Letting go of disempowering stories and constrictive, oppositional emotions.(30) This returns us to nature, to simple gifts, to the mystery of what is — at surface and midpoint and depth.(31) And in freedom, we experience joy.

I am reminded of the dictum of the Third Zen patriarch Seng-Ts’an: “Do not seek for the truth (or reality). Only stop having opinions.”(32) Or the words of the Thai meditation master, Achaan Chah: “Do everything with a mind that’s let go. Do not expect any praise or reward. If you let go a little, you will have a little peace. If you let go a lot, you will have a lot of peace. If you let go completely, you will know complete peace and freedom.”(33) This is the way of dis-identification. Consider this exercise:

I have a body,
and thoughts about my body. Plus likes and likes about my body.

I have a body. I am not my body only.
I am a center of consciousness. A unique reflection of the Great Mystery of all that is.

I have emotions,
and thoughts about these emotions. Plus likes and dislikes about my emotions.

I have emotions. I am not my emotions only.
I am a center of consciousness. A unique reflection of the Great Mystery of all that is.

I have roles,
and thoughts about my roles. Plus likes and dislikes about my roles.

I have roles. I am not my roles only.
I am a center of consciousness. A unique reflection of the Great Mystery of all that is.

I have beliefs,
and thoughts about my beliefs. Plus likes and dislikes generated by my beliefs.

I have beliefs. I am not my beliefs only.
I am a center of consciousness. A unique reflection of the Great Mystery of all that is.(34)

In all of the great traditions, there is a time when discursive thoughts get in the way of our deepening. Yet we fear that loosening our identifying with our thoughts and emotions, roles and rules, ideas and ideologies will cast us into confusion and we will lose our way. Here context is everything a context including healthy norms that allow love and compassion, joy and peace to flourish. By their fruits you shall know them, and the fruits of the spirit are always love and compassion (which includes a sense of justice and mercy), joy and peace. So letting go of small-minded views does not diminish us. It opens us to the mystery within us and between and among us. It widens the circle as in the Edwin Markum poem:

He drew a circle to keep me out
Rebel, heretic, a thing to flout.
Love and I had the wit to win
We drew a circle that took him in.(35)

Joy and the Winter Sage

Becoming a sage is not taking on a new role, as if sagehood were all about me! Becoming a sage is more like letting God be God through a disappearing “me.” I become a mirror or, better, a window. I become a place where my being and acting are more and more in union with the Great Mystery. More and more for the sake of all my kin. Empty of self, the dazzling suchness of life appears. What is present mirrors Source, Self, and Circle of all life in non-possessive love and compassion, joy and peace.

The soul, like the moon,
is new, and always new again.
Continuously creating.
Since I scoured my mind
and my body, I too, Lalla,
Am new, each moment new
My teacher told me one thing,
Live in the soul.
When that was so,
I began to go naked,
and dance. (36)

This return to center, return to joy, makes all things new or sees all things with new eyes. All things now, all things new.

My final image is the final picture of the Ten Oxherding Pictures. The picture shows the oxherd, looking round like a Buddha, in the marketplace of the world. Even the wise cannot find her or him. Such sages, whether men or women, do not “stink of holiness.” They go their way, making no attempt to follow the steps of earlier sages. Carrying a gourd, each one strolls into the marketplace. Leaning on a staff, each returns home. They lead innkeepers and fishmongers in the Way . . .

The poem proclaims:

 . . . barefooted and ordinary, they come into the market place.
Muddied and dust-covered, how broadly they grin!
Without recourse to mystic powers, in their presence
   withered trees are swiftly brought to bloom.(37)

Sage-like, savvy men and women have the ability not to take themselves or life too seriously. They manifest humor and earthiness (humus). Knowing their true size and the true size of others (humility), they are a gift by their very presence. In their presence, greater forces of growth and a greater awareness of loveliness shines through. As one savvy woman, the poet Anna Akhmatova put it in the closing lines of her poem "On the Road":

And the rosy body of every pine Is denuded as sunset beckons night.
And the sunset itself in waves of ether
Is such that I can’t say with certainty
Whether day is ending, or the world, or whether
The secret of secrets is again in me.(38)


1 I echo the title of C. S. Lewis’ book Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1955, 1995). For Lewis, joy points to a longing that will not be satisfied in this life.

2 My wife’s name is Gregg Winn Sullivan. For 13 years, she and I co-led a course at Elon University for select juniors and seniors called Quest for Wholeness. She also served from 1985-2000 as Associate Director of the Wesley Foundation at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, where her work included counseling, social issue programming, and organizing work teams.

3 Of course, a similar point can be made by distinguishing types of happiness, for example, happiness for reasons and happiness for no reason. For a treatment that takes the latter route, see Marci Shimoff with Carol Kline, Happy for No Reason: 7 Steps to Being Happy from the Inside Out (New York: Free Press, 2008). Joy and “happiness for no reason” are not quite the same, yet they share a number of characteristics.

4 The song "Sometimes I'm Happy (Sometimes I'm Blue)" is from the Broadway musical “Hit the Deck” (1927) with music by Vincent Youmans and lyrics by Irving Caesar.

5 In these reflections, as will be seen later, I am indebted to Byron Katie on letting go; to the Benedictine monk, Brother David Steindl-Rast, for his work on gratefulness; and to Thich Nhat Hanh for his reminders on smiling and enjoying our practices. See, for example, Byron Katie with Stephen Mitchell, Loving What Is: Four Questions that can Change your Life (New York: Harmony Books, 2002) and A Thousand Names for Joy (New York: Harmony Books, 2007). See, for example, David Steindl-Rast, Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer: An Approach to Life in Fullness (New York: Paulist Press, 1984). See, for example, Thich Nhat Hanh, Teaching on Love (Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press, 1998).

6 Mirza Ghalib (1797-1869) was a classical Urdu and Persian poet from India.

7 Psalm 42:7. “Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers sweep over me.”

8 See Dag Hammarskjöld, “A Room of Quiet” (New York: United Nations, 1971), opening sentence. The meditation room was re-opened in 1957 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. Hammarskjöld had given a great deal of thought as to how the space would be shaped.

9 As Dante in Paradise navigates by the increasing beauty of Beatrice’s smile, so can we experience our lives in the context of joy increasing.

10 Quoted in Marci Shimoff with Carol Kline, Happy for No Reason, p. 1.

11 The translation is by John Stevens. See his Dewdrops on a Lotus Leaf: Zen Poems of Ryōkan (Boston: Shambhala Press, 1993) Also his One Robe, One Bowl:The Zen Poetry of Ryōkan (New York: Weatherhill, 1977, 1980) and his Three Zen Masters: Ikkyū, Hakuin, Ryōkan, (Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1993). For a beautiful dialogue with the Japanese poet, see the work of the Benedictine nun, Mary Lou Kownacki, Between Two Souls: Conversations with Ryōkan (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2004). Her engagement with the above poem can be found on pp. 134-135.

12 For more on the phrase “wounded miracles,” see my essay on compassion.

13 In my parable, I center on Reward/Punishment thinking or perhaps better Reward/Punishment; Praise/Blame thinking (R/P,P/B thinking). Such thinking is subtle and can include what Chogyam Trungpa called spiritual materialism where one grasps for enlightenment or praise from the teacher or other ways of being “Zennier than thou.” That is the first point to be made. The second is that R/P,P/B thinking is not the only form of discursive thinking that can obstruct our deepening. On this, see Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now (Novato, CA: New World Library, 1999).

14 This is my version of the prayer. For the original that I am following, see Margaret Smith, Rabi’a:The Life and Work of Rabi’a and Other Women Mystics in Islam (Oxford, UK: Oneworld Publications, 1994), p. 50.

15 This lovely name for God or the Whole —"the More and ever more”— I take from David Steindl-Rast. I came across this way to characterize the divine in a lecture clip Three Ways We Find the Divine by Brother David Steindl-Rast, 2007. See

16 On “wandering joy” in Meister Eckhart, see Reiner Schurmann, Wandering Joy: Meister Eckhart’s Mystical Philosophy (Great Barrington, MA: Lindisfarne Books, 2001). See also John S. Dunne, The Homing Spirit: A Pilgrimage of the Mind, of the Heart, of the Soul (New York: Crossroads, 1987), p. 71 and Meister Eckhart on the “wayless way” quoted in Bruce Chatwin, The Songlines (New York: Elisabeth Sifton Books, Viking, 1987), p. 179, where Chatwin also quotes the Buddha’s last words: “Walk on.”

17 See T. E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom (Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin & Jonathan Cape, 1971), p.1.

18 1 Thessalonians 5:16. Paul writing in prison says: "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4).

19 See Thich Nhat Hanh, Being Peace (Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press, 1987), p. 5.

20 My guide here is the Benedictine monk, Brother David Steindl-Rast. See especially his books Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer: An Approach to Life in Fullness (New York: Paulist Press, 1984) and A Listening Heart: The Spirituality of Sacred Sensuousness, newly revised (New York: Crossroads, 1983; revised version, 1999). Also see Robert Aitken and David Steindl-Rast, ed. Nelson Foster, The Ground We Share: Everyday Practice, Buddhist and Christian, (Liguori , MO: Triumph Books, 1994); Fritjof Capra and David Steindl-Rast with Thomas Matus, Belonging to the Universe: Explorations on the Frontiers of Science and Spirituality (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991); and David Steindl-Rast with Sharon Lebell, Music of Silence: A Sacred Journey through the Hours of the Day (Berkeley, CA: Seastone, 1998).

21 Quoted on his Web site

22 As mentioned, I came across this lovely way to characterize the divine in a lecture clip, "Three Ways We Find the Divine" by Brother David Steindl-Rast, 2007. See

23 The wisdom tradition of India speaks of satchitananda. “Sat” — a word for being, “Chit” — a word for consciousness or awareness, “Ananda” — a word for bliss. Hence, we might say that, at the heart of being, is awareness and also bliss. This is much like the medieval philosophers of the west who spoke of transcendental terms such as the one = the real = the true = the good = the beautiful. Surely the mystery here echoes the mystery of sat-chit-ananda.

24 We speak, for example, of Nature as revelatory, of the Tao, of the Spirit within, of the Buddha nature, of the Christ nature, of “that of God” in everyone.

25 See William Blake, “Auguries of Innocence,” in Selected Poetry and Prose of Blake, ed. Northrope Frye (New York: Modern Library, 1953), p. 90.

26 Even in family relationships, mothers may become jealous of daughters, fathers jealous of sons, siblings jealous of one another.

27 I first encountered this formulation as a prelude to a ceremony inducting new members of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Order of Interbeing. It is a kind of koan — leaving no place to go. To transcend the superiority complex, well, yes. To transcend the inferiority complex, again, good. Then we come to the third: to transcend the equality complex. Here the trap is more subtle — comparison and scorekeeping even about what is good and holy!

28 The so-called seven deadly sins appear in Dante’s Purgatorio as seven roots of sin or subtle obstacles to growth in love. They also appear in the advice of the great Spanish mystic, St. John of the Cross. See St. John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul, new translation and introduction by Marabai Starr (New York: Riverhead Books Division of Penguin Putnam, 2002).

29 I think of the line from the old Shaker song, Simple Gifts, where it is said “To bow and to bend we will not be ashamed.”

30 Think of complaining, blaming, guilt-making, shaming stories. Think of the negative oppositional emotions of greed, anger, fear, envy, jealousy.

31 For more on this lake analogy see my previous work, Living Large: Transformative Work at the Intersection of Ethics and Spirituality (Laurel, MD: Tai Sophia Press, 2004), pp. 58-62 as well as my Spiral of the Seasons: Welcoming the Gifts of Later Life (Chapel Hill, NC: Second Journey Publications, 2009), pp. 81-86.

32 A powerful way of releasing is what Byron Katie calls “The Work” — four questions and a “turn around”:
  • Is it true?
  • Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
  • How do you react when you think that thought?
  • Who would you be without that thought?
And turn it around.
  For example, if one of my complaint sentences was “My father never spent enough time with me,” then I might consider its negation: “My father did have enough time for me.” Or other types of  “turn around”: “I never had enough time for my father.” Or perhaps “I never had enough time for me.” Are they as true or truer than the original for me?
  For more on The Work, see Byron Katie with Stephen Mitchell, Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life (New York: Random House Harmony Books, 2002), and their volume A Thousand Names for Joy: Living in Harmony with the Way Things Are (New York: Random House Harmony Books, 2007) as well as Who Would You Be Without Your Story? Dialogues with Byron Katie, edited by Carol Williams (New York: Hay House, 2008). The Work is not without its critics as a search of the internet will show. Still, used in a healthy context, it is powerful.

33 For more on Achaan Chah, see Jack Kornfield, ed., A Still Forest Pool: The Insight Meditation of Achaan Chah (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1985).

34 This is my version of an exercise I first encountered in the work of Italian psychologist, Roberto Assagioli. See his Psychosynthesis: A Manuel of Principles and Techniques (New York: Hobbes, Dorman, 1965).

35 The poem is called “Outwitted.” See Edwin Markham, The Shoes of Happiness and Other Poems (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Page and Company, 1915).

36 See Lalla, "Naked Song," translated by Coleman Barks (Athens, GA: Maypop Books, 1992), p. 29.

37 See Philip Kapleau, ed., The Three Pillars of Zen (Boston: Beacon Press, 1965), p. 311.
Adapted for gender inclusiveness.

38 Anna Akhmatova, Poems, trans. Lyn Coffin (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1983), p. 100.