Challenge Day 14- Yoga is Joy
Think of a time in your life when you felt pure joy. It may take you a moment to remember, but I guarantee that you’ll find at least one. Perhaps it’s a memory of a sunrise, the birth of your child, or maybe a moment shared with the innocence of a cherished pet. Now, what if I told you that instead of a few rare instants of joy sprinkled throughout a miserable and unhappy life, you have the potential to live in a state of limitless, childlike, pure joy? If you’re interested, keep reading…
The standard Western dictionary states that joy is the notion of great delight or happiness, often caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying, success, keen pleasure or elation. But, we are yogis and have to look deeper than that. The spiritual teaching of yoga is rooted in the ancient languages of Sanskrit and Pāli both of which use the word mudita for joy. Mudita is presented in Patañjali’s Yoga Sutras as the state of mind that the yogi cultivates in response to other people’s pleasure, happiness and success. To the average Western individualist, this seems counterintuitive. In order to fully express the spiritual concept of mudita, most translations add a qualifying word—instead of simply joy, mudita is often translated as sympathetic joy, or, pleasure stemming from delighting in the success of others. The most common example used to explain the concept of sympathetic joy is that of a parent sharing in the success of their child.
Rooted in selflessness, mudita is a state of joy free from self-interest. Instead, the active practice of the celebration of the success of others works to eradicate the chains of ego. While it may be easy to see how a parent would experience true sympathetic joy for the happiness and success of their children, it is sometimes baffling to understand how we can be happy for the success of strangers, or, even worse, our enemies. And yet, that is exactly what the practice of mudita asks of yoga practitioners.
The opposite of joy is envy, whose insidious nature has the potential to infect every aspect of your mind and heart. Jealousy eats away at the balance of mind and works in the opposite way that one thinks. While you are obsessing about what other people have, you are naturally also focusing on what you do not have. While you devote energy to desiring the success of another, you deplete the energy that you need in order to be successful yourself. In fact, jealousy works in the exact opposite manner that we’d like it to. Instead of propelling the envious towards the results they seek, envy leads the envious to hatred, negativity and failure. And, what’s worse, jealous steals energy from the lustful person and gives it to the object lusted after. In other words when you think jealous thoughts about another person, envy their success, and reflect on how good their life is, you actually give that person your vital life essence and lift them higher. Hate and envy work in the opposite way—instead of bringing you peace and happiness, you bring yourself hate and misery while bringing the one you wish to take down more energy for success.
A jealous state of mind is, like so many other negative states, rooted in fear. When you see someone else succeed at the very thing that you dream of succeeding at, it is easy to be jealous. You think because they did it, now you won’t. Or, there’s a place inside your mind that believes that there is a limited amount of success to go around and because this person beat you to it, or because they’re better at it than you are, that they stole your success. You may even harbor feelings of bitterness and resentment towards those who are more successful, primarily because you are afraid that you’ll never be successful. Take as an example, the inevitable ups and downs of romance. If you’ve ever been dumped by a romantic partner you know that one of the most paralyzing feelings in life is heartbreak. In the days after a tough breakup seeing couples happy may bring up feelings of jealousy and resentment. It can be hard to celebrate the joy of others when you’re in the midst of hurt and loss. It is much easier to give in to the negative spiral and allow yourself to be jealous and hateful. But, if you’re on the spiritual path, the teaching of yoga is there as a guide to call you forward to a higher truth.
Whatever you give your attention to grows. That’s true whether you love or hate. You have the power to create worlds, and in fact, you are creating your world constantly. The question is whether you will be a conscious or unconscious creator and whether your world will be founded on love or hate. Mudita is a truly powerful teaching, rooted in the truth of limitless joy.
There is no end to joy. It only grows. When you celebrate the success of others, you share in the joy that they have tapped in to. Mudita is paradoxically the most selfish thing you can do. Instead of waiting for your own successes, the practice of sympathetic joy allows you to share in all the joy that the whole world has. You can jump on the joy bandwagon without needing to have achieved anything yourself. The secret is that you will have achieved a monumental paradigm shift in the control center of the mind. To shift from selfishness to selflessness is perhaps the most revolutionary shift that can happen. By practicing mudita, not only for yourself and those in your inner circle, but for all beings, friends and enemies alike, you increase your capacity for joy. And, just like happiness, the magic is that once you focus on joy as an immediate state unlinked to the attainment of material objects, you naturally attract more of the success that you seek.
Yoga works by bringing to the surface the deeply-held repetitive thoughts programmed in the subconscious mind. As you bend, twist and move in new ways you bring conscious awareness to the entire body. It’s not about the pose, but about what state of mind you become aware of while you’re in the pose. You don’t need to be joyful immediately. In fact, the more jealous, hateful, bitter, depressed, and generally miserable you are, the more that yoga will work for you.
Here’s a secret—I have a tendency towards jealousy. When I see someone else achieve what I have been working hard on, or do something that I haven’t been able to do, I often get jealous and prideful. I devalue their work and overvalue my own. I sometimes get depressed and lose my inspiration to practice or keep working. This is embarrassing, but when I first started practicing there was a fellow yogi who was at about the same level as I was. But, my teacher gave this student all the attention while I got very little attention. I would stare at this student and wonder what she had that I didn’t. I even tried to practice like she did. But, nothing worked. The more jealous I got, it seemed like the more success she got. During this period I was miserable, but I learned a lot about my own competitive nature and my patterns of envy. After six months of mental and emotional anguish, everything shifted in an instant for me when I met this person casually on the street one day. She immediately started praising me, saying how much she admired my practice, and how I appeared so steady and calm. I didn’t know what to say. I remember feeling first shocked and then embarrassed. I had nothing nice to say because all I had was an insidious jealousy that told me about everything that was wrong with her. I think I managed to say thanks rather awkwardly and scurried away in humiliation to ponder life. It took me a good while to sort out the dynamics at play but I did. And, so can you.
It’s the inner work that matters in yoga. You do not need to be naturally happy, joyful, peaceful or even nice to start yoga. Just as you don’t need to be naturally strong or flexible. But, you do need to be willing to put in the work and practice. The poses are just a door that leads to the inner world. Treat them like a bridge that carries you into the mysterious realm of the mind and the emotions. Training the mind is hard work that requires discipline, persistence and vigilance.
What you seek is seeking you. Your conscious mind is only a fraction of your thoughts. You may not even be aware of what you’re seeking and that is frightening. Work with both your conscious and subconscious thoughts so that you take the driver seat in the act of co-creation with the universe. There is a stream of joy and well-being that you can step in to. This is called alignment. The ancient yogis found the secrets to a happy and more peaceful life. We have this practice today as the beneficiaries of their hard work. Make good use of the technique—reprogram your mind to reset towards mudita, pure joy. Celebrate the success of others, especially your enemies or competitors, even though it seems counterintuitive. Be a revolutionary. Be joyful.
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