We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world…
(from A Brief from The Defence by Jack Gilbert)
There is no doubt that we don’t have to look far in this world or down our own street to find injustice, despair, poverty and misery. That the dark, the hard, the difficult, the vulnerable await just around the corner. It’s perhaps for that very reason that I feel each and every one us has a responsibility to stand up for our joy, enthusiasm and lust for life. I love the line of poetry quoted above: it directly encourages us to be stubborn enough to stand up for our joy even in the midst of wanton misery.
It is impossible to imagine having a zest for life and being truly happy about life without including life’s challenges – without embracing that fact that the world is simultaneously infinitely beautiful and hard. Yoga means “union” and through various yogic practices, we begin to accommodate and embrace contradictions, because our practice leads us to glimpse perceptions and experiences of Divine unity behind the dance of duality.
You can say that we – just like the world – are one and the same: we are duality characterized as light and darkness at the same time as our deeper Self resides in eternity.
But as we are apparently here in human form right now, then surely we can just as well enjoy life and suck every ounce of joy, pleasure and glory out of it? Yes, even if there seems to be others who aren’t enjoying their lives at the moment.
Just think of how many of us have grown up with the idea that if we don’t clean our plates we’ll be making life more miserable for those Africans who have nothing to eat. This idea is based on the concept of sin: that we must sacrifice ourselves for others. That we can actually do evil onto others or take from them, if we have plenty – whether it be happiness or material items. If we have to wait to feel ecstatically happy until the rest of the world does too, we’ll be waiting until we’re in our graves.
We are equipped with a body and emotions that clearly tell us whether or not something feels good. I often reflect on why so many people get up every day to face something that doesn’t make them happy. I believe this is based on the idea that we sin. When something really feels easy, fun and pleasurable, many people turn their backs on it and almost feel ashamed of it.
Sexual pleasure is somehow the ultimate example of this. Why is the first thing many of us learn about sex that too much of it (= pleasure) can make us sick or that we can hurt or harm ourselves or others through this frolicking, which – in reality – is exactly what it is.
When sex is really good and free of restrictions and sin, then it’s just a big frolic. Why is the first thing we teach our children about sex not how beautiful and life-affirming it is? After all, that’s how we create new life. So if we want get rid of sin, then perhaps it should start with us conceiving our children in frolicking and joy. And then we can teach them – by example – that it’s ok for life to be beautiful and filled with enjoyment in every way.
I would venture to claim that if we really want to help where there is suffering in the world, then it starts with us being the living example of how to enjoy life and embrace its hardships.