“Your homework is to have more fun. Play more.”
This was given to me through an exploration of what I perceived as a certain imbalance in my life recently, spending a couple of days in a fairly solid and consistent state of “blah.” Life was kinda OK, kinda full, with plenty of work and growth and learning to do that I was not overly thrilled about, and the space in-between was filled with activities that didn’t bring too much excitement either. There was a certain tone of greyness to life, while everything that seemingly would be exciting, or at least mildly juicy, wasn’t even close. Eventually I went exploring my state of being, which is how this homework was given to me.
Psychological work focuses more on what has gone wrong: how we have been wounded in our relations with others and how to go about addressing that. Spiritual work focuses more on what is intrinsically right: how we have infinite resources at the core of our nature that we can cultivate in order to live more expansively. If psychological work thins the clouds, spiritual work invokes the sun. – psychotherapist John Welwood
It is almost funny, ironic, or fascinating to see how everything “out there” ultimately leads to “in here.” For instance, when I get triggered by a person or a circumstance, it usually (always?) ends up being not about them but something within me that got activated. Even, or perhaps especially, when our sweet puppy Luna doesn’t do what I want her to do, it ends up being not about her but about my own agenda. The more I open myself to this orientation to life, the more I see the world as a giant mirror, allowing and inviting me to look into myself, “in here.” At times, the world is also forcing me, as I seem to keep my stubborn resistance streak around. This orientation of seeing the world as a mirror to my blind spots is not new, and I have been “working” with it for many years. I still forget, at times, and this is apparently one of those times I needed yet another reminder of the danger of falling asleep.
It was the same with the greyness and the whole theme of fun, and once I paused, got present, and stopped indulging, clarity emerged. With a nuance.
Indulgence is what permits the weak part of you to run the strong part of you. Indulgence is allowing what is unhealthy in you to control your life even when you know it is unhealthy. Indulgence is being lazy about what you know you need to do, allowing the usual automatic tendencies to dominate and run your life. What do you do… Indulge in the habits and tendencies that you know are detrimental to your freedom, to your development, to your expansion, even to your health. You know the problem but you continue the old ways. Five minutes after your sixty-fifth insight, you’re doing the same thing. Busy, wasting time, fooling around. What happened to the sixty-five insights? You’re waiting for the sixty-sixth? You go along with your habitual patterns; it’s indulgence. You might even be indulging in something you know is actually harmful. That is one of the qualities of personality: to keep on indulging. Even when you know it really is just your personality, even when you know it’s something you picked up along the way and serves no good purpose, you continue doing it. So indulgence is going along with a tendency or an attitude that you know is detrimental to your freedom, your health, or your development. The result is you don’t take responsibility for yourself. You don’t take your life in your own hands. Implied in this is that you are waiting for a saviour, which could be an insight, a blessing, a person, or the attitude that things will change in time. Time becomes a Saviour. Indulgence is you not taking responsibility for the regulation of your own system. You expect somebody else, time, God, or whatever to do it for you. The work of freedom needs your best effort. If you’re not doing your best, you’re indulging. And if you’re indulging, your personality has the upper hand! – A.H.Almaas
The specific clarity, in this case, was about the concept of “fun.” After spending time both inquiring and simply being with it, I realized that this is not what it is all about. While I personally don’t have anything explicit against fun, here and there in my life, I am after something deeper. Joy.
I have spent over two decades reorienting my life and its trajectory, aligning it to a beautiful way of being which Parker Palmer (in his “Letting Life Speak” gem of a book) calls, “living divided no more.” The first part of my professional life was very divided, needing to check my heart and soul at the door when I entered work; probably my personal life too. Even writing this last sentence has that sense of division, whereby “professional” is one aspect of my life and “personal” is something different and separate. Living divided no more has been a rewarding, fulfilling, and challenging journey, and continues to be, yet I know that I am a lot more fulfilled now in my life and have many more moments of that alignment where the different aspects of my life do not feel separate any more. In this state, I am a lot more open to experiencing joy, regardless of whether I “do work,” “do a bike ride,” or “read a book.” There is a space of deep presence within me, my belly and heart and head are aligned and alive, and I simply address what is in front of me in that moment. Welcome joy!
I tried to articulate the difference between these two to a friend, who seemed to be in the same inquiry himself, yet it was not easy. We both had a deep felt sense of what we were sharing, yet somehow short and limited in words. Fun felt more like a horizontal and more shallow, whereas joy was more vertical and deeper (this eloquent sentence obviously makes everything crystal clear). Fun feels like a “time-out from life” whereas joy is an integral part of everything.
Whatever the difference might be, I think I am having more experiential clarity around these two concepts. While joy certainly doesn’t happen every moment of every day, I know that with awareness, presence, and practice, it becomes easier and, hopefully, more frequent to experience this state. To spice it up, life throws various indulgence opportunities my way, to see how I will react and respond. I trust that I will continue learning, forgetting, remembering, indulging, and my hope is that the moments of forgetting and indulging will shrink while the moments of presence will get longer and deeper.
Future will tell.