Add More Light
Rabbi Lisa Goldstein
There are times when joy is an act of resistance.
I have to remind myself of that occasionally. On these days when there is so little daylight, when the headlines are so dire, when my beloved home state of California has been engulfed in flames, joy can feel like an effort that is just too heavy.
Sometimes joy is characterized as wimpy or self-indulgent. It is seen as being something private or even selfish, with little or no bearing on the larger community. But part of what we come to know experientially through our practice is how interconnected things are. Through contemplatives practices I come to see how much my inner experience is shaped by the expectations and habits of the world around us and how I contribute in seen and unseen ways back into the expectations and habits of the world.
So when fear, greed or anger are dominant around me, I often experience those unpleasant emotions more readily. And when I experience these things – and even more so when I act upon them – I add more fear, greed or anger back into the system.
Alternatively, when joy, generosity or gratitude are dominant around us, I can experience those emotions more readily. When I act upon them, I can strengthen those middot in the larger culture. Our joy is so much more than our own small story. It is an expansive energy that reaches out with a light heart towards connection, forgiveness and possibilities. Real joy can be contagious and ripple outward.
That’s why joy can be an act of resistance. Cultivating a joyful heart can be a way of saying no to fear, greed and anger. It can defy the diminishing light, both real and figurative. It can clear away the space for an opening, for newness, for real delight.
In the Talmud, the House of Hillel disagreed with the House of Shammai as to why we light Hanukkah candles. Shammai’s version was more reliably grounded in the historical record, but Hillel’s argument was simple: Adding more light adds more holiness. My experience over Hanukkah showed that Hillel had it right. The growing light, night to night, lifted my heart. I felt my joy growing too from its hidden holy source. It is not so easily extinguished, after all. And that is a true blessing.
The Root of Joy
Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, Likkutei Moharan II 34
Translated and Amended by Rabbi Lisa Goldstein
Ordinary people do not find joy in all things at once, since there are many different sorts of joy.
Take a wedding. Some people are happy because of the good food, meat and fish and all kinds of good things. Somebody else is happy because of the musicians. The parents are happy because their children are getting married. All sorts of happiness are present. But, no one is rejoicing in all those pleasures together; they’re just taking them in one after another.
Then, of course, there is the one who really takes no pleasure at all in the wedding. This guest is busy suffering with jealousy that this person wound up with so-and-so.
But, the truly great and complete joy is when you can rejoice at all things together. This can only be done by looking upward to the root of joy, from which all good things come. There, in the root, all is one, and there you can rejoice at all of it together. That is truly great joy, shining with a very bright light.
By joining things together, linking one joy to another, the light of joy itself grows greater. Its strength grows by the fact that each joy, as it touches the next one, gives forth an extra sparkle of light. The more joys are linked, the brighter those sparklings.
So, when all of joy is joined together, the brilliance is truly incredible.
Meditation for Igniting Joy
Institute for Jewish Spirituality
Sometimes it is easy to feel joy; other times joy feels more remote. Here is a practice to cultivate greater capacity for joy that comes from the root of joy, not the vagaries of external events.
Find a quiet place to sit. Bring attention to sensation in the body, to the coming and going of breath.
Find one small thing in your life that you are grateful for. Perhaps it is the ability to receive another breath. Invite joy to rise up in you in response to that thing.
Explore another small thing in your life that might bring you joy. Notice how it feels in your body. Allow the joy to touch the first joy. Invite the joy to grow.
When you are ready, consider a joyful thing in the life of someone you love. See if you can connect it to the joy in your own life.
Notice what arises. If you choose, keep linking your joy to the joy of others.
If, at any time, you feel incapable of being in joy, it’s okay. See if you can bring loving compassion to your own suffering heart. You can always try again, perhaps on another day.
This is a simple journaling method you can use at the beginning and end of any of our core practices – a short sitting meditation, an embodied practice, a text study – to help track the effect the practice has upon your whole being.
When we bring our awareness to all levels of being, we are able to gain perspective on aspects of our current state, and connect more deeply with the core part of our being that is steady and does not change with circumstance.
- Before you sit, move or study, write a list of these words down one side of a paper. As a ”Check- in”, write a descriptive word or phrase for each area, an adjective that captures how you feel in this moment. If a description of one world is less accessible to you, that is fine – skip that one and write down phrases for the ones that resonate with you. You may find that it is easier to describe after the practice.
- During your practice, put the paper away.
- After your practice write a new list for your “Check-out”, without looking at the “Check-in” list.
- Take a look at both lists at the end, and note where you felt changes, and the impact the practice has had upon your whole being.
Body – Assiyah – עֲשִׂיָּה – What are the physical sensations you notice right now in your body? (i.e. warm, cold, tight, sore, stiff, etc.)
Heart – Yetzirah –יְצִירָה – What emotions are you aware of at this time? (i.e. grief, sadness, joy, anger, jealousy, etc.)
Mind – Beriyah – בְּרִיאָה – How would you describe the current state of your mind? (busy, swirling, settled, calm, etc.)
Spirit – Atzilut – אֲצִילוּת – What is the current state of your spirit, your essence, that part of you that is not your personality, your thoughts or your bodily sensation? (i.e. stifled, free, light, unknown, etc.)
Blessings for Joyous Experiences