Imbolc New Life Moon
“The noun simcha is mentioned in the Bible 94 times and is derived from the verb samach, which appears 154 times in the text. It is rooted in the Akkadian word shamahu meaning sprout or flourish.” Simcha, The Dayton Jewish Observer
A thing of beauty is a joy forever. So says Keats in his Endymion. Kate and I are leading the mussar class on Thursday, focused on joy and sadness. What else is a joy forever?
Most of the material I’ve read about joy distinguishes it from pleasure with a time distinction. A bite of food, a kiss, a winning hand, a new toy brings pleasure in the moment, but the pleasure dissipates quickly. Joy, to paraphrase Keats, is a thing of beauty forever. Joy, in other words, is lasting.
Rabbi Jamie says true joy can be recalled and experienced again whenever we want. Not fully sure about that, but a finger on the scale in favor of a lasting experience seems right to me.
Kate has come up with an exercise that will get us started on considering joy in our own lives. She designed a sheet with three columns: single-digit, adolescence, adult. We will write as many instances of joy as we can recall from each of these life phases. My hope is that in telling our stories of joy that we can experience them again and help others experience them with us.
How can we increase joy in our lives? Can we? (A)…rabbinic teaching concerning simcha points to the inner self as the source of contentment and joy. “Aizehu ashir? Hasameach bechelko, Who is rich? He that rejoices in his own portion (Avot 4:1).” ibid
So at least part of joy is perspective. What makes our life rich? Joyful? Knowing what is enough. What is enough? No less than we need, no more than we require. This seems to link joy to gratitude. If we have enough, we are grateful for what we have. Our life gains in simplicity since we don’t end up on the constantly promoted hedonic treadmill.
With simplicity, then, we know deep satisfaction. Not only do we have enough, but we do not waste our energy and our worry on getting more. Ah.
Last week at mussar we had a fascinating conversation on the essential dourness of both Jewish and northern European cultures stimulated by the Norwegian concern that they had won too many medals in the winter Olympics. In both cases happiness, and by correlation, joy, are suspect. Why are you so happy? What makes you think that will last?
In the Jewish instance this trait seems to correlate with the multiple times in Jewish history, starting with slavery in Egypt, that a golden age or at least a comfortable existence had been destroyed by pogroms, the expulsion from Spain, the holocaust. Are you happy now? Just wait.
In the northern European instance it seems to have more to do with seriousness. “For the soul is dead that slumbers, And things are not what they seem. Life is real! Life is earnest! And the grave is not its goal; “Dust thou art, to dust returnest,” Was not spoken of the soul.” Psalm of Life, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
early cave painting
Both cultures, in other words, find joy and delight and glee and exultation, ecstasy and exhilaration suspicious at best and distracting at worst. Distracting from what? From the possibility of life’s stability being snatched away in an instance. From the need to keep the shoulder to the grindstone, quite literally. From the guardedness that protects us from disappointment, suffering, pain. Joy may make us vulnerable.
So it’s no wonder that joy is a middot, a character trait that needs cultivation. The soil for it is rocky, like that in our backyard here on Shadow Mountain, at least in these two cultures.
Joy Brown, creative joy
How to do that? I chose to scan my life looking for joyful moments. My hope is that I can begin to identify in the now, embrace them, live in them. Looking at my list (it’s posted here.) I can see some common threads. Intimacy: seeing Orion at night, dogs nuzzling, the mountain night sky full of stars, hugging Kate, hearing from Tom, Bill, Mark, seeing them. Challenging myself: learning Latin, using my sumi-e brushes, grinding ink, having a new idea, reading a new book, writing ancientrails. Letting the world in: driving over Kenosha pass and seeing South Park laid out ahead, the golden aspen among the lodgepoles on Black Mountain, paying close attention to the natural world. Being in community: working with Marilyn and Tara and Anshel, setting up for adult education events at Beth Evergreen, having an idea, sharing it, seeing something happen. Travel: hearing the howler monkeys on the road to Angkor, leaving for a trip, rolling retreats (roadtrips), the earthen smells when getting off the plane on Maui, Kauai, Hawai’i. Inner moments: the moment of mystical connection with the universe in 1967, meditation, remembering the two year old me who learned to walk after polio, mindful cooking.
One track for increasing the joy in my life then would be to seek intimate moments, identify new ways to challenge myself, stay alert and let the world in, continue at Beth Evergreen, travel, allow time to cultivate the inner life.
“On the bright side, simcha is a word laden with exhilaration and festive activities. Simcha expresses not only the joy of an event, but it is also the noun which means a happy event.
A holiday is a simcha, a family gathering is a simcha, a wedding is a simcha, the birth of a child is a simcha and a Bar or Bat Mitvah is a simcha.
The host of an event is a baal simcha and the sound of joy resonating from the event is kol simcha.
Simchat yetzirah, a joy of creativity, is a way to describe the exhilaration one feels while being engaged in a creative process…
(A)…rabbinic teaching concerning simcha points to the inner self as the source of contentment and joy. “Aizehu ashir? Hasameach bechelko, Who is rich? He that rejoices in his own portion (Avot 4:1).” ibid