Most of us confuse joy with excitement. Excitement is an exalted state of the mind that is triggered by the external world through the body’s senses. Typical examples of this would be when we visit a new place or we go watch a great movie and say, “Oh my God. This was incredible. Amazing.” and so on. Understand that there is nothing inherently wrong with such bubbly enthusiasm. The essence is that the external world of objects is drawing us away from ourselves and into the object of our excitement. However as most of us know, this excitement does not last. And soon we are seeking for something else to replace our excitement. I would care to guess that such types of engagements are activating the short-term dopamine reward networks in the brain. These are not inherently bad, per se. However, they grow weary over time – and we are placed in the most unfortunate situation where we need more and more to get the “kick”. This is the basis of greed – which manifests itself in the world of material objects – more houses, more gold, more money, more cars. Or it could also manifest in the world of experiences – more travels to far more exotic locations, more ‘unique’ things to do, more places to visit, more restaurants to try and so on, more friends and acquaintances. There is no harm in wanting to try new things – but just observe if it coming from a compulsive state of restlessness or from a well reasoned and well thought out state of calm?
The above Path of Excitement leads us to want more and more. Almost always, this brings tremendous disquiet and discontent in our lives. So what can be done? Is there a way out?
Yes. The alternate path is the path of joy. The path of joy is characterized by a deep sense of satisfaction and peace – without excitement. Great examples would be times when we are relaxed by a beach, river or for some people in a religious place of worship. Some of us describe this like, “I felt calm, centred and blissful”. In this state, nothing more is needed. In contrast to the path of excitement which leaves you wanting more (which tires you), the path of joy brings deep satisfaction and a feeling of rest. Invariably, it calms the monkey mind and brings our whole being to the present moment. Many of us have experienced this if not several times, then at least once. But how do we go about establishing this state as our basic nature?
For this we need to look at the concept of Flow. Flow is a concept first introduced by the brilliant American-Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Flow is a state of absolute involvement in the activity where space and time and oneself are forgotten. It is a deep involvement with any activity – without the chattering mind coming in and distracting oneself. Think of that time when you read a book and just forgot where you are or even who you are. This is different from watching a movie or playing a video game – which tires you (since the game or the movie draws you into the screen). This state of flow can happen while playing a sport or while gardening or doing any activity with total involvement without wanting any specific result. Flow is attained when we do things for the pure joy of doing it.
In order to enter flow we must develop a serious hobby. Whatever activity it is. And spend regular time (I would suggest daily) in practicing or engaging in it. Involve no one. Don’t hasten to post anything on social media. This is your private space. Don’t make it public. Nobody needs to know what makes you content. Once we start engaging in such activities seriously as opposed to frivolous excitement about people, things and events, we start developing an intuitive sense that joy resides in our involvement in activities and not from those activities bringing us joy. This is a very important difference. Joy is expressed from us and not obtained from outside. That is why – deep engagement – brings out the joy that already resides within us.
Unfortunately we do not feel this because we have made our entire lives “social”. We always do things because others are doing it, or to maintain our image in society or as a reaction against our parents or the popular culture. Most of our actions are ‘other oriented’. Or we do things in the name of ‘our freedom’. But these are merely asserting independence as a reaction to things. They usually fall into the path of excitement. Once we find the deep involvement in activity, then we need not comply with anyone nor would we rebel or run away from situations or people. We would simply be as we are. This is true freedom. Freedom is not the ability to do what we want. Freedom is the ability to be comfortably ourselves and authentic in all situations.
Therefore, let us start engaging deeply in whatever we do. Go into depth in any activity with a sense that we want to do our best. And slowly, gradually, we start seeing a new dimension open up in us. A dimension that is so strong yet so soft. A dimension that is beyond ‘others’. A dimension that brings us home, to who we truly are.
This is something worth aspiring for.