March 2001
Joy and Sorrow

The human life is an endless interplay of joy and sorrow. There are spiritual traditions that say that life is suffering, that the world is a vale of tears. Well, it certainly is. Life is also a great joy and the world a place of laughter and celebration. Waves of joy, waves of sorrow. In the yin-yang symbol of the east there is a circle and through the center of the circle is a wavy line. One half of the circle is black, the other half is white. In the white side of the circle is a little dot of black. In the black side is a little dot of white. Every thought, feeling, experience that you have contains in it the seed of its opposite. No matter how much sorrow you experience, there is the seed of joy, the inevitability of joy arising from it. And, it is true, no matter how much joy you experience, there is in it the seed of sorrow.

Sit down meditatively, in a posture that may be very familiar to you, with the hands on the knees, palms up. Breathe quietly. Place joy in one hand and sorrow in the other. Allow your central Awareness to enter into the state of joy. Imagine joy, happiness, pure pleasure in being alive, like a baby who kicks its legs just for the sake of the movement. This is not a happiness dependent on something good happening to you, or achieving something worthwhile, or getting someone's approval; it's just the pleasure of being you. Spend some time in that joy. Taste it, feel it - or imagine it.

Return to your central Awareness, to the heart center. Breathe quietly. Let go of the experience of joy. Feel it melt away. Allow your Awareness to enter into the experience of sorrow - take your attention to the other hand. The sadness may arise like a wave, or it may feel heavy, oppressive. Just be with it. Is it your pain, old or new? Is it world-sadness? Whatever sorrow it is, be there with it, and then bring your Awareness back to the heart center, to that loving attention that holds both joy and sorrow, that is present in the midst of joy, present in the midst of sorrow. That Awareness tenderly knows that neither state will last forever. Joy and sorrow will come and go, come and go, come and go.

Sometimes you experience them both at the same time, that bittersweet quality that only the human heart knows. That bittersweet mixture of joy and sorrow comes with a certain music, a certain touch from a certain person. It comes at twilight, at dawn, in the depths of night when one is alone. It comes with a certain phrase that one reads in a book. It comes as one sits on a train and looks out the window at the passing landscape, or as one walks down a crowded city street or down a path in the forest. Joy and sorrow, sorrow and joy. This is the nature of human life.

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May all beings be happy, peaceful and free of suffering.

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