joy as a moral obligation

Updated On — 27th Jul, 2020

I recently read a passage from a book by the Franciscan priest and author Richard Rohr which resonated deeply. He writes in Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi:


“Christianity is not a moral matter; it’s a mystical matter … The ego pattern never changes. The mystical mind is the non-dual, spacious, non-counting mind. The ordinary dualistic mind is consumed by counting and measuring how moral I am or you are. It weighs everything up and down–mostly down. The dualistic mind moves toward quick resolution and too easy closure. It is very judgmental. That’s why all great spiritual teachers say, “Do not judge.”

 

Can you see this in your meditation practice? That the dualistic mind “weighs everything up and down–mostly down”?

Neuroscience can now prove what meditators in many spiritual disciplines across the planet and across time have known intimately, that the brain has a “negative bias” — the brain prefers to constellate around fearful, negative, or problematic situations.

As the neuroscientist and mindfulness meditator Dr. Rick Hanson writes in his book Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love & Wisdom:

 

“Our negative and critical thoughts are like Velcro, they stick and hold; whereas our positive and joyful thoughts are like Teflon, they slide away. We have to deliberately choose to hold onto positive thoughts so that they can “imprint.”

 

What he is saying is that when a loving, positive, or unproblematic thing comes your way, you have to savor it consciously for at least fifteen seconds before it can store itself in your “implicit memory;” otherwise it doesn’t stick. We must indeed savor the good in order to significantly change our regular attitudes and moods. And we need to strictly monitor all the “Velcro” negative thoughts.

Anything which the dualistic mind doesn’t understand, it quickly names as wrong, dangerous, and fearful. The dualistic mind is responsible for most of the disputes, wars, and violence on this planet. This dualistic mind sees most opposition as highly justified and necessary, because it judges one side to be superior and one side to be inferior. It always takes sides!

Just have a peek at the latest news in this 2016 election cycle. Just today Mr. Trump called the Pope “disgraceful” for suggesting he, Mr. Trump, was not a Christian (in part because he wants to build a huge fence on the border).

Don’t get me wrong – I am not “taking sides” in this election here in this email, but rather simply pointing out the workings of the dualistic mind in high places.

As one deeply experience mindfulness meditation teacher once remarked: “if you takes sides in your mind, you lose.”

Again, Fr. Richard Rohr:

 

“The non-dual, contemplative mind abides in God, the Ultimate Positive. It wants the good, the true, and the beautiful so much that it’s willing to leave the field of the moment open and to hold onto all parts of it, the seemingly good and the seemingly negative, and waits for them to fully show themselves.”

 

One could go so far as to paraphrase Fr. Rohr’s unapologetic mystical Christian spirituality and say that mindfulness, when developed, allows us to rest in the “Ultimate Positive.”
André Gide, French novelist and philosopher, asks us not to give in to this negativity bias and settle for a life of “quiet desperation” to borrow the phrase from Thoreau. He wrote:
“Know that joy is rarer, more difficult, more beautiful than sorrow. To make this discovery is to embrace joy as a moral obligation.”

 

Ah, joy as a moral obligation—what a revolutionary notion!

Acknowledging the inevitable sorrows in our lives viscerally with mindfulness opens the heart to joy, and to kindness.

I’ll leave you with this poem, Kindness, by Naomi Shihab Nye, a poet, songwriter, and novelist. She was born to a Palestinian father and an American mother.

 

Before you know what kindness is you must lose things,

feel the future dissolve in a moment

like salt in a weakened broth.

What you held in your hand,

what you counted and carefully saved,

all this must go so you know

how desolate the landscape can be

between the regions of kindness.

How you ride and ride

thinking the bus will never come,

the passengers eating maize and chicken

will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,

you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho

lies dead by the side of the road.

You must see how this could be you,

how he too was someone

who journeyed through the night with plans

and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,

you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.

You must wake up with sorrow.

You must speak to it till your voice

catches the thread of all sorrows

and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,

only kindness that ties your shoes

and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,

only kindness that raises its head

from the crowd of the world to say

It is I you have been looking for,

and then goes with you everywhere

like a shadow or a friend.


From “Words under the Words: selected poems”, Portland, OR, Eighth Mountain Press, 1995.

 

Can we live this way?

 

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About Tom Davidson-Marx

Former Buddhist monk, now father of two and full time registered nurse, my passion is sharing what I have learned from a life-long love, study and practice of the early Buddhist teachings. Thanks for reading.

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