Wisdom Living

Joy of Action


This chapter is dedicated to the forth attitude of Wisdom Living, which I decided to call Joy of Action. The original Buddhist name in Sanskrit of the corresponding paramita is virya, which usually is translated as effort. However, that term often invokes association with enforced work, tediousness, something we try to avoid, which we have to endure. It certainly does not represent the attitude of the joy of action.

Action is being usually associated with physical or mental movement and liveliness. Being involved in action does not at all contradict with bringing our mind to the natural state of fundamental rest. When we rest, our body is involved in a gigantic number of ongoing activities: from beating our heart to the communication of over 30 trillions of cells in our body. The analogous processes are happening in our mind, and we already said, the state of rest simply means avoiding tiresome activity of useless thinking in contrast to thoughts, while cultivating the useful ones.

Action is also related to the transfer of dynamic energy, which is associated with the Wisdom Living approaching our life as a joyous experience. It is not easy,  because we are usually heavily indoctrinated to view life as an ongoing punishment for our bad karma by Buddhism or sins by Christianity. For this reason, we need to train ourselves to regain our innate joy of action.

Activity as a play of energies

As we know, since times of Einstein, DeBroigle, and Shrodinger, that the world could be viewed as the interplay of energies. Not going into theoretical physics, this approach becomes obvious if we look closer at what is going on in our life. Our heart beats, we breathe, our nervous system transmits electrical signals, photons are hitting out eyes, thoughts are arising and dissolving, and so on. All that shows that our actions involve energy, which can turn, can make them joyous.

Some of our actions by their very nature we treat as energetic and joyous, such as dance, playing music, skiing, watching a movie or singing. For some, various intellectual activities also belong to this category.

However, the situation complicates when it comes to work, which we have to do, or at least, we believe that it is the case.  I am talking about our work to earn money, household chores, shopping, filing tax returns, and so on. It seems that there is no fundamental distinction between those two categories, but we hardly consider them joyous. Why?

Such distinction is not as old as we may think. Its source is, as it often is the case, is in the stratified structure of our society. Before that, all activities of humans were expressions of their innate wisdom, which was indispensable for survival. During the Paleolithic period, women were gathering edible plants, men were hunting while taking care of small children was left to grandmothers. All of that could not be viewed as imposed, so it was infused with joy. Even during the early Neolithic period following the agricultural revolution, before the private property of land and other valuables became a norm, imposed labour has not yet appeared. Only later on, when hard, tedious physical work became the domain of slaves, servants, women and serfs,  it seized to be considered joyous. Now there are no slaves or serfs, but most of us belong to this category being enslaved by the system and our own beliefs.

Still, some traces of joy while working as they did for thousands of years can be detected among some aboriginal societies, which somehow avoided the full impact of the disease of stratification like Hadza or Aka in Africa who more or less continue the hunter/gatherers model. Also,  people involved in creative activities usually enjoy it, unless they do it for money and being on top.   

Returning to joy

Obviously, some activities by their very nature involve little or no joy. For example, finding joy in working 9 to 5 on an assembly line where one performs hundreds simple, identical, mechanical action is well suited for a robot and not for a human being, would be difficult.   However, the main point is that whatever we do, we can return to the state of joy of which accompanies the involved energy.

Our first reaction may be that it is not always possible because some activities seem to be, by their nature, tedious, boring and depressing like one mentioned earlier. However, when we look closely, we find there is always energy involved. Though it may be more or less intense, it is fundamentally neutral. When we react to something which brings us joy, it is easy to note the involved energy:  we laugh, and a child runs and embraces the person who gives it presents it likes. Even animals react with energy: a dog jumps up to welcome a person it likes when such a person arrives and is overjoyed when it goes for a walk.

Joy must not be confused with pleasure, which may or may not accompany it. Experience of pleasure is more tricky and addictive. It could be a classical form of addiction like alcohol or drugs or mental addition, like playing computer games or spending hours and hours on Facebook. Such activities do not involve too much energy and no joy.

The wisdom living permits recovering our original sens of the joy in our activities via not ignoring the associated energy.  We already discussed expanding the resting in wisdom during walks and performing house works. They show that such activities can be enjoyable. However, if we apply the attitudes of openness, dignity and patience to other forms of work, then we can as well expand the experience of the joy.

Consequently, we can apply the same approach as one described earlier: we use thinking only to the extent it is necessary. If we detect any form of useless thoughts, we become aware that it is wasted energy, and by this very realization, we return to the state of resting in wisdom. At this point, we experience not only a sense of relief but also joy.

To distinguish which thoughts are necessary and which are not is fundamentally not too difficult: the thoughts of the past can only be valuable if they concern a topic that is related to the task at hand. For example, if we type on a laptop and are not sure of the orthography of the word we want to write, reaching our memory or using Google can be useful. However, if our thoughts concern, let us say,  something that someone said a few days ago on an unrelated topic, continuing them is a waste of time and energy.

A similar situation takes place when our thoughts involve the future: unless it is directly related to what we are doing, it is useless. However, when our thoughts concern a decision we want to make, then contemplating various potential scenarios must involve thinking about the future – it is an essential part of what we are doing. However, if we think about possible results of the election in Bulgaria while we live in France, it is pure entertainment and the waste of energy.

The interesting case is joy involved with artistic creativity, where joy and pain can appear together. The pain and sadness was a favourite topic of numerous romantic poets were writing about all sorts of forms of their pain. I deeply suspect that while creating their masterpieces, they experience joy. Of course, they could not mention that it would be politically incorrect according to their lifestyle.  

 To ability to recognize which thoughts are needed and which are parasitic goes beyond the relation between activities and joy. It is critically important to wisdom living as a whole. Otherwise, if we limit the resting to sitting in a special, quiet space, or as it was some time ago, to a monastic cell or even cave, the ability to rest the mind in wisdom, brakes down when we face everyday life.

It is also important to do it without slowing down our activities.  To move slowly and mindfully, as it is done in some kinds of meditation training,  is of no much use in everyday life.  To quickly notice, that during some activity,  we are departing into the fictitious world of thoughts,  is far from easy. Just knowing that it is possible is useful but not sufficient. It requires a lot of patience, openness and a lot of practice because our tendencies to get distracted are deeply embedded. It manifests in ongoing thinking when one train of thought is immediately, without a gap,  replaced by the next one.

Closing remarks

Recovering the experience of joy associated with our activities is essential for wisdom living. Unfortunately, many of our activities are not only useless but harmful. It is the result of the growing impact of stratification, at present, in the form of capitalism and nationalism. To distinguish what kind of activities are useful cannot be fully done without the attitude of discernment, which leads to a clear view of what happens in the world.

However, even without such fully a full knowledge, we can detect that while we are engaged in one kind of work,  recovery of joy becomes easy and natural while another labour makes us tired, annoyed and even depressed.  For example,  such activities as learning or creativity in whatever form it may take: artistic, scientific, manual, are naturally a source of joy. But finding joy in a work which we do only because we have to earn money and otherwise we would is possible but not easy.  

P.S. For those who have not recognized the painting on this post, it is Peasant Dance by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, my most favorite painter of all

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