Over the past few weeks, the question has become more active in me of the difference between joy and satisfaction; what they mean, and how the two experiences relate to our inner search.
“Joy” is, apparently, what we seek. We all wish to be free of negativity, of suffering, of the pain and challenge of life. And indeed, if the deus ex machina of enlightenment arrives, we are to presume, we will be freed of negativity and feel this “joy unending.” Those who attain such states dwell in the joy of the Lord and speak from the joy of the Lord; they call us to joy, and they assert that joy is all there is. I hear about this a lot in the church; as far as it goes, it’s wonderful.
But how far does it go? I first put the word in quotation marks because our “ordinary” understanding of the word is insufficient. What does anyone who repeats these words actually know about joy? And how do we relate this idea of joy to the demonstrably more complex understandings of reality, existence, and religious experience offered to us by Gurdjieff, and by Dogen?
Here’s the difficulty, symbolically rendered: just how do we square it with the image of a Man nailed to a cross?
All of the statements about how amazing spiritual joy is are, insofar as they go, true. There is indeed such a thing; there is a state where we can be completely free of negativity, and a joy so deep and fundamental that it overrides all other inner conditions.
There is, however, a catch-22 to the experience of true joy--joy without quotation marks. Joy, like all other cosmic arisings, has not one but three aspects. The joy religious people and teachers generally speak of experiencing is the affirming joy--the joy of yes, the joy of the positive, the joy of fulfillment: affirming joy. This joy bubbles up within the being like fresh spring water, conferring spiritual immunity.
There is a second joy, however. It’s a darker joy, of a vintage rarely sipped by man: denying joy. This is the joy of anguish, the joy of sorrow. It is the polar opposite of affirming joy, and is as far from it as anything one could imagine. But it is still joy.
The third force in the arising of joy is the inextricable intertwining of these two forces, where affirming joy and denying joy (sorrow) become one within man. In this is created reconciling joy, which balances the two states and creates a transformative experience of Being.
This deepest “joy,” as I have mentioned before, consists of equal measures of joy and anguish. One absolutely cannot have one without the other; they are inextricably intertwined at the heart of the universe. It is a food far too rich for us to swallow under any ordinary set of circumstances. A man has to have real courage to swallow much of this ambrosia, because it’s fatal to all that we are in our present state; the sweetest, but deadliest, poison to the ego. I daresay few would drink it willingly.
I cannot say it any more clearly: Joy is born from sorrow.
Bliss, the ice-cold touch of the divine upon the parts of ourselves that we cannot know with the ordinary mind, is a divine substance that expresses itself in the human body under certain conditions. Bliss attunes the nervous system to receive this experience that arises at the heart of reality itself. That arising is the simultaneous arising of both joy and sorrow, ecstasy and anguish, from the One Well where All that Is arises.
Bliss, in other words, prepares us to receive something, and that something is food. This is where we reach the question of satisfaction.
Satisfaction is to be sated; and to be sated means to be filled, to have a hunger met and satisfied by the arrival of food. So if we are satisfied, literally, it means we have eaten well.
What is it that we eat, that can bring inner satisfaction?
This goes back to one of the core teachings Gurdjieff offered us: the law of reciprocal feeding. Everything in the universe feeds everything else; and in this case, what feeds is impressions. So once again we come back to our current theme of ingesting the impressions of life. Satisfaction- to be sated, to be filled—is to be filled with life. This does not mean to be happy, or sad, in any conventional terms, and to confuse “the joy of the Lord” with our conventional ideas or experiences creates mistaken understandings. Inner joy and outward joy are quite different.
Ordinary life, outer life, brings us ordinary food of three kinds: the solids we eat, the air we breathe, and impressions. Of the three, the most refined food is impressions.
At the same time, with proper preparation, we can receive inner impressions. These are a higher, finer kind of food. A great deal of the question of joy versus satisfaction centers around the question of this spiritual food, which was incidentally the heart of Christ’s mission, and a continuing interest of Paul in his letters. The question itself is still found at the heart of the Holy Communion in Christianity, which asks us to participate in the receiving of spiritual food in the body and blood of Christ. This spiritual food is not just what brings us joy, but what fills us; and if it arrives, it is literally received in the vehicle of the physical body and the vehicle of the blood itself—what Gurdjieff called Hanbledzoin—because this is the tool we are given to eat of this food.
To receive is not just to feel joy. It is to suffer, that is, to participate in taking on the burden of the sorrow of His Endlessness.
Of all history’s many avatars, Christ’s sacrifice alone offers us a stunning visual allegory of just how much suffering exists, and what is called for. Christ, in his efforts to save mankind, pulled off the blinders: we were offered a true picture of how much God pays for our existence.
So to experience joy is not the ultimate, heartfelt purpose of existence. It’s a step on the path; a big one, to be sure, but to stop here is to stop while enveloped within rapture, rather than to take one step further and ask, “what is required of me?”
In craving joy, the spiritual seeker asks “how much can I get?” This, while magnificent, is no more than a form of desire.
In accepting suffering, the seeker asks, “what can I give?” This is a form of non-desire: detachment.
Perhaps this is why Gurdjieff asked man to cultivate non-desire, and why Buddhist practice seeks detachment.
In opening the soul to the root of Being, where the two forces join at a single root, we may begin to approach the idea of satisfaction, that is, eating enough of the right food, and thereby fulfilling man’s inherent purpose on earth.May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.