In this course we're trying to cultivate a joy that is genuine, clear and stable. It's a feeling that isn't based on a superficial object or memory but rather an honest and real feeling within yourself. It's clear and bright versus being weak and muddled. Finally it's stable, grounded and reliable versus being unpredictable and dependent only on "perfect conditions."
In order for joy to be genuine, clear and stable it needs to be based on reality. In particular joy needs to be understood in relation to suffering and the practice of compassion.
A danger is to turn joy into an escape from reality or what can also be termed as spiritual bypass. In this scenario, a meditator can bypass suffering by concentrating exclusively on the feeling of joy. As a result, joy is always at risk of being interrupted by suffering which makes the practice shaky and unreliable. For this reason, to practice joy one needs to know how to practice buddhist compassion.
By acknowledging suffering through the practice of compassion, the meditator becomes "awake" to what is really happening. The practitioner can see the truth of suffering.
People come to mindfulness for many reasons, and one goal is to be "awake" and see our subjective experiences unfiltered. For a variety of reasons our experiences can be unpleasant and in order to respond to this unpleasantness, we need to first see things as they are.
Once a meditator acknowledges the depth of suffering - a little bit at a time - that person begins to value joy because it is an antidote to overwhelm. With this antidote in hand, the meditator's compassion practice can be fierce and fearless.
The end product of understanding joy and suffering together is how joy becomes even more highly valued. Each moment of joy becomes more precious in relation to the overwhelming amounts of suffering.
When empathic joy is genuine and stable there are a number of consequences.
Each time we open to pain and suffering we also know we can eventually return to joy.
This confidence strengthens our courage to open widely to the suffering in the world. In other words, joy gives us another perspective on the world so we don't just see suffering.
We have greater faith in ourselves and our compassion is strengthened.
The aim is to strengthen our ongoing relationship to our own emotions. In this case, the emotion is joy.
It can be a difficult skill to catch and hold our emotions. Using the Primary Elements to help us describe the feeling is one way to initially identify and connect to emotions.
In effect, we're training ourselves to feel the emotion of joy. We are re-conditioning our emotional lives with the healthy feeling of empathic joy.