Like most people I was initially drawn to meditation because of suffering in my life. At the time I was working as a newly qualified solicitor. It was a stressful job and I experienced panic attacks. I learned how to meditate and it helped. I was able to stop and breathe. The inner pressure was more bearable. Over the years it completely changed my life for the better, to the point where I ultimately changed career in order to teach mindfulness full time and share the benefits with others.
In the beginning, if someone asked me why I meditate, I would probably emphasise how it helped me to “reduce stress” in my life. That felt like a socially acceptable thing to say. We are all interested in managing stress (particularly in the corporate world). There is something stoic about it. We endure stress because we are so busy.We manage it and we persevere. I would have been very hesitant to tell the same person how meditation made me more “joyful”. At the time, the word “joy” felt self-indulgent and, dare I say, a bit “happy clappy” to me. It didn’t feel socially acceptable to say that I just wanted to be happy… that life sometimes felt a bit grim and grey and relentless and I needed a counterbalance.
I think that in Ireland this attitude still prevails to a certain extent and it’s a pity. What is the point of life if not to experience moments of deep connection and meaning? The good news is that copious research has shown that joy, happiness and gratitude are states of mind that can be practised and cultivated. Neuroscience has shown how our brains have a “negativity bias” – we are hardwired to notice and remember unpleasant experiences and disregard pleasant experiences. If we are aware and we have the right intention we can bring this bias back into balance. We can be more objective. Awakening Joy doesn’t mean that we look at life through rose tinted lenses. Without glossing over the challenges of life which we are always faced with, we can discover that joy is always here in the present moment if we want it.