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Tuesday October 1st 2013

One of the Sufi teaching tales of the Mullah Nasrudin relates how Nasrudin came upon a man sitting disconsolately at the side of the road. "What's up?" the Mullah enquires of the stranger. "There is nothing of interest to me in life anymore," the man replies. "I have enough money A Happy Nasrudinnot to work. I'm on a quest in search of something more interesting and more fulfilling in life. So far, sadly, I haven't found it." Thereupon Nasrudin grabs the traveler's knapsack and makes off down the road with it. He takes some shortcuts and has soon put quite a distance between himself and the man he has robbed. Whereupon he puts the knapsack down on the side of the road and disappears into the bushes to hide. Presently the miserable traveler arrives, exhausted and more unhappy than ever. But then he espies his knapsack sitting at the side of the road. He runs toward it, shouting with joy. "That's one way of producing happiness" Nasrudin comments. The title of this story is "Happiness is not where you seek it.

Back in the '90s, when we were doing readings at Mandala Book Store in Squirrel Hill, we used to enjoy Frank's "Bad News Good News" stories, where bad news and good news follow each other in close sequence. We have our own version of this going on right now! Car has emissions problems and won't pass the emissions test. Cost is extremely high to replace whole system. Check engine light is on. Bad check_engine_lightnews! Car gets worked on at Subaru for something else. Check engine light is off. Good news! But we have to drive 100 to 150 miles to get computer set again. A bit of a nuisance but not really bad news! Car passes the emissions test and most of the inspection. Good news! But still needs some welding on exhaust pipe to complete the inspection. Bad news! After a lengthy series of ups and downs with oxygen and acetylene tanks having to be refilled, one leaks and has to be re-refilled, clutch on Felicity's old Mazda (our backup) pictue of the comedy and tradgedy masksbegins to go, so we decide to get new exhaust parts from Subaru. It's in stock. Good news! We bring it home only to find there is a broken weld on one of the pieces. So it's back to Subaru and they don't have another one on stock until Tuesday. Bad news! Inspection runs out the day before the part comes in! We have literally been riding this particular rollercoaster for the past week. Good news! Bad news! And when the news is good, we metaphorically run towards it shouting for joy, just like Nasrudin's fellow traveler.

There is a line in I Ching in Hexagram 61, "Inner Truth", that says: "He finds a comrade. Now he beats the drum, now he stops. Now he sobs, now he sings." This line is about your source of strength depending not on yourself but on your relationship to other people. If your sense of equilibrium depends on other people, you are inevitably tossed to and fro between joy and sorrow, "rejoicing to high heaven, then sad unto death." The same can be said for life in general. If your sense of inner equilibrium depends on things working in life, then you are constantly going to go up and down with the events of life. Good news! Bad news! Joy! Sorrow! It is inevitable because everything in this world oscillates. Nothing is constant.

I Ching actually devotes a whole hexagram to "Joy" (Hexagram 58, "The Joyous/Lake"). Joy is based in this case on being inwardly firm and outwardly gentle and yielding. That is, the firm, yang lines are at the base and centre and the yielding, yin lines are at the top and on the outside. In this way, you don't expend yang energy resisting life and fighting circumstances, but yield gently and gracefully to whatever it is that life brings you."If need be, (you) will not shun death itself, so great is the power of joy over men." Furthermore, since this hexagram deals with your healthy connections to other people and your influence on them ("lakes resting one on another" as the image describes it), you inspire other people and rally them with this kind of joy, as they you. This is the teaching. This is the practice. Personally, I still find it very much easier to jump for joy when something that has gone wrong, goes right! As Charque once put it over an "unfortunate" event we were experiencing, "I think we have just been blessed, but right now I don’t feel like celebrating!"

This brings us to a more profound question, namely: "why are we here?" I mean, why we are here on the earth itself. But the question can apply equally as to why you are here at any time, place or condition that you find yourself in. A Miss Peach cartoon once answered that question with "because we are too little to go anywhere else". This is probably very true! The universe is popping a good deal more violently than any of us can probably deal with, except perhaps Rumi who can celebrate "Love's clash of planitsApocalypse, Love's Glory" with great passion. "One breath from the breath of the lover would be enough to burn away the world; to scatter the insignificant universe like grains of sand." Forget faulty car parts or leaky acetylene tanks! "The whole of the cosmos would become a sea; and sacred terror would rubble this sea to nothing." Our world itself produces more than enough horrors with illness, flood, famine, war and weapons of mass destruction. There is certainly enough here to be going on with to challenge our joy and our inner equilibrium. To quote Rumi again "God has lit a fire to burn the heart of the universe". We approach this fire gradually and with awe, building our strength and our capacity to love only by degrees along the way. Spiritual teachers speak wisely of the need to practice gratitude. It's a very difficult practice but a good one, because it rests on a heart that, like the Hexagram of Joy, is strong on the inside and open on the outside. Joy is ultimately not based on what you are experiencing but how you are experiencing. Then you can ride the rollercoaster of life with more ease. Good luck to all of us with this practice! Even our "good luck" needs to be approached with a measure of levity and good humour. As Kipling defines it: 







If you invest less struggle to make a perfect world and have a perfect outcome, you will no doubt find that "Fortune" has not deserted you. Much joy!

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