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February 5th, 2022
An important aspect of a meditation practice is developing the ability to render joy irrelevant. This may likely strike many as odd, counter-intuitive, and perhaps downright wrong. Render joy irrelevant? Isn’t the point of meditation to increase one’s wellbeing? Surely that isn’t achieved by getting rid of the good? Or is it?
Some people laugh at funerals. And for nearly the complete majority of such people, it’s not because something is funny. The thing is, the neural infrastructure that communicates an act of laughing is also the same set of rails upon which crying runs. When overcome with sadness, sometimes the signal gets misinterpreted, and someone laughs. This is also why getting tickled often starts with laughter but can quickly lead to crying.
Point is, the mind and body have a suite of pathways upon which our emotions run and through which such emotions effect our body and through which our body effects our mind.
If meditation can be said to have a practical goal, or if there’s a skill that one can reasonably attain through the practice, it’s an ability to find and maintain a hold on ground zero. This is a kind of baseline existence where consciousness is neutral, and where thoughts and emotions aren’t so all encompassing, enthralling and intoxicating. Thoughts and emotions are held as objects of meditation, and for the practiced meditator, it can seem that such things are more observed than they are experienced. The experience of these things begin to acquire a kind of toggle that slides along the spectrum deciding how much we identify with the particular thought or emotion. This can be incredibly valuable for things like anger. Being able to hold the emotion of anger and the thoughts it inspires at arms length - so to speak- and decide consciously how much this aspect of consciousness should influence our next set of actions becomes a superpower for the person previously rendered a slave to their anger.
Emotions, like colors have their compliments, and the experience of each in the set can be startlingly similar. Take for instance these pairs of words: anxious vs. eager, nervous vs. excited. Each pair pretty much points at the same experience when we think about the sensations that occur in the body. But in each pair there is a negative version and a positive version, much how a sensation of great sadness can cause laughter.
The ability to consciously shed joy in a session of meditation is no different than an ability and an opportunity to practice shedding something like anger. They are both emotions, they are both alterations of consciousness, and being able to return to ground zero - to a neutral state of consciousness means being able to abandon joy in just the same way we seek the ability to abandon anger.