A version of this article appeared in the May-June 2014 issue of the fabulous New Dawn magazine.
"We should cultivate those mind activities which stimulate naturally the currents of life in the body. One of these, and a very important one, is joy."
Healing Power of Joy by Charles Fillmore (1939)
This essay can be found in The Essential Charles Fillmore ed. by James Gaither
Charles Fillmore was one of the great metaphysicians. Founder of the Unity Church, Fillmore walked his talk. As well as establishing a spiritual empire which flourishes to this day, Fillmore also lived to a grand old age, despite some serious physical impediments. He was considered a saint by everyone who encountered him. I absolutely advise you to read some of Fillmore's old books and essays (he was a prolific writer). There is much wisdom to be found within them. And though he uses "Christian" language he is interpreting it in the most open and inclusive way imaginable, so don't let that now alien language block you from the good advice that (to use a Fillmore-ism) lies back of it.
The quote above is a characteristic one. Fillmore was a "fake it till you make it" type of fellow, and he genuinely believed that we are capable of consciously cultivating those qualities which best enrich our lives. One of my favourite Louise Hay (an author who has herself been deeply influenced by the New Thought philosophy of Fillmore) affirmations is:
"What is true of me is true of everyone. We are all learning to look within ourselves to find the wisdom to live harmoniously."
Too many of us sit by waiting for this wisdom to be visited upon us. Fillmore taught that we should be actively in search of it.
Like Fillmore, I believe that any quality can be cultivated, even if it may not seem "natural" to our personality. Friendliness, tolerance, calm and joy can all be worked upon. Every day we can seek to express, even just for a moment, each and every one of these qualities and our lives will be richer for the effort. In truth I am, at heart, an anxious, judgemental and reasonably grumpy person, but I am willing to bet that nobody who knows me would use these words to describe me. The reason is that I choose to not give in to the expression of these things. When I do, my life is infinitely sadder and my scope for happiness is reduced. Yes, I might feel them on occasion (quite often) and I am perfectly capable of recognising mentally when they occur, thank you very much. But I choose to cultivate other ways of being. I choose not to feed the flames of those parts of my personality that make me a less-good person.
Positive Mind Activities
Too often we think that we are biologically determined to behave in a certain way. We might be, but almost every religion provides practical exercises in promoting states of mind that are more valuable, to ourselves and our community. We can seek outward help in improving our states of mind, and we can explore a whole host of practical activities that have been proven to make us happier. Meditation, prayer, chant, counselling, journaling... The list is a long one. It is your responsibility to seek these activities out and seek to apply them systematically. You will be very grateful that you did.
Currents of Life
There is a series of different currents, of myriad vibrations, that create our own individual experiences of life. It is wise to be sensitive to them and, to an extent, respect them. If we are tired, sick, a little depressed or not very social it is perfectly ok to honour these feelings and carve out some time to be alone. I read Unity's Daily Word magazine every day, and one of the past affirmations was: "I love and accept myself and others." When we - or other people - are feeling delicate, we must learn to value that experience for what it is. But we need to also honour those currents of energy, sociability, enthusiasm, charisma, positivity and joy to which we are subject. These cannot be allowed to pass us by un-noted and un-honoured.
The Cultivation of Joy - 6 Ideas
There are six methods which I have found to be conducive to the cultivation of joy in my life. They are:
1. Journaling - This works in a variety of ways, but by writing down my joys and my concerns I can become conscious of the things I am complaining about and not doing anything to change, and the the wonderful things in my life I forget to notice. A journal makes us incredibly self-aware. By writing down the things we are dealing with in life we come to a realisation that so many of our problems, and most of the solutions, are based in our own behaviours. Keeping in contact with myself by journaling over many years has helped me realise that I can meet most of the situations that challenge me life with strength, style and love.
2. Meditation - I know everyone says it, but a systematic method of silence and reflection has the most profound impact on lives. And this is scientifically supported.There is a balance in nature - all of the Eastern religions tell us this. But unless we can get quiet enough to find that point of balance within ourselves we can become hoplessly lost in all of the emotion, sensation and drama that this world throws up at us.
3. Blessing - I came to blessing late in my life. But when I began to consciously bless people and things in my life I tapped into an enormous warmth of love and kindness that I hadn't really realised existed. It comes from a very deep place indeed, and the more I bless others, the more I want to do it. When I bless others I recognise their achievements, and it makes me aware of my own. I have never had a blessing refused.
4. Listening - This one doesn't come naturally - it's the perfect example of a quality I have to work on quite self-consciously. I am naturally loquacious, and have always been inclined to talk too much. But when I can bite my tongue and genuinely listen to others I find I grow in wisdom, and also become a source of joy in other people's lives.
5. Leading - Stop waiting for other people to fix/start/provide things. Do it yourself. This is, paradoxically, the fastest path to humility that I know. Through leading I have found myself much less critical and judgemental towards others because I am much more in touch with how they might be feeling and what they might be going through. Life is a lot more complex and difficult than lounge lizards imagine it to be. We are all capable of much greater things than we can even dare to imagine. Sometimes the call to lead awakens us to that greatness - but it also takes us out of comfort and complacency.
6. Being Adventurous - Comfort leads to laziness leads to staleness and inertia. By not being brave and stretching our boundaries, by not risking failure, disappointment and even censure, we actually make ourselves sadder. Life is lived with a much greater thrill when we seek to experience new things, meet new people and say "yes" to all of the incredible possibilities contained in this universe.