Obviously, it’s easy to be happy when things are going well—when we have “reasons” to be happy. This is known as conditional happiness—happiness due to positive conditions.
But in any given life, mishaps and difficulties happen. We are not immune to problems and adverse circumstances. Being mortal, we all experience sickness, aging, and dying. Even a child goes through the cycle of childhood diseases and the pains of teeth coming in, falling out, and coming in again. So how in the world can we learn to “always maintain a joyful mind?”
As we meditate and relax, we learn that aggression, ignorance, despair and negativity are not inevitable. And as we continue to practice, we discover that we can be peacefully uplifted no matter what occurs. This is what is meant by the slogan to “always maintain a joyful mind.” Whatever befalls us can encourage us to practice more, rather than to become despondent or angry. The more we develop mindfulness-awareness and increase compassion, the more cheerful we become. We enjoy helping others.
In tonglen practice we train in taking on not only our own troubles but breathing in the suffering of others. The more we do this, the more we let go of “me” and ‘mine”. And this letting go continues to help us take ourselves more lightly post-meditation. In other words, practice cheers us up!
As Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche said,
“Resting your mind in basic goodness, and having appreciation of that, brings joy and a sense of celebration.”
I shattered my right wrist several years ago. After the shock and the loss of consciousness during two operations, I woke up to the kindness of the first nurse and then the friendship and love of so many sangha friends who brought yogurt and berries and chicken soup and Dharma books. After the four days in the hospital this love and support continued until I was more or less on my feet, learning to write with my left hand while my right was in a cast. In spite of intense pain that made it difficult to sleep, I felta counterintuitive, unconditional joy running through that experience.
This kind of joy is quietly contagious. A smile to a passerby was usually returned—perhaps because of the incongruity of my big cast and the smile.
But even in ordinary times, helping a five-year old child master the monkey bars is joyous satisfaction, shared. Finding the perfect gift for someone and seeing how happy they are to receive it gives just as much joy to the giver.
When we are sick or in debt or experiencing loss or difficulties, we know from experience that neither complaining nor blaming helps. We know that despair only solidifies the problem. That is why Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche advises us “to practice more when we have difficulties, and to practice more when we have life changes.”
Then, rather than emoting and over-loading others with our latest greatest drama, we face the music, and are better able to deal with our troubles. As Mipham Rinpoche also says, “Some problems can be solved by talking…but some things are solved by not talking. That’s called practice.”
To be a practitioner is to be a “warrior,” in the sense that we become brave. We can become unconditionally brave and unconditionally joyful, discovering a spacious good cheer that runs through both the ups and downs of life.