Joy and Unique Self (Full Preview of Chapter 16, Your Unique Self by Dr. Marc Gafni)

(Free Preview!) Chapter 16: JOY AND UNIQUE SELF

from Your Unique Self: The Radical Path to Personal Fulfillment

by Dr. Marc Gafni

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HERE IS THE SIMPLE TRUTH ABOUT JOY: You won’t find it in the ways you have learned to search for it all your life. When you pursue joy, it runs away from you.

A student came to his master and said, “Teacher, you taught me that if I run from honor, then honor will pursue me. Well, I have been running from honor for many years now, and honor is still not pursuing me.”

“The problem,” replied the master, nodding sagaciously, “is clearly apparent. When you run from honor, you are always looking over your shoulder to see if honor is pursuing you—so honor is confused, not quite sure which way you are going.”

Joy, like honor and serenity and so much else we ache and sweat for, is only available to us when we actively seek something else instead.

The Babylonian Talmud discusses several wisdom texts that seem to hold contradictory views on joy. One set of passages denies the possibility of achieving true joy, while the second set is far more encouraging.

A resolution is achieved by explaining that the two texts are in fact talking about two different sorts of joy. The first is joy as a detached value—a towering ideal, a castle that rests on an ever-retreating horizon. The second is happiness as a by-product—the ever-present companion that walks with life’s meaningful goals. The Talmudic conclusion in a nutshell: Joy as a detached value is not achievable; joy pursued as an ideal, for its own sake, will never be attained. Happiness can only be realized as the by-product of the pursuit of some other goal.

What is the primary goal that you must pursue in order to achieve joy as a by-product?  Joy is the by-product of your Unique Self-realization. In the normal course of living, you are happy when you are living your Unique Self and unhappy when you are not.

The joy that is a by-product of Unique Self living is called by the myth masters “the joy of mitzvah.” Although the word mitzvah is usually translated from the Hebrew as “commandment,” the kabbalists, ever sensitive to the nuances of Hebrew language, understand mitzvah to derive from a root word meaning “intimacy.” For us Unique Self seekers, that is a very valuable translation of the word, connecting joy with intimacy. Intimacy is both personal and interpersonal. Intimacy happens when you realize your Unique Self and intertwine it with that of another.

The imperative of biblical consciousness is not “be joyful.” Rather, it is “choose life”—which in the biblical myth means choose your life. Live your Unique Self in the world.

“Joyous is the believer,” proclaim the biblical-myth masters. The kabbalists would interpret this declaration to mean, “Joyous is one who believes that they have a unique destiny,” a Unique Self. To believe is not to believe that “it” is true, but that “I” am true. When you live your Unique Self, you experience your truth of your existence and are thus freed from the need to affirm it by believing in an external set of dogmas. “He who is prosperous,” teaches the Babylonian wisdom master Ben Zoma, “is he who is joyous in his unique part.” Usually we understand Ben Zoma to mean, “Happiness is to appreciate what you have—unhappiness is to appreciate what you don’t have.” That is generally sound advice. However, while appreciation is an absolute prerequisite for happiness, it is insufficient by itself to make a person happy.

We can learn from that sort of appreciation, and as we will see, we can move past it into a more sustaining “mere joy.” However, appreciation is a very good place to start.

Your Unique Self fits you more perfectly than any tailored suit of clothes. To get up in the morning knowing that you are already clothed in your own uniqueness, that you are doing something in the world totally distinctive to you and you alone, which no one else in the world can do quite like you do—that is mere joy.

The Joy of Depth

If you’re essentially on the wrong track, wearing someone else’s shoes, leaving someone else’s marks, living someone else’s print—then there is a level of depth you can never achieve. And what you do achieve will give you far less satisfaction than if you walk a mile, or a lifetime of miles, in your own shoes.

When a person feels their own depth, they are granted a dimension of inner peace, which is the essential prerequisite to authentic joy, and they bring that depth to the surface. We’ve all heard people say, “Her face was radiant!” or “You’re shining!” When inner joy pervades, it emanates from the light of the face.

Ultimately, however, the face is not about hope or despair. It is the primary expression of singularity. The Talmudic myth masters write, “Just as their faces are different, so is their essence.”

Indeed, if we do not respond to the call of our destiny—to the mispar of our soul’s light—if we do not soar as high as we can soar, then we will endanger our fundamental joy.

We have uncovered the evolutionary mystical idea that joy cannot be pursued, that it is only achievable as a by-product of the pursuit of important goals—goals other than happiness itself. What are those goals? Some very good thinkers have suggested that those goals would be something general and admirable, like goodness, depth, values, and meaning. Will following those abstract goals make us happy?

Let’s take one of those four goals—values—and see how it plays out. For all of us, there is a gap between the values we profess and the values we practice. By actively pursuing our values, we narrow the yawning gap between our professed and our practiced values, between us and our happiness. Thus, the more we pursue our values, the happier we can be—or so it seems.

For you can be good, be deep, possess impeccable values, live a meaningful life, and still be miserable. For there is still one essential element you are lacking. That is a profound connection with your Unique Self.

You can buy the best clothes in the world made from the finest fabrics by the most elegant of tailors. If the clothes don’t quite fit—and even if you are the only one who notices—they will not give you that joyous feeling that comes from putting on great clothes that fall perfectly on your body. So, too, regarding what the Kabbalah calls the “garments of the soul.” These are garments made of your unique goodness, meaning, depth, and values. Garments of that nature are transformative and joy inducing. Happy is the person who wears them.

From Daimon Comes Eudaimonia3D-YourUniqueSelf-Cover

The novelist Honoré de Balzac wrote, “Vocations that we wanted to pursue, but didn’t, bleed, like colors, on the whole of our existence.” If we do not pursue our particular call, then the ghost of that call will pursue us, like a haunting that stains our days.

For when you respond to cues that are not yours, when you’re a police officer instead of a painter, ultimately you can’t be happy. Happiness comes from being yourself in the most profound way possible. The ancient Greeks referred to happiness as eudaimonia. “Daimon” is the word for calling. You are happy only when you are responding to your daimon. Your daimon calls you to realize your Unique Self. Your happiness lies in your hands, if you would but take it.

To be happy, then, is to be responsive to the call of your deepest self. To be happy is to wake up in the morning and feel that you have a mission in the world that no one else can perform. To be happy is to know that among the billions of people on this planet, you are irreplaceable. This is true for every human being on the face of the globe, for what we share in common is our uniqueness.

The Western notion of the sacredness of every human life bursts from the bedrock of the Hebrew myth realization that brings forth the idea of the Unique Self. The prospect of happiness exists for us only because the call of Unique Self animates the Uni-verse.

A Paradigm Shift in Understanding Joy

Joy, teach the kabbalists, is both a source and a conduit of energy. The word most often associated in Kabbalah with joy is chiyut, roughly translated as “life energy,” somewhat like the Chinese notion of chi. To be happy is to be plugged into the chiyut of the Uni-verse. The portal to that energy is the self, the vital Unique Self. At the same time, once you are plugged in, the joy itself is not only an energy source but also serves as a medium to channel ever-more divine energy.

Joy is more than an attitude; it is a potent and powerful source of energy. The idea of joy as divine energy is expressed by the kabbalists in many different codes. Let me share one of them with you. A favorite epigram of the kabbalists is simcha poretz geder: “Joy breaks through all fences.” One kabbalist, the master Simcha Bunim (whose first name actually means “happiness”), used this epigram to give a novel explanation of a famous mystical passage, “All the gates are locked, the gates of tears are never locked.” Traditionally, this verse has been taken to extol the power of a broken heart to break through all barriers when all other avenues have proven ineffective. When nothing else works, tears can still open all the gates.

In a subtle twist, Simcha Bunim turns the passage on its head: If you are sad, he says, then you can enter only if the gate is unlocked, already wide open. Thus, God has no choice but to leave the gates of tears unlocked. If you are joyous, however, then you can get through even the gates that are locked. After all, simcha poretz geder, “Joy breaks through all fences.”

Choosing Joy

The kabbalists instruct us that happiness is a decision. In the original mysti- cal language, this idea is expressed in the maxim, “The source of joy is binah [right understanding].” The simple interpretation of that sentence tells us that happiness is accessed through contemplation. One reflects on life and death, sickness, and illness; what is permanent and real; and what is fleeting and illusory. An entire biblical-myth book—Ecclesiastes, or in Hebrew, Kohelet—is devoted to this meditation. “Illusion of Illusion, All is Illusion,” says the king named Kohelet, as he begins his Buddha-like quest for meaning.* In the end, he reaches understanding/enlightenment as he finds the inner lining of reality to be made of joy.

The deeper interpretation, however, points to the nature of joy as a decision. “The source of joy is right understanding.” If joy is a product of understanding, then it is no longer an option or an event or a feeling we await. Joy is a decision. It is a conscious choice. But it is even more than that.

Joy is an obligation.

Selected Footnote:

*The original Hebrew word is hevel, usually translated as “vanity,” as in “vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” However, the literal Hebrew word hevel means something closer to “insubstantial.” It is in this sense that the mist created by our breath on a cold day is called hevel. It is with this same sense of the word that I have re-translated Solomon’s famous verse as “illusion of” instead of the more standard, illusionary “vanity of vanities.”

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