Why does feeling the sun on our face, or even seeing it out the window, create a sense of happiness?
Most of us love it when, after days of rain or cold weather, the sun is visible, and the sky is clear. Especially in the spring, and the blue color just goes on forever, the day is not just physically but emotionally brighter.
Of course, if there’s been a drought or we’re allergic to the sun or worried about skin cancer, that spoils the fun. But a sunny day? We use that as an expression of being happy; or a sunny disposition as being positive, uplifting. Or we see the sun and feel that, as we look up, for now at least, we can enjoy a moment. We can allow ourselves a respite before the clouds move in.
And sometimes, we can find a sun living in ourselves. Or we might find a sense of quiet presence or get absorbed in something we love. Maybe it’s writing a story or meditating. Or we’re practicing a martial arts kata, dancing, listening to music, or walking next to a waterfall, and we’re gone. There’s nothing left of us but the creating, the kata, the dance, the music, the waterfall. It’s so amazing that we can feel most ourselves when, as the 13th century Japanese Zen teacher Dogen Zenji put it, we forget ourselves in action.
Contemporary Zen teacher, environmental activist, and author David Loy put it very clearly for me in a recent talk. When we do something not as a means to something else, or to get somewhere else; when we do an activity for it-self, not for what prize we may get from doing it, we can be transformed. We cease to be self-conscious and become more deeply conscious. We become sun conscious, activity conscious; we become more aware, more mindful of how one action, emotion, sensation, or thought flows into the next and forms our quality-of-life experience, so we can adjust, deepen that experience. In his talk, David Loy illustrated his point with the explanation of Karma yoga, the yoga of action, from the Hindu spiritual classic, the Bhagavad Gita. When we do something without being attached to the results, but aware of the rightness of what we do, we are more likely to be transformed positively by the action.
When we work for social justice, for example, we do the best we can, being as strategic as we can. We want to create better conditions in the world and make a difference; but our personal achievement is the action itself that we take. No matter what we do, we are most likely to have good results if we focus on doing the best we can, now, and not on worrying about the future or how far away it is.
One passage in the Gita says:
“You have a right to your actions.
But never to your actions’ fruits.
Act for the action’s sake.”
I remember, when I was teaching secondary school and students read this passage in the Gita, they at first disagreed with it, or disliked to it. They asked, “Why not be concerned with the fruits of our actions? When we do something well, don’t we deserve praise? Don’t we want to foster a concern with the fruits, or at least the ethical consequences of our actions on the world?” …
*To read the whole article, please go to The Good Men Project.