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Changing the Mind, Changing the World

Like many viewers, I sat transfixed as I watched the Inauguration concert on Sunday and the Inauguration on Tuesday. I was overwhelmed at the outpouring of joy. It reminded me of an experience I had over ten years ago at the end of my first year of teaching at a local middle school that used outdoor trips as part of its curriculum.

At the end of the school year we all headed up to Marin County, California to camp in Olema at the foot of Mt. Tamalpais. We intended to use the campground as a base for different bicycle rides in the area, including the Bolinas Ridge Trail and the Eldridge Grade Trail to the top of Mt. Tam. As we arrived the rain began to fall and continued unabated for three days. We were camped in an adjunct to the main campground in an old cow pasture that now began to stink in the downpour.

Gophers would hide in the rain shadow of the tents and pop up in lumps underneath the tent floors to startle the campers at night. The kids’ tents had been pitched haphazardly, with rainflies touching the tent walls, and guy lines slack. I donned my rain jacket and set about re-rigging tents in the pouring rain. I found myself alive in the elements. I had good gear and I was being of service doing something I love. I was in an alert, active state of joy.

Later that evening at campfire, one of the teachers stood to talk to the students. “I know that it’s tough to be happy in these conditions, but if we try, we can find some joy.” I didn’t try to speak of the joy I’d found; I just kept working, kept trying to teach how to rig a tent in the middle of a storm.

There’s a great difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is dependent on getting something you want or having circumstances be precisely what you want them to be. Joy is a gift of life, a gift that can come in the midst of a storm or in the middle of a difficult task or trial. At this present moment we are feeling joy in the midst of bad times. How do we sustain it past the glow of Inauguration Day? How do we keep the feeling alive as we keep on working, keep on rigging our tents in the middle of the storm?

Yesterday afternoon as I was dovetailing some drawers, I thought of a song I needed to hear. I cranked it up on my iPod. It’s called “Joy Comes Back” performed by Rani Arbo and daisy mayhem: I wanna be ready, for when joy comes back to me…

Yes, indeed. And after the joy returns, what do we do? How do we nurture it so it’s not just a faded memory of remember when? Judgment is death to joy. As I worked to string the lines in the rain, I didn’t judge the rain or the cold. I was only conscious of being alive and being of service to my students and to my peers. I was keenly aware of what needed to be done and did it. I could have judged the students for being such poor campers or my fellow teachers for not teaching them proper camp craft. I simply resolved to teach them myself in the coming year.

The images of joyous Americans were beamed around the world as a lesson in how to change without force or violence. It has to have a profound effect. Now we need to go the next step and sustain the joy as this world watches. This is how we change the world. The task for each of us is to give up judgment and just do what we need to do. If we closely observe the ebb and flow of life around us we can become keenly aware of what needs to done next. Ideologies judge the situation, only to give a pat answer to the complexity of life. They are a crutch for those who don’t want to continually observe, study, and learn. Ideologies not only kill joy, they kill the mind.

As I listened to Rani Arbo sing, I danced as I cut the dovetails. I could feel joy and still be focused on the task at hand, aware of what needed to done and doing it. What will you do to nurture joy, to provide a place for it to live? For me, I will be writing about what brings me joy and passing it on to you. What I focus on is what lives. What I share, what I extend to others – this is what lives. What do you focus on, what do you share, what do you extend?

I wanna be ready, for when joy comes back to me…

It would be a good anthem for our times. We could dance it in the streets.

About John Spivey