The Joy of Being

Carolina Kostner

Carolina Kostner

I empathized with the figure skaters during the Winter Olympics from Sochi.  The men and many of the women had an especially difficult time dealing with the pressure of expectations.   All eyes were upon them but very few could complete their programs without a fall.  Watching them reminded me that at twenty years of age I walked out of my final exams at Law School because I could not handle the pressure any longer.  It took me time to heal from the anxiety and depression that had dragged me so low.  Thankfully, the university awarded me the degree anyway and in time love heals all wounds (even if scars are left as reminders of limitations).

In the Olympic women’s figure skating Carolina Kostner from Italy took the bronze medal.  She skated a relaxed and beautiful program, benefiting from her age and experience in international competition but most of all benefiting from her mother’s words of assurance to skate her program “for the joy of skating”.   What beautiful words and wise advice to any young person trying to do their best in a field of endeavor!  The medal was as good as gold since it represented Italy’s first medal in Olympic singles figure skating.  The winner of the gold medal, Adelina Sotnikova, was not expected to be in the running for a medal.  All the pressure was on her 15 year old team-mate, Yulia Lipnitskaya.  My guess is that the pressure of expectations defeated Yulia and the lack of them benefited Adelina.

“Do it for the joy of skating!”   Do what you do for the joy of it and you will be more relaxed and content.  I discovered this when I started to study for the ministry.  The academic study of Biblical literature, theology, ethics and psychology and the practice of ministry in hospital and parish settings were all challenging, but the pressure was alleviated because my heart was in it and I was writing about things that gave me joy.  The switch to something that gives me joy, which invariably involves being creative, has been my guide down the years, especially when the stress level starts to climb.

For me among the most beautiful words in the Bible are those of Jesus to his friends in John 15:11: “I have said these things so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete”.  Earlier in the same passage Jesus used the image of the vine and the branches to describe his relationship with his disciple friends.  Before the joy of doing comes the joy of being.  Thich Nhat Hanh, the Buddhist monk, often interprets Buddhist teaching in the light of the Gospels.  He teaches about the joy of mindfulness or being in the present moment, saying that mindfulness reminds him of the presence of the Holy Spirit (the one who keeps us united to the vine).   He suggests the following exercise as a way of relaxing and dealing with stress but more importantly of staying in the present moment and touching the joy of being.

Focus on the in and out breaths and say to yourself:
Breathing in, I calm my body.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment,
I know this is a wonderful moment
 (from Living Buddha, Living Christ, 1995, by Thich Nhat Hanh, p.16)

Christian meditation as taught by the Benedictine monks, John Main and Laurence Freeman, also helps us to focus on the present moment, the joy of being before the joy of doing. The use of a mantra in silent meditation is a longstanding practice in not only Eastern religions, but also in Christianity from the time of the desert fathers and mothers in the third century AD.  The mantra helps to quieten the mind, body and spirit, and to focus in the present moment.  For more about the way of Christian meditation please see my page on meditation.

About John Fisk

I am a retired pastor, who served churches in New England for 33 years. I emigrated to the USA from England in 1974 and completed two graduate degrees in theology and pastoral practice at Andover-NewtonTheological School. In retirement I am focused on the teaching of Christian meditation, providing spiritual guidance, leading retreats and occasional preaching. I am particularly interested in contemplation, the mystical path and social justice.
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5 Responses to The Joy of Being

  1. Wendy Oliver says:

    John, this Still Point means a lot to me. You shared a personal moment of dropping out of school, and I did the same several years ago when I realized that I just couldn’t handle being an RN. It was a huge loss but also a great relief, and I know the pain of “failure” which is one of my scars. I think of them as battle scars and still appreciate the things that I was able to contribute to fellow nursing students, patients, and in classes. It was hard to admit that I just couldn’t do it! What came of that is that now I have the time and desire to be a helper, my most recent calling. That is my joy of living. By driving people to appointments, taking communion to sick and shut-ins, listening, starting up church support groups, all these are giving me more joy and fulfillment than any new career could. “Follow your bliss” is an expression that describes what I do now – I’m filled with joy doing these simple tasks, whereas I felt anxiety and inadequacy dealing with very sick patients. I’ll always wonder why I felt called to go to nursing school after I retired from teaching, but the words “Many are called but few are chosen” do come to mind…
    Meditation is a source of pure joy to me, and the reading and studying I do related to it continue to enrich my life.
    As for the sports world, I find myself wanting people not to be disappointed or angry when the team doesn’t prevail. Watching for the win is a risky goal to have, but watching the players strive, grow, and develop as a team makes every game rewarding. Go Celts, no matter what!
    Thank you for sharing the joy of meditation with us!

    • John Fisk says:

      Wendy, I like your expression “follow your bliss” and am glad you are doing that. I agree with your comment about the sports world. Turning sports into a battle between “them and us” is a reflection of a dualistic, divided mind and deprives the participants of the joy of being in the present moment. Thanks for your friendship in the meditation group.

  2. jenlynsanb says:

    Thank you for this, John–a lovely reminder of the power of joy….and I appreciated the mantra this morning!

    Peace–Jennifer

    • John Fisk says:

      Jennifer, It’s always a joy to hear from you and to know you keep up the practice of meditation. I am leading the Conference of Baptist Ministers Retreat at Glastonbury Abbey, Hingham, for the next two days. It is always a treat to join the Benedictine monks.

  3. Pingback: “The Still Point” Annual Review | The Still Point

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