Dark Night of the Soul · Dharma Diary

What I Learned About Joy on the Sofa

Life is mostly an exercise in escapology and humiliation. You want to be happy. You don’t want to suffer or experience pain, but life rarely cooperates. The harder you run from the inescapable, the faster it pursues you. The monster is always one step ahead, waiting around the next bend in the road. It knows all your tricks and bolt-holes. It knows you better than you know yourself.

You run from the inescapable because you run from what you don’t understand, what you can’t control. You run from the light as well as the darkness. You run from fear. But in the end, there’s no escape from who you are.

I wasted years running from wounds that wouldn’t or couldn’t heal. When I feel stronger, I would think, then I will let go and reach for freedom and truth. When I’m happier, when I’m a better person, when I deserve it, when I’ve let go of my past, forgiven my parents, found the perfect partner and my dream job. When I’ve finally become all the things I believe I’m capable of, when, when, when…

And then one day, I couldn’t run anymore.

Sometimes all you can do is sit. After years battling illness and a disintegrating life, I had no energy left to fight. I had failed so completely that there was nowhere left to go and nothing left to do but surrender. I sat on the sofa and stared at the wall and knew that my life was over. I was finished.

The crunch came during the immune flare up I mentioned last week. Prior to that, I had pulled myself clear of an almighty Shadow Attack and my health had been improving. I was feeling stronger and more positive than I had in years. It would be the perfect time to detox. With auto-immune disorders the immune system is a little too keen to do its job and overreacts to every stimulus. I wanted to strengthen my system so it would become less reactive. But sometimes, when you give it a boost, it overshoots and you get a flare up. This is what happened at the end of last year, sending me to the sofa to sit and ooze and quietly contemplate the void.

The worst of it was that I had done this to myself. In trying to make myself well I had made myself so ill that I couldn’t move. Caught in my own trap.

Life imploded into a moment of utter defeat. I couldn’t think. Every thought looped back around on itself and popped. Every argument led nowhere. I knew exactly what I would think or feel about everything anyway – exactly what I had always thought and felt. The same patterns, the same tricks, the same lies.

I had backed myself into a corner from where I had no option but to stop fighting myself. Resistance costs energy, and I couldn’t afford to resist; I didn’t have the energy.

Everything dropped away. I didn’t try to do anything – my mind wouldn’t cooperate anyway. So I just sat. And then out of the void came…


I didn’t understand at first. How could I feel this happy for no reason? How did I even have the energy to feel this joy? Where was it coming from? Sometimes the joy would be bubbling through my body and I would catch sight of myself in a mirror, only to get a shock because I looked so hideous. The outside of my head was a swollen pustule. The inside was bliss.

Maybe I was delirious or deluding myself. Perhaps the inflammation was making me crazy. Surely this was the definition of unreasonable happiness. Was I mad to feel this good for no reason? How would I know?

Old World Swallowtail

No Escape

I should say that I didn’t feel like this all the time. The joy came and went. I had just as many bad days, if not more. But it only takes one moment to overturn everything. Once you know it’s possible to feel different, there’s no excuse and no reason to run.

So what is this joy and where does it come from?

The joy is what’s left when you let go of everything else. It doesn’t always feel like that – sometimes it’s quieter, peaceful and still; sometimes it’s a kind of nothing, a pause or an open space waiting for the next moment. Resistance falls away and the joy is there.

Joy is one expression of your true nature.

It won’t always be joy. You have no idea what will happen when the story stops and dissolves into surrender. It’s completely unknown and uncontrollable. That doesn’t stop you from trying to control it though. You have to be willing to let go of everything, to lose everything. There are no guarantees. It’s a leap of faith.

“Waking up to your true nature promises to give you nothing.” – Gangaji

The interesting thing is that the mind stops all the time. Moment to moment there are tiny pauses, or cessations, filled with nothing. Normally you don’t notice because you’re not looking for it – you’re too busy thinking and conceptualising and ordering the universe about.

Life doesn’t stop when the mind stops. Life continues, but there’s no story attached to it. Life is. You just stop taking it personally.

That doesn’t mean you lose your individuality and become a bland non-person. That would be pointless and go against the whole process of life churning out unique forms in order to explore its mysterious Self.

You become who you are. A unique expression of the universe in miniature. A microcosm of the macrocosm.

Life will begin to use you, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, to awaken to itself, to know itself through you. When you stop and let go of the story, you learn that the purpose of your life is to live – not on your terms, but on life’s terms. Not my will, but Thy Will be done.

(Difficult for a reformed agnostic to admit 😉 )

Everything in your life is an opportunity to wake up. Anything can be used to look into the source of all things because awareness is always present. But don’t think that once you’ve woken up all your problems will miraculously heal or disappear. The thing that’s bugging you may still be there, but now it’s held within a larger context. Now you know it’s not personal. What changes is your perspective, how you interpret what happens. Your sense of identity shifts and becomes more inclusive; you become larger, universe-sized.

I still have auto-immune problems. I still get inflamed joints and red eyes and dodgy guts. None of that changes the truth of who I really am – underneath the pus. Even when I forget who I am, the truth never leaves. It’s me who moves away from the truth, but I can’t escape it. Nothing that happens can be separated from it because nothing can arise without it – good or bad.

So I’m finally learning to have some compassion for myself. The old demons still try to kick up a fuss, but I don’t really believe them anymore. It’s getting easier to ignore them or give them a hug. They can’t be other than what they are – and neither can I.

How can I feel this happy for no reason? It’s easy. Like falling off a log.

I don’t deserve it. I haven’t earned it. The joy wasn’t given to me. It’s not even grace. It’s just who I am. Why would I ever want to move away from that?

Finally, after 25 years of practice, the dharma is coming to life. You can think about this stuff and read all the books and even believe you’re practising, but it’s only when you come face to face with the absolute necessity of change that the teachings penetrate your thick skull. That’s when the practice begins to make sense. That’s when shit gets real.

Now I know what zazen is. I don’t do it, I’ve never done it – I can’t. It does me. I don’t even come into it. I’ve ‘known’ this for a long time, but now I KNOW it.

And if I am mad? Then I’m happy to be so.

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27 thoughts on “What I Learned About Joy on the Sofa

  1. A wonderful moment of clarity and joy for you Jessica! Love your quotes and your honesty. This is exactly how life unfolds. “Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process, is the bravest thing that we’ll ever do.” Brene Brown

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Without knowing for certain what is the right path, it’s hard to even say there’s anything to run toward or from. I think, because we are so slow to grasp “the universal,” we may waste not only time and energy running from but also running toward things that may not even matter in the end. [Linkin Park: I tried so hard and got so far. In the end, it doesn’t even matter. I had to fall to lose it all. In the end, it doesn’t even matter.]

    So, maybe today you feel bad because you chickened out on pursuing something. Yet, if you sat still long enough, you might realize there was no reason to chase in the first place.

    Your joy is nothing more than the release of life (or death), when life comes to terms with and accepts “the whatever.” Or, as they say in Moulin Rouge, “Come what may.” As you said about resistance consuming energy, or storing it, the joy you felt was a release, like going to the bathroom/restroom/WC. And, when you stop to question the feeling, it leaves you feeling–to some degree–insane or giddy.

    Some days, I feel we are so caught up in what is flashed before our eyes, telling us what is cool or right to do. And, if we could clear our minds, we might see everyone as just blades of grass in the lawn of something bigger. And, when that something bigger looks down at us, it just sees some blades looking sickly, ready to die while others thrive. If only the something bigger knew how desperate the sickly blades were to find a cure, start a fundraiser, run a marathon, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, a lot of the so-called symptoms of awakening are really that release of energy that happens when you let go and stop holding reality at bay. It’s no surprise that you feel a little crazy with it – you’re so small and reality is so big. But then this idea that ‘something bigger looks down at us’ isn’t quite right – it doesn’t look down at us. It is us. It looks through our eyes. It knows very well how sickly some of us blades of grass feel and it’s constantly trying to wake us up so we can remember…

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        1. I just meant we’re not separate from the larger being – or you could just call it Being. There’s only really one Mind – billions of different perspectives that are running around thinking that they’re separate minds, but really we’re all part of this one Being – or Big Mind, as it’s called in Zen.

          To remember who we are – i.e. Being. Or Buddha, or whatever you want to call ‘it’.


        2. All that shit happens because people forget who they really are, underneath all the stories they tell themselves inside their tiny little egos. That’s the whole point of waking up because when you remember that you’re not really separate it doesn’t make sense to go about clobbering each other over the head because, in reality, you’re just hurting yourself.

          “By doing this you are like a man who wants to hit another and picks up a burning ember or excrement in his hand and so first burns himself or makes himself stink.” – Buddhaghosa


        3. Well, I’ve tried to understand where terrorists and looters come into Jessica’s post but for the life of me I just don’t get it. Perhaps this is an example of Shaw’s Axiom – America and Britain are two nations divided by a common language.

          I’m aware there are meanings of ‘looter’ unique to the US. For example there’s its use as a designator of skin pigment as with the news coverage of the Hurricane Katrina aftermath. (e.g. “[Black] looters stealing goods from unprotected small businesses.” as opposed to “[White] survivors foraging for supplies from abandoned stores”.)

          Then there’s the rather idiosyncratic use of the term by acolytes of a third rate 1950s sci-fi author. No, I don’t mean Scientologists. I’m talking about the other fiction writing sociopathic cult leader, who called anyone who sought to redistribute resources from the greedy to the needy a ‘looter’. Perhaps to those living in the puerile fantasyland of Atlas Shrugged being ill in a country with a National Health Service makes Jessica a ‘looter’ – though I believe the correct theological term might be ‘moocher’.

          Not a Randroid are you, writingbolt?

          Liked by 1 person

        4. I’ve been thinking about this too 🙂 and struggling to work it out. White blood cells are part of the inflammation response in the body, rushing in to heal and boot out the bad guys – whatever it is causing infection, etc. But in that case, terrorists and looters would be the thing causing the infection, not the white blood cells.

          But if you turn it around it could make sense: the terrorists could be whatever poisonous shit made me ill in the first place, and the looters are all my negative thoughts and shadow stuff making it worse. My poor old immune system is actually working perfectly well – it’s just overwhelmed and going over the top. So my immune system is like the police in the US going about shooting black people for no reason.

          Or something.


        5. Actually my last comment was pretty facetious and I’m gonna take this opportunity to apologise to writingbolt. I don’t really think he’s a follower of Ayn Rand at all. A talkback caller I heard yesterday set off one of my periodic anti-Rand jags and his reference to looters and terrorists was all the excuse I needed to fire a salvo at him. My bad.

          Like I said, I think his metaphor works well sociologically. At a certain level rebellion and civil unrest are the health of societies that prevent them from calcifying into rigid, corrupt hierarchies with no possibility of individual or social growth. But an oversensitive ‘freedom fighter’ response becomes a ‘terrorist’ over-reaction in which all elements of society become targets whether they are part of the problem or not.

          But equating the difference between self/ego and Nirguna Brahman with that between cells and the body or individuals and their society is a very limited metaphor. Unfortunately, because the former is so conceptually slippery (in fact I’d argue it’s beyond conceptualisation), it becomes very easy to substitute the map for the territory and draw completely invalid conclusions from the metaphor. I think that’s what happened in the exchange between you and writingbolt.

          Individuals aren’t parts of the absolute. Nor is the absolute somehow the antidote to dysfunctional individualism.

          A better, yet still inadequate, metaphor is that of Indra’s Net in which all facets both contain and give rise to all others. At least it provides an illustration of how meaningless questions of co-operation or conflict are within such a framework.

          Liked by 1 person

        6. When it comes to non-dualism they ain’t the tools for the job, that’s for sure.

          I’m sure you’ve come across the myth that meditation is about the cessation of thought. Nonsense of course, but I think the internal monologue is often equated with thinking and therefore words with thought. Even Orwell seems to have fallen into that trap. He seemed to think Newspeak would not only prevent the people of Oceania from discussing subversive matters but even from thinking them. Yet the subversion O’Brien stamped out was the love between Winston and Julia. Does anyone really believe love would be impossible without a word for it?

          The best thing about prolonged solitude is that it releases you from the need to constantly formulate things in words. That makes you more sensitive to mental formations that aren’t subvocalised. It’s not necessarily the path to the realisation of non-dualism but at least it removes one narrow-band mediator between experience and conceptualisation. Which is why I shouldn’t listen to talkback radio ;).

          Liked by 1 person

        7. Maybe you’d like to lead a class on philosophy, and Jess and I can attend.

          Terrorists and looters were just two examples of other parts of the “something larger” or “zen whole” that she made me consider. No, she did not write about them. I was simply probing a comment she made, and it lead me to ponder the purpose/nature of those causing global trouble presently.

          Now, I dunno where you’re going with all those other references YOU just made, but…

          What the Froot Loops is a Randroid?


        8. Step into my Chat Cafe, said the writingbolt spider to the cabrogal fly. Had I not looked back at Jess’ post here, I might not have seen your “apology.”

          Are you the host of a radio talk show?

          I notice you have quite the vocabulary and a mind-blowing volume of either knowledge or philosophy which may be worth chewing a while longer. At least, I am willing to probe the curiosity.

          But, to discuss our ideas at length on this post seems excessive. [As I wrote my own novel(s) in response to Jess’ commentary.]

          FYI ‘Would not have known Ayn Rand was associated with “Randroids.” The only thing that comes to mind when I see “Ayn Rand” is the Marvel comic Silver Surfer.


        9. Now I’ve gotta admit my ignorance again.

          Silver Surfer was the only Marvel comic I took to as a kid (being a waxhead myself) but I can’t see a Rand connection there. Marvel’s Steve Ditko was a famously rabid Randroid but I’m pretty sure the Surfer was Jack Kirby’s work.


        10. You know the comic artists who fit your label and claim to like Silver Surfer (waxhead? you shave your head? and are a woman?) but don’t know the name of the guy who became Silver Surfer? Norrin Radd. It’s not Ayn Rand, but it sounded alike to me. 😛


        11. (waxhead? you shave your head? and are a woman?)

          Australians and Americans are also divided by a common language.

          BTW, ‘Cabrogal’ is the name of the group of indigenous Australians from whom I descend. The ‘-gal’ suffix actually means ‘man’ in their Dharug language.

          I’d never connected ‘Norrin Radd’ with ‘Ayn Rand’ before but given that Kirby and Ditko were friends it’s possible it was an in joke between them.


        12. Interesting. Fun facts for all of you who didn’t Google that. 😛

          So, if gal can be a man, maybe that’s why Scots wear kilts. 😛

          I thought maybe cabrogal was a typo of carb-o-gal, a gal who likes her carbs. 😀

          It’s just what I hear in my mind, Ayn Rand, Norrin Radd. Oh for crying out loud, use the Chat Cafe, already!

          Sorry, Jess.


  3. Very well put indeed.

    I don’t deserve it. I haven’t earned it. The joy wasn’t given to me. It’s not even grace. It’s just who I am. Why would I ever want to move away from that?


    Which is why it’s meaningless to talk about the ’cause’. It’s not a reward for virtue, study or practice. It’s not a function of your genes or environment. It’s not solace or compensation for past suffering. It’s not even the culmination of the ‘hero’s journey’. Yet it’s all these things. And it’s also your diseases, vices, weaknesses, errors and faults. It’s all of you and everything that makes you what you are. In other words, it’s the entire past, present and future of the whole universe. To say it’s anything misses the point. It’s everything, everything, everything!

    Liked by 2 people


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