"Accepting and encountering the suffering and pain in our world is not pleasant, but for many people it is easier to do than to encounter and accept the joy that is in the world as well. Yet, unless we stand in joy, we do not have access to the fullness of our transformative and healing powers.
"I mentioned in the last section that the New Age movement is often criticized for what one theologian friend of mine calls the 'Tinkerbell syndrome.' This is the tendency to always see everything in the best possible terms and to concentrate just on light, love, and joy, ignoring the dark side of the world and its pain. I agree with this criticism; yet by the same token, it is equally possible to get caught in an 'Oscar the Grouch' syndrome in which everything is dark, troubled, suffering, evil, and generally going to hell.
"One of the hardest things to be in the world today is an optimistic idealist, someone who is not afraid to proclaim a positive vision. A person who has ideals, is optimistic, positive, and joyous, and celebrates the world is often said to be in denial, refusing to see reality as it is.
"Obviously, both perspectives can go to extremes. Yet, the New Age is by definition a vision of a positive and joyous future, and unless one can experience a sense of joy and positive spirit, it is hard to know how one can have and embody the qualities that can bring such a future into being. We are not going to craft it out of an obsession with darkness and evil or a pessimistic failure of imagination.
"How can one be joyous, though, in the presence of the suffering in the world? Well, for one thing, suffering, pain, dysfunction, and evil are not all that are present in the world, though you wouldn't know it from the fare that is served to us daily by our news and entertainment media. There are positive, creative, uplifting things going on as well.
"Also, there is a misunderstanding about what joy is. Joy is not a response to something in the environment; that is happiness. Joy is not necessarily a feeling of pleasure; it is not the same as feeling good. I have felt profound joy in the midst of depression, sorrow, and illness. I do not have to like the condition I'm in in order to feel joy. In fact, running away from difficult situations that do not immediately bring pleasure or gratification can keep us in a state of disconnection and shallowness that inhibits the experience of joy.
"Joy is an active, creative, unconditional force that flows from the heart of the Beloved; it rejoices not so much at what is happening in the world but in resonance with the love and wholeness that is the fundamental reality of the world. It is a connective force that allows the healing and transforming power of that deeper reality to enter and work its magic in our world of imperfect and incomplete manifestations.
"Consider for a moment if you were ill, who you would like to minister to you as a healer: someone who is pessimistic and sorrowful, constantly reminding you of how much you are suffering and holding out little hope for your recovery or someone who is joyous, positive, encouraging, and filled with a vision for your future?/p>
"A person can accurately diagnose a problem and still be joyous.
"Joyousness is, as I said, a connecting force linking our hearts and minds with the presence of the sacred. Joy is what the sacred is. How can we step into the presence of the Beloved if we cannot understand or accept the qualities which manifest that presence?
"I do not look for joy in the events or things of my life; I look for joy in the connection with my soul and in my connection with the world. Joy is not necessarily the absence of suffering; it is the presence of God.
"For the experience of joy transcends the self and is also an experience of participation in the well-being and lives of others. Paradoxically, joy makes it possible to face the suffering of the world and not be seduced into a dark imagination that says such pain is too big, too daunting, too overwhelming to ever be healed or transformed; but at the same time, accepting the presence of suffering and taking it into my heart in compassionate and empathetic ways — striving to feel in my own being the suffering of others — opens me to joy because it opens me to the reality of connectedness. This is not joy because others are suffering and certainly not using images of suffering as a meditative tool to make me feel joyous (because what I will undoubtedly feel if I use suffering as a tool is not joy but happiness that I am not suffering, which is a disconnecting attitude). It is the joy that is the natural presence of the Beloved that arises because I am not separating myself from others or from the world.
"If you have a hard time finding joy, you can look for a spiritual discipline that will help (and here the emphasis should be on discipline: the consistent practice of a craft, for true joy comes from depth and commitment — which is temporal depth — rather than from sampling things in a surface way, seeing what makes you feel good or brings you pleasure). However, you can also seek out and associate with people who are themselves joyous. You can expose yourself to conditions and artifacts, like great art or music, that arises from joy. For what is created in a spirit of joy conveys that spirit to others. And if all else fails, I have found that humor and laughter is the portal into joy, when that humor is not based on the misfortune or humiliation of others. Watch a funny movie, read a funny book, be humorous about yourself. After all, it's a start! Besides, God laughs, why shouldn't you?"