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Killing Joy

Imagine reaching up and closing your hands around a sunbeam, wringing the radiance from it, splashing dark ink across the stars, silencing the light. Such a thing, such a thing one would never do, right? But we do, regularly, often many times a day. Moments struggling under foot, pinned by our largely unconscious drive to control the living, beating, freshness of our everyday lives.

We are stained by past disappointments, generations of suffering, yet this is our preferred arsenal. We trust it, this past, more than the immediacy of the searing intersection between ourselves and this sea of life we swim in. Moment by moment.

Someone very dear to me says ‘I feel somehow safer with a predictable loss, than I do in the face of this untamed unknown’. How much we trust this history of suffering, how afraid of joy we are.

We try to protect ourselves from sorrow and end up reducing joy to tiny measured teaspoons, or better still, theory that we can own. That’s the one thing about joy, you cannot experience it and not lose your mind. The mind can expound on joy but it cannot experience it.

Then there is this heart thing and we know that joy does not actually reside in this powerful muscular organ nor in the energetic region of the chest. Joy swims secretly in our cells, in the spaces between, in the atomic invisible of the universe itself where there is no difference between ourselves and the matter of stars and universes beyond universes. Or is it we who are the swimmers, molecules in a constant, never-ending stream of joy, like a river?

So we can wake in the morning holding a gun to the head of heedless joy, or nothing quite so violent, perhaps just a grey pall of forgetfulness, and a dogged determination to get through the day, this day, here on this planet, without it getting us first. Let us drive the hearse through this blighted landscape of meted out loss rather than ourselves be swept away.

Joy is like an eruption of laughter, it is like orgasm, it is a moment where the edges of us dissolve and we cease to exist as constructs of our minds, so we cease to exist at all. And we are the joy and hence the most perplexing paradoxes of eastern philosophies, we must cease to exist, we must lose ourselves, in order to find ourselves.

But I speak of joy, of lightness and we are heavy, and contained. These two are not the same thing are they, because what would that be, this thing that contained both despair and joy, capable of experiencing joy in an instrument so familiar with it’s opposite. What a bittersweet thing, such an improbable mingling of the extremes of the full spectrum of experience, an exotic, complex range of flavors. To go from despair to joy and then back again, like an ecstatic tango, whirling across the heavens to the strains of a Spanish guitar, that would be radical, wouldn’t it. Radical and audacious.

But back down to earth, this rooted, granular thing, this gravity laden plod of existence and sifting through it for signs of joy.

There it is, in someone else, someplace else. There is joy separated from us by time and experience. Here is joy, just a memory. Here is joy, quite frankly lost. Ah, and best of all, here is joy a theory and it looks like this. And the windy halls of the frantic internet are wallpapered with pictures of us, me, you imitating joy, always poignant because we cannot feel it, only look like it.

So how is it we kill something we love, how is it we are trained assassins of the very thing we seek, we adore? And is joy in fact dead, or lost, which is as good as dead if no-one can find it? Is the pressed flower of joy all we have to sing to? To wail at with an appalling sense of loss. Out, out we go, out of the Garden of Eden, Paradise, the place where this ecstasy apparently existed. We hear the sound of it, like the distant echo of the first explosion into life. That first ta da!

Is it possible that we do indeed prefer to work for some well defined, predictable substitute that guarantees a tame but recognizable result, that we then spend all our wealth trying to escape from?

Why are we obsessed with the copies of everything? Copies of wealth, happiness, safety, when the cardboard bends and breaks in so many places and simply dissolves in water. It’s such a gaudy, stained thing we erect in place of this something we are that won’t behave, that we can’t compute.

There is even something of a growing cult that perfects a casual cynicism to meet this loss by proclaiming to transcend the need for it. And now everything is a dry fractured monument that we nevertheless bow to, open mouths buried in the dry sand.

We have killed joy or we have believed ourselves capable of it. We are warriors in the forces ranged to keep out everything that displaces us as rulers of the bleak universe. We hold our images closer than our own blood and bones, the mystery of our existence, fending off our essence at every turn. Everywhere we see it, this wild, unruly, unsafe thing called joy, we slap it down, kill it. Over and over again.

But joy wont die. We kill it in the last moment and it appears in the next, essential and unchanged, laughing. And we must be at it, all the time, killing joy like mosquitoes in the Everglades, dancing a ludicrous untango in our attempts to kill our essential nature, to deny our reality, to throw ourselves out of Paradise, again and again.

Well hello joy, how well did I kill you when here you are, unruffled? And here I am, frantic with the itch of your refusal to leave. The truth is we cannot kill joy, we cannot kill our essential selves, our infinite energy.

We are free though, to believe this nightmare, that we are separate from ourselves, cast out of Eden, killers of joy. We are utterly, tragically free to suffer even if it is not real and it is not true.

We are free to believe we kill joy, that we should kill joy, that we are better off with joy good and dead.

We are also free to see and wake up. We are free to see that we are not separate from joy, from all that we love. We are free to see we are not captive.

And we are free to finally let go of this seeming eternity of suffering, to be the joy we are, the joy we have always been.


If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. 

George Eliot



I live in hazard and infinity. The cosmos stretches around me, meadow on meadow of galaxies, reach on reach of dark space, steppes of stars, oceanic darkness and light. There is no amenable god in it, no particular concern or particular mercy. Yet everywhere I see a living balance, a rippling of tension, an enormous yet mysterious simplicity, an endless breathing of light. And I comprehend that being is understanding that I must exist in hazard but that the whole is not in hazard. Seeing and knowing this is being conscious; accepting it is being human.

John Fowles, Aristos


“To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget.”

Arundhati Roy

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