The Joy of Direct Experience

I was taking advantage of the long summer days to catch up on some much-needed gardening when I found the book. The Cichlid Aquarium had been in our garage since my husband and I had moved in 13 years ago, weathering all the extremes Michigan could conjure, including two of the worst Midwestern winters on record. Yet, other than a film of dust, the book was unscathed: not a spot of mold, its color pages bright and glossy in the slanting evening sunshine. I’ve never seen cichlids while scuba diving, but the widely varied colors and the beauty of the photography gave me a strong sense of how stunning they are.

I wiped the dust carefully from the cover, edges of the pages, and binding, and finally turned the book over to wipe off the back. There was a photo of the author, Dr. Paul V. Loiselle, and a brief bio of his life and work. Suddenly I felt a cold-hot-trembling melting throughout my core and down to my feet. Tears came to my eyes. I’m not sure what affected me. Perhaps it was the care the author put into this work and the hopes and expectations it would spark in some aquarium aficionado leafing through it in a pet store while deciding which varieties to bring home, or of some budding marine biologist poring through the pages under the solitary glow of an anglepoise lamp. Something about all the love and curiosity and hope and work came together and I felt the most sacred confluence of sadness, joy, tenderness, regret, and … what?  I’m not certain.

In the CD collection The Fearless Heart, Pema Chodron reads the poem “True Heart of Blessing” by Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche. The poem points to how, in its direct experience, the raw energy of an emotion is unfiltered and pure—one emotion is not different from that of any other. Here is an excerpt:

Fear is fear of fear
Raw fear is in the essence of joy
Raw joy is nothing but raw fear
Inseparability coils in the true heart of openness

In the “normal” world, this is fairly obscure stuff that can be contemplated at best, but understood and lived by few. This is a just a runway our society’s planes don’t land on. But one point might be that in direct experience, we can touch joy, regardless of the circumstances. There’s an essential, core part of each of us that can always be joyful.

That moment in my garage with the cichlids and Dr. Loiselle gave me a tiny understanding of the direct experience of emotion right before our story gets layered on top. There in the fading light, I was blessed to feel the profound, subtle truth of that poem.

Jan Martinez is an Integral Coach in the Detroit area, working with leaders in the automotive industry. Learn more on her website.

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