The Enjoyment of Enjoyment

This “Daily Gratitude” expands on some things I said yesterday here. I’m calling today’s installment “The Enjoyment of Enjoyment.”

When I was a kid, I can distinctly remember the experience of getting joy from having others play with my toys. I was not a perfect child, and I don’t mean to make myself sound more perfect than I was by telling this story. But I can remember, very vividly, the wonderful feeling of having a friend come over and play with my toys.

It was the late 60s, and so my toys were thinks like GI Joes, and a cool Apollo Space Station. I had a stuffed monkey named “Chester O’Chimp. A few years later, I had lots of Hot Wheels.

Even as a kid I realized that there was something about the act of sharing –something about a sheer enjoyment over watching somebody else’s enjoyment– that was really wonderful. I can only describe it is a tingly feeling all over my body.

I had a flattop haircut in those days, and I can literally remember that incredibly warm tingly feeling, all through the top of my head, just watching the enjoyment, the fun, of watching somebody else get enjoyment from my toys.

This week, I had the same experience walking up Canyon Road in Santa Fe. I stumbled into several art galleries and met several artists and chatted with them for a while. It was such an incredible experience. I could literally feel those endorphins start to rush through my body with each passing gallery. What a mood lifter. Just the enjoyment of the art…soaking it all in…I could FEEL it lifting my spirits.

One gallery I stumbled in was the LaKind Gallery. Inside the door was a woman named Lisa Linch, trying valiantly to tend a fire that wouldn’t seem to light. She seemed like a very gentle soul with a beautiful smile, and as I entered she smiled and left me alone to wander.

But then when she could tell I was really enjoying looking at everything –and it was one of my favorite galleries– she started telling me a little about each artist. Then, as we walked through each room, she slowly uncovered that she was one of the artists, and that it was her gallery. She showed me her stuff too. Here’s the gallery website again.

She was so excited about every piece of art that was on display there, especially a new installation that had just opened. The pic to the right is of one of the new pieces that was actually displayed on the outside front wall of the gallery, out on the street.

It’s from an artist named Sloane Bibb. Here’s more of his stuff.

She was so proud of all of them, and so pleased to see my being pleased by them. I could tell she was enjoying my enjoyment.

And it suddenly hit me that this dynamic happens all the time in all sorts of artistic/human expressions…

…after a sermon, somebody says how much they loved it. Sometimes, they’ll even write a note later in the week.

…you write and play a song for somebody, and they “get it” and you can tell it’s touched them, and you love their love of it.

…you taste something too good to be true, and you just have to share with somebody, watching that blissful “MMMMnnn…that’s GOOD!” come over their face as they savor the food off the fork.

…you read something and have to call up a friend right away and read it to them over the phone.

…you’re walking down the street, and you notice how the Sun’s last light hits the trees to the East…and buildings, and mountains… just before it sets….that bright and brilliant warm light that comes right before dusk. And you make your companions stop and notice it too.

Interestingly, with all this already on my mind, I found this blog on HuffPo today.

In his new book, Richard Restak suggests that our brains are actually *built* for empathy.

‘”In our culture we’re taught to think of ourselves as independent and self-actualizing. In reality, our brain is uniquely constructed for experiencing other people’s thoughts, emotions and actions as if they were our own.
When we watch another person move, our observations of their movement activates in our own brain the same areas that are involved when we make that movement…

If you observe my hand reaching for a cup of tea the motor cortex in your brain will become slightly active in the same areas you would use if you reached for the cup of tea yourself. Further, if you observe my lips as I savor the tea, the area of your brain corresponding to lip movements will fire as well. Of course that doesn’t mean you can taste my tea but it does mean that I am directly affecting your brain as you watch me drinking it. And the process is reciprocal. If you pour yourself a cup of tea, a similar pattern occurs in my brain. In both situations the artificial distinction between you and me breaks down; we form a unit influencing each other’s actions: I alter your brain as a result of your observations of me, and vice versa.”

Isn’t that fascinating?

Of course, this seems to indicate that both positive and negative emotions are “reciprocated” by our brains….if we see or experience pain, we too will likely “feel” it.

But it’s most interesting, it seems to me, in the area of joy and love. It’s quite clearly demonstrable that enjoying the enjoyment of others is scientifically verifiable in the brain.

In fact, Restak notes that the empathy he is describing here approaches the power of the great spiritual teaching of Jesus (and others) to “Do Unto Others as You Would Have Them Do Unto You.”

About this spiritual teaching, I have always believed it functions more like a “law of nature” than a “rule.”

Others *will* do unto you, as you do unto them…
You *will* do unto others, as they do unto you…

So, if we are ready to receive joy and love and wonder, that’s probably what we’ll experience as coming from others. And, if we *give* joy and love, we’ll be able, with increasing clarity, to enjoy the enjoyment of others.

The final, and deeply theological belief I have about this is that, at the macro-level, God is also engaged in this process.

God calls us to love…ourselves…others…and God. (The Great Commandment). And, when we can do it, God enjoys our enjoyment of the world….God loves our love of the world.

The final enjoyment is God’s enjoyment of our enjoyment of the world.

All of this, the enjoyment of enjoyment, is today’s “Daily Gratitude.

(During this year, my goal is to find something new to be thankful for every single day, and to add that thanksgiving as a blog entry, under the title “My Daily Gratitude.” I started this kick back around Thanksgiving, and it’s already resulted in a favorite new song of mine. The goal of this ongoing spiritual exercise is to see if doing such a thing might inspire even more gratitude within me, and to foster general awareness of life on a deeper level.)

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He has been Senior Pastor of Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas since 2001. During his tenure, church membership has grown almost 30 percent, and a completely new church facility (sanctuary and education building) has been constructed. Northaven is a leading progressive Christian congregation in the Southwest. Northaven is an eclectic collection of gay and straight families, artists, musicians, theater folks, academic theologians, lawyers and judges (go figure), socially conscious community activists, people who don't "check their brain at the door," and a wide array of others who either see it as their "last chance" inside the "institutional church," or their first trip back in decades. Eric is an avid blogger and published author.  Eric is also an award-winning singer-songwriter, who performs throughout Texas and the Southwest. He's an engaging live performer whose first CD was released in 2000. His songs have won honorable mention in both the Billboard and Great American song contests; and he's been a finalist in the 5th Street Festival and South Florida Folk Festival songwriter competitions. Eric is also a leader of Connections, a unique band comprised of United Methodist clergy and layfolk from throughout North Texas. Connections performs "cover shows" of artists like Dan Fogelberg, Chicago, Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor and others. Their shows draw crowds of between 300 and 1,000 fans, and they have raised more than $240,000 dollars for worthy charities. Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He's a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named "best judge" by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County. She was re-elected for a third term in 2010. They have the world's best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. (As always, if you like this post, then "like" this on Facebook by clicking the box below, so others can see too...)

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