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Paul Simon's Moment of Pure, Sympathetic Joy

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Some people think my author husband cultivates an 'edgy' persona and voice. So this morning, when I saw him tear up watching a YouTube video I worried that he had crashed head-on into a mid-life crisis. But when I saw the video he was watching, of Paul Simon as an accidental Zen master, I stopped worrying.

The video was of a recent concert in Toronto where Paul Simon invited a fan, Rayna Ford, on stage to perform after she called out from the audience that she learned to play guitar on his song "Duncan." My husband was touched by the sheer joy that streamed out of every pore of Rayna's body when she played in her hero's band. Rayna Ford's happiness moved me too but not as much as Paul Simon's. Watching her performance, mouthing the words himself, and quietly leading the band as they accompanied her, Simon embodied a quality known in classical meditation as sympathetic joy. For those six minutes there was no doubt who was in the spotlight, and who Simon wanted to be in the spotlight, and it sure wasn't him.

There are a few qualities that incline the mind toward happiness, and sympathetic joy is one of them. It is the polar opposite of the relentless self-involvement that often seems necessary to get ahead in our competitive workaday worlds. In the short-term, an overly self-involved, restricted mindset can help you get ahead professionally but it's not a quality of mind likely to make you happy in the long run. Genuine happiness comes from a responsive (not reactive) mindset, one where life is not viewed as a zero sum game.

We get a glimpse of that kind of happiness in this video of Paul Simon, who is glowing with the look of vicarious happiness that a parent feels when his or her child is happy, even though his joy is for the good fortune of someone who he hasn't met before and may not meet again.

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