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The Deep Joy that Transcends Anything – Any Suffering, Any Grief, Any Devastation or Oppression, Anything at All

The Deep Joy that Transcends Anything – Any Suffering, Any Grief, Any Devastation or Oppression, Anything at All

How do we find joy in the face of life’s inevitable suffering?

The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World is about so much more than the flavors of joy: pleasure, amusement, contentment, excitement, relief, delight, wonder, rejoicing, bliss, exultation, radiant pride, unhealthy jubilation or schadenfreude), elevation, gratitude, spiritual radiance…

Or the familiar obstacles to joy: fear, stress, anxiety, frustration, anger, sadness, grief, despair, loneliness, envy, suffering, adversity, illness, fear of death…

Or the acknowledged eight pillars of joy: perspective, humility, humor, acceptance, forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, generosity…

Or practices to cultivate joy – many, many, some listed below…

It is about the extraordinary friendship and common ground of wisdom of two iconic spiritual teachers and moral leaders, well-credentialed to speak about joy in our upheavaled, aching world:

His Holiness the Dalai Lama – a Tibetan monk, spiritual and political leader of the Tibetan community in exile in India for more than 50 years, and

Archbishop Desmond Tutu – a South African Anglican priest, a beacon of courage and hope in the long struggle against the violence and oppression of apartheid.

Both champions of international peace and justice, both Nobel Prize Laureates, both the embodiment of compassion and kindness toward all of humanity, both embodying a hard-won yet irrepressible joy and well-being.

The book was created from five days of filming the conversations between these two luminous and masterful teachers in Dharamsala, India on the occasion of the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday. The five days and the book were/are full of honest vulnerability about their experiences as refugees and promoters of truth and reconciliation; their practices to meet those struggles and deepen into an abiding joy anchored in such different spiritual traditions but both deeply committed to learning from stress and adversity to deepen into an abiding joy and unshakeable faith in the goodness of humanity…and uproarious laughter and camaraderie as the two “mischievous brothers” respectfully, lovingly, tease and josh with each other.

I could write three dozen post on the relevance and practicality of the wisdom shared. (Practices for each of the pillars of joy below, to start.)

I read The Book of Joy now (published in 2016 and a New York Times bestseller then) because:

1) I had seen the film of their conversation, Mission: Joy – Finding Happiness in Troubled Times, in the Mill Valley Film Festival last month.

2) A long-time 81-year old client shared with me that he still reads a page from The Book of Joy every night now to help him get a good night’s sleep.

3) My friend Terry was dying of cancer and seemed to embody and transmit the deep unshakeable joy of these two teachers and role models, practicing from deep in his heart and soul to face his mortality with courage, grace, and love, that allowed him to “leap into the mystery” as he phrased it, with acceptance and peace.

Both the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu emphasize that cultivating this deep, abiding joy takes time and practice, years of practice. The intention to commit to such practices is the beginning, the persistence of practice is the middle, the steady state of being in joy and well-being is the fruition, to come to again and again.

Try these practices one by one over many months. And read The Book of Joy for inspiration and en-courage-ment.

PRACTICES TO CULTIVATE JOY

Perspective 

Step back from an experience and from the reactions/interpretations of experience. See events in a bigger picture and the self in a larger narrative.

1. Identify the impact of the event on yourself and the impact of your reactions to the event on yourself.

2. Describe the impact as though happening to a third person (friend, neighbor, co-worker) or describing yourself in the third person (he/she rather than I/me).

3. Imagine the impact a week from now, a year from now, five years from now. The long view can reduce impacts to “bump on a pickle”.

4. See yourself and event from “God’s eye” point of view. 

Sometimes I go about in pity for myself, and all the while a great wind carries me across the sky.

  • Attributed to Ojibwe Native American nation

Humility

Recognize that we are one of seven billion people on the planet, all wishing to be free of suffering and to abide in happiness and contentment. Recognize our inter-connectedness and common humanity. I’m not alone; I’m not the only one.

1. Reflect on (and give thanks to) the many people who have contributed to your being the human being that you are and help give your life meaning and purpose: parents, ancestors, friends, teachers-mentors-role models, students, fellow dharma practitioners. 

2. Allow your heart to open and experience the appreciation and joy that comes from genuine inter-dependence and togetherness.

Humor

Allowing a chuckle, being amused with our frailties and life’s unpredictabilities. (This does build on the foundation of cultivating a larger perspective and dis-identifying so much with the personal self.) A saving grace shared when things are hard.

1. The next time you are delayed or something else does not go your way, see if you can be amused or find the irony in the situation, and then find the ease of accepting reality.

Acceptance

Allowing/accepting our life moment by moment without judgement or the expectation for life to be other than what it is, broken and imperfect, even as we aspire for fuller lives and a more peaceful world.

Sit quietly and comfortably as you begin this meditation of acceptance.

1. Pay attention to the sounds you hear around you; notice how the world is alive with sound.

2. Notice thoughts and feelings as they arise. There may be some discomfort or disappointment. Let these thoughts/feelings gently flow away, like clouds passing through an empty sky.

3. Recall a situation that you are having a hard time accepting (not finding a job, a friend becoming ill, a collective reality like war).

4. Remind yourself that this is the nature of reality. Painful events do happen to us, to those we love, to our world.

5. Acknowledge that you cannot know all the factors that have led to this event. And accept what has already happened.

6. Remind yourself: “In order to make the most positive contribution to this situation, I must accept the reality of its existence.”

7. Reflect on these two teachings:

If something can be done about it, what need is there for dejection?

And if nothing can be done about it, what use is there for being dejected?

  • Shantideva, The Way of the Boddhisattva

God, give us the grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed,

Courage to change the things which should be changed,

And the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.

  • Reinhold Niebuhr, The Serenity Prayer

Forgiveness

Archbishop Desmond Tutu chaired the Truth and Reconciliation [Commission] in South Africa, leading the country through one of the most experimental processes of forgiveness in world history. From his The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World: 

1. Tell your story; face the truth. (Also requires the foundation of perspective and self-distancing to not re-trigger trauma.)

2. Name the hurt (now known as “If you can name it, you can tame it.”)

3. Granting forgiveness – for one’s self, for others. Recognition of common humanity. As Jack Kornfield teaches, “We hurt people, and are hurt by people, because we are people.”

4. Renew or release the relationship. Forgiveness does not require continuing the relationship, but frequently it is only forgiveness that can allow it to continue.

Gratitude

It’s a common technique to write down three things a day you are grateful for every day. To catalyze the joy that comes from connection, write down three moments of connection or kindness from another that you are grateful for each day.

(1. And then share these reflections with a gratitude buddy in person, by phone, by email/text. The sharing with amplify the joy.)

Compassion

The Dalai Lama teaches that ten minutes of compassion a day leads to 24 hours of joy.

1. In prayer or meditation, offer these phrases: May you be free from suffering (and from all causes of suffering, and from causing any suffering). May you be healthy and strong (in body, mind, heart and spirit). May you be happy (abiding in the cause of the deepest happiness). May you find (experience, embody, express) peace and joy…

2. …to someone you love very much, remembering a time when they were having a difficult time. Then to yourself, for a time when you were experiencing difficulty. Then to someone you neither like nor dislike, imagining a time when they might have experienced difficulty. Then to all human beings on the planet who universally wish to be free of suffering and to know a deep inner peace.

3. As you say the phrases to each person in turn, breathe in and as you breathe out, imagine a warm light coming from the center of your heart and bringing them peace and joy.

4. Reflect on and savor the peace and joy you experience from offering this compassion.

Generosity

Thupten Jinpa Langri, primary English translator for the Dalai Lama for 35 years and translator during these interviews, spoke of three forms of generosity: 1) the material generosity of gifts that support and nourish life, 2) freedom from fear in the form of protection, counseling, or solace),and spiritual wisdom, and ethical teachings that help people become more connected and happier.

1. Generosity also comes in the form of time and attention. Pay attention to how much attention you pay to the people around you, to their cares and concerns, to their need to feel connected and belonging. And be generous in your connecting, heart to heart with another human being, if even for just a brief moment. Your attention becomes an oasis of joy in the heart of another.

*    *    *    *   *    

Again, both the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu emphasize that cultivating this deep, abiding joy takes time and practice, years of practice. The intention to commit to such practices is the beginning, the persistence of practice is the middle, the steady state of being in joy and well-being is the fruition, to come to again and again.

Try these practices one by one over many months. And read The Book of Joy for inspiration and en-courage-ment.

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