Newsletter #19 Appreciating the Blessings of Life

En-joy-ing The Book of Joy          

How would you like to be a fly on the wall for a week-long intimate discussion devoted to the subject of joy by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu?  The Book of Joy provides just such an opportunity and I hope you will relish every moment of this encounter as much as I did.
          Recognized as two of the most important spiritual leaders of our generation, Douglas Abrams guides these interactions, which includes a great deal of humorous banter and teasing, as they delve into the nature of joy and how we can all discover our personal impediments to the full experience of en-joy-ment.
          Both spiritual leaders have experienced profound personal hardships and they talk in detail about how they have found ways to reframe their difficulties to notice the blessings that can be extracted from those hardships. The Dalai Lama reminds us that “if there’s no way to overcome the tragedy, then there is no use worrying too much. So I practice that.” When forced to flee Tibet in 1959, he realized that “he and the Tibetan people were not alone in their suffering. This recognition that we are all connected—whether Tibetan Buddhists or Hui Muslims—is the birth of empathy and compassion.” He later added, “Too much self-centered thinking is the source of suffering. A compassionate concern for others’ well-being is the source of happiness.” 
          According to psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, “the three factors that seem to have the greatest influence on increasing our happiness are our ability to reframe our situation more positively, our ability to experience gratitude, and our choice to be kind and generous.” Both spiritual leaders repeatedly remind us that generosity is the single most important quality to nurture to enable us to find happiness.
          The discussions next turned to looking into the obstacles that prevent us from experiencing, or fully experiencing, joy. The Dalai Lama began this by bringing up the concept of mental immunity: “learning to avoid the destructive emotions and to develop the positive ones….just as a healthy immune system and healthy constitution protects your body against potentially hazardous viruses and bacteria, mental immunity creates a healthy disposition of the mind so that it will be less susceptible to negative thoughts and feelings.
          The Archbishop expanded on this noting that “we should not berate ourselves for our negative thoughts and emotions, that they are natural and unavoidable.”  However, “they are only made more intense by the guilt and shame when we think we should not have them.” That, we can control to a certain extent if we can “accept ourselves as we are.”
          “When we see how little we really need—love and connection—then all the getting and grasping that we thought was so essential to our well-being takes its rightful place and no longer becomes the focus or obsession of our lives.”
          These obstructions include fear, stress and anxiety which the Dalai Lama reminds us “often come from too much expectation and too much ambition.” Obstructions also include fear and anger. These emotions may be more connected than you might think: “Where there is fear, frustration will come. Frustration brings anger.” Still other obstructions include envy, sadness, grief, and suffering, all of which are brought into awareness through these profound conversations.
          With an understanding of what is potentially standing in our way of experiencing joy, the Archbishop and the Dalai Lama proceed to outline the Eight Pillars of Joy: “the positive qualities that allow us to experience more joy.” Four of these are qualities of the mind: perspective, humility, humor and acceptance. Four are qualities of the heart: forgiveness, gratitude, compassion and generosity.
          They both insist that humility is essential to any possibility of joy. “When we have a wider perspective, we have a natural understanding of our place in the great of all that was, is and will be.” The Archbishop notes that
“Humility is the recognition that your gifts are from God, and this lets you sit relatively loosely to those gifts. Humility allows us to celebrate the gifts of others, but it does not mean you have to deny your own gifts or shrink from using them.
          Re-joicing is a central component of daily Tibetan spiritual practice, and central to it is to “rejoice in your good deeds and those of others.” Expanding on this thought, “When you are grateful, you act out of a sense of enough and not out of a sense of scarcity, and you are willing to share…..a grateful world is a world of joyful people.” One of the core paradoxes of happiness was commented on repeatedly by both spiritual leaders: “We are most joyful when we focus on others, not on ourselves.”
          Douglas Abrams allows us to be a part of these discussions in such a way that I almost felt like I was in the room, listening to these two wonderful beings interact and sharing in their accumulated wisdom. I have just touched the surface of these discussions and hope I have whetted your appetite to savor this entire book, again and again, to remind us all of what is truly important in life. I encourage all my readers to obtain this book and to en-joy it fully.

          Shifting gears, but only a little, I would also like to recommend another little gem of a book, Lessons From Lucy: The Simple Joys of an Old Happy Dog, by Dave Barry. You have all probably enjoyed Dave’s many columns and books over the years. His wonderful sense of humor and astute observations of the foibles of life have entertained us for a long time. This time, with his usual clarity, and at times, laugh-out-loud descriptions, he brings us the wisdom taught him by his favorite dog, Lucy.
          Perhaps you wonder at what a dog and the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu have in common, but as you read this, you might be surprised. To summarize some of these lessons:

     — Make New Friends (And Keep the Ones You Have.)
     — Don’t Stop Having Fun (And if You Have Stopped, Start Having Fun
     — Pay Attention to the People You Love (Not Later. Right Now)
     — Let Go of Your Anger, Unless It’s About Something Really Important
                   Which It Almost Never Is.
     — Try Not to Judge People by their Looks, and Don’t Obsess Over
                   Your Own
     — Don’t Let Your Happiness Depend on Things; They Don’t Make You
                   Truly Happy and You’ll Never Have Enough Anyway.
     — Don’t Lie Unless You Have a Really Good Reason, Which You
                   Probably Don’t.

          I find that laughing my way into spiritual truths is an easy path to take, and Dave Barry has distilled a good deal of wisdom into this little book. I found it a delightful companion to The Book of Joy and would encourage those of you who could use a little more inspiration in your lives (couldn’t we all?) to partake.

Have a wonderful summer!