I recently read an inspirational book about joy by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. It was based on a week-long visit between these two religious figures. Their dialogue stimulated my own thinking about this topic. Here are some of the highlights of the book—well worth considering in our everyday lives.
1. “You are a masterpiece in the making"
According to the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu developing the capacity for compassion, generosity, and loving kindness are the basic ingredients for a joyful life. It’s not the pursuit of happiness that brings wellbeing and joy! But rather, it’s a byproduct of developing empathy and warmth for others. Developing these qualities is a process that continues through adulthood. These attributes can be kindled by meditation and prayer, spiritual study, and participating in a spiritual community, like church. More often, these attributes are forged in the heat of struggle and suffering.
I have been practicing meditation for over thirty years and over the years (not weeks!) I have noticed subtle changes in my perception and awareness of myself and the world around me. Developing spiritual and emotional maturity takes time and is a slow process. It requires taking time for reflection, contemplation, and study.
But growth also comes from life experience, which teaches us important lessons about ourselves and the world around us. Pain and suffering are simply part of life, but these experiences also help us come home to our true selves.
Many of us have experienced pain from the actions or neglect of others. Both Archbishop Tutu and the Dalai Lama feel that letting go of past anger and resentment is an important part of finding joy. “Without forgiveness, we remain tethered to the person who harmed us. We are bound to the chains of bitterness, tied together, trapped. Until we can forgive the person who harmed us, that person will hold the keys to our happiness, that person will be our jailor. When we forgive, we take back control of our own fate and our feelings” notes Tutu, who wrote these words about the pain that South Africans experienced during apartheid.
The Dalai Lama— “Why be unhappy about something if it can be remedied? And what is the use of being unhappy if it can’t be remedied? Acceptance is not the same as resignation and defeat. These men are both fierce fighters for freedom and justice. But they also recognize— “We are meant to live in joy. This does not mean that life will be easy or painless. It means that we turn our faces to the wind and accept that this is the storm we must pass through.”
4. Fear, anxiety, and stress are part of life
It isn’t possible to eradicate these elements from our lives. They are our companions as we walk through the valleys of life. Yet, somehow, we have to learn how not to let these emotions stop us from being the adults we want to be. The Dalai Lama— “Stress and anxiety comes from too much expectation and too much ambition. Then, when we don’t fulfill that expectation or achieve that ambition we feel frustration”.
5. Maintaining perspective
Cultivating a “big mind” helps us perceive events from many points of view. While we are going through a life challenge, we tend to look at our experience through a microscope—small things look huge. But when we look back into the past, we look through a telescope—we only can see things that are big. If we can look through a telescope in the moment, we can discern what is really important in the present.
According to both Tutu and the Dalai Lama, joy is our birthright. It comes from inside of us—cultivating perspective, humility, humor and acceptance—qualities of mind. And by allowing forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, and generosity to spring from our hearts.