A time for JOY
These are unprecedented times. Our lives are being turned upside down. The routines we take for granted no longer apply or are no longer possible. The most human of needs — to touch someone’s hand, squeeze a friend’s shoulder, hug a family member whom you haven’t seen for a time, shake a stranger’s hand — may not be wise right now. Still, we remain hungry for these simple human pleasures.
The other day, I came across a book I haven’t read in a while, The Book of Joy. It is based upon a weeklong conversation between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu that is woven into a revealing narrative. The two men reflect on their personal experiences and outline what they call the eight pillars of joy. In re-reading the book, I was struck by how relevant these pillars are today as we navigate a new way of being in the world.
Here are the eight pillars, what each suggests for where we are today, and my own take on them…
!. Perspective — We have a choice in how we see things right now. We have the ability to reframe our situation more positively, and the way we see the world is how we experience it. In turn, how we see the world changes the way we feel and how we act. As hard as it is, I choose to believe that some good will come from our suffering. Perhaps, we will mature as a nation and as global citizens and realize that we really are one people, that our most essential needs, for health and economic security, are the same. Perhaps, then, we can forge policies that help us meet those needs.
2. Humility — The Coronavirus has brought us up short. In forcing us to change our ways, the virus makes it hard for someone to consider himself or herself above it all; somehow, better than everyone else, or more deserving. Like it or not, we have all been humbled. I like the feeling that humility brings. It is slowing me down. It is leading me to spend more time inside myself, rather than “out there.” I am reminded of how I feel when I look at the Rocky Mountains, or the Grand Tetons: I feel small, knowing that the forces around me are greater than I am. I am okay with that.
3. Humor — The past few weeks have seen an explosion of hysterical jokes, videos, and postings spawned by our predicament: for instance, dogs telling their owners to please go back to work soon, so they can have the house to themselves, again, and all kinds of wry spoofs on the bumpy relationship between President Trump and Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is leading the charge against the virus here in the U.S. I thank God for these jokes and thank whoever comes up with them for doing so. They are helping to keep me sane and grounded, and laughing with family and friends.
4. Acceptance — Acceptance is a close cousin to humility. In the Book of Joy, the Dalai Lama says, “Why be unhappy about something that can be remedied? And what is the use of being unhappy if it cannot be remedied?” At the moment, we have no choice but to accept our situation as it stands, so, it makes no sense to stress over it. Every day, I surrender a bit more to our new reality, letting it sink in and slow me down. I feel better when I accept the situation, but I do believe it can, and will, be remedied.
5. Forgiveness — Many mistakes are being made every day by people we’re looking to, to lead us out of this mess, first and foremost, politicians of all stripes. Mistakes are also being made by ‘regular folk’ who are ignoring the warnings to maintain social distancing, if not for their own sake, then, to protect others. They either don’t care, or are living in denial. However, like the rest of us, they are only human. I’m angry and frustrated with all of these people. But I’m working on forgiving them, for they know not what they do. I’m not there yet, but holding a grudge won’t help anyone, least of all me.
6. Gratitude — In times like these, it may be hard to find things to be thankful for. Or not. Maybe, the best time to express gratitude is when circumstances appear dark and dire, like now. And yet we can count our gifts: We are fortunate to be alive. We are fortunate to be loved. The Dalai Lama points out that, sometimes, we’re given a “difficult gift,” which can be an opportunity to rise to the challenge. With this in mind, I am grateful to be able to witness history in the making. I’m grateful for finding small ways to help others who have less than I do; for instance, taking food to the local homeless shelter. I am grateful for having many blessings I can count.
7. Compassion — Self-preservation is the order of the day. Putting yourself and your family first only makes sense. But there is more. We are social animals. We need each other in order to survive — that is a central definition of community, and this is a time of community, writ large. Practicing patience and showing genuine concern for the welfare of others may help everyone, most of all, you. When I’m upset with somebody, or a group of people, I find that being compassionate toward them helps me exhale. I try to understand “where they’re coming from,” their pain, troubles, and limitations; all the things that make them human, just like me. Sometimes, I succeed, sometimes, I don’t.
8. Generosity — Social distancing is, in itself, an act of generosity. I don’t know that we see it that way, but we should. It is a form of giving, of honoring the lives of others. There’s an expression in the fund-raising business that you should “give ‘til it hurts.” Yet, today, people are taking as much as they can. They run around buying up toilet paper, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes, hoarding them like squirrels hoarding acorns in autumn. They leave little for others. In fact, they don’t even think about “others.” Why not? I went into a supermarket last week for bottled water. There were six one gallon containers left on the almost-empty shelf. I took two and left four. I could have taken them all. (Yes, I could also have taken just one.) As I walked to the car, I felt as though I’d done the right thing and a sudden warmth snuck into my bones. I hope someone will leave a little for me, someday.
Clearly, these eight pillars are all connected, just like we are. And, they stand strongest when they work together, just like we do. I hope these eight pillars bring you closer to the joy you deserve in these difficult times.