This post was originally published on the Family Talk Blog March 22, 2017. It was republished with permission, on DaVita Stories.
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 great work in progress
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. Forgiveness enables us to let go of negative connection to the person who caused us harm. Otherwise, we are tied together by anger and bitterness. Forgiveness frees us from these chains.
The Dalai Lama notes that there is no need to be unhappy if we can change something. And if we can’t change it, it’s important to acknowledge that fact. Acceptance is not the same as resignation and defeat. These men are both fierce fighters for freedom and justice. But they also recognize that living a joyful life doesn’t mean that we won’t have hardship. But it does mean that we accept hardship as part of life and face it squarely.
4. Stress is 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 feels that unrealistic expectations and excessive ambition can cause distress when we are disappointed.
5. Maintain 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.