Published by Avery
Publication date: October 18th 2016
It’s no secret I’ve been struggling since November to make sense of not only where our country stands, but where it is headed. I’d like to say I’ve been able to insulate myself from the impact of a new president who is horrifying in every sense of the word, but I haven’t. As a result, my reading since November has changed. It may be that I feel so challenged by current circumstances that I no longer want any challenge in my reading or it may be that the majority of my mental energy is going to not thinking about Planned Parenthood and public schools being de-funded and my tax dollars going to pay for a nonsensical wall. Or how I can be more active in combating such hate.
No matter what, I’m looking for any and all ways to stay sane for the next four years and I’m happy to report that I’ve found a book that’s provided some welcome relief. It might seem as if two elderly men, both of whom pray or meditate for several hours a day, would not have much to say that would be relevant to today. But when the men are the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu almost everything they say is relevant and important. The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a World of Change follows their conversations during a 2015 visit they had in India and is filled with the kind of thoughtful wisdom that makes a difference.
There is so much to be absorbed and learned from these men’s thoughts that I can’t summarize them in a simple review. Suffice it to say that, despite coming from widely different cultures, backgrounds and the beliefs, the two are dear friends and speak as such, even when they don’t agree. The Dalai Lama’s approach to joy is grounded in a more cerebral practice—a training and rigor of the mind while the Archbishop’s focus is more humanist. And yet, most importantly of all, both are grounded in the tenets of kindness and compassion. Their discussions about the difficulties of life, from envy to illness, are relatable to any reader.
I say to people that I’m not an optimist, because that, in a sense, is something that depends on feelings more than the actual reality. We feel optimistic, or we feel pessimistic. Now, hope is different in that it is based not on the ephemerality of feelings but on the firm ground of conviction. I believe with a steadfast faith that there can never be a situation that is utterly, totally hopeless. Hope is deeper and very, very close to unshakable. – Desmond Tutu
These powerful thoughts on a range of subjects are enhanced by the input from co-author Douglas Abrams, an author and editor who has worked with Tutu for over a decade. His perspective helps summarize concepts that might feel ephemeral.
Despair can come from deep grief, but it can also be a defense against the risks of bitter disappointment and shattering heartbreak. Resignation and cynicism are easier, more self-soothing postures that do not require the raw vulnerability and tragic risk of hope. To choose hope is to step firmly forward into the howling wind, bare one’s chest to the elements, knowing that, in time, the storm will pass.
If you’re trying to find a way to stay balanced in life without giving into apathy or anger about things you can’t change then The Book of Joy is necessary reading. Every. Day. I keep it on my nightstand and read it in the morning before starting my day. Included in the back are practices from the Dalai Lama and Tutu for “Developing Mental Immunity”. They range from journaling to more spiritual exercises. The voices of two men who have spent their lives fighting hatred and violence with grace and joy act as a mental balm—bringing an equanimity and calm to the rest of the day. Beyond that, the book is a tender and charming reflection of friendship which is always beautiful to see. In all ways, The Book of Joy is a joy.