The Book of Joy

This book, The Book of Joy, by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams — It’s just what we all need right now. It’s been so hard to find joy over the past 9 months and this book exudes joy.

I purchased this book for my trip to the Catskills, but decided to start reading it last night. I’m only on page 43 — but it has already brightened my mood considerably each time I’ve picked it up. And if you read my post from yesterday, you know I really needed a pick me up.

As someone who bristled at the talk of spirituality in the rooms, someone who confused spirituality with the organized religion of his childhood and adamantly fought against it in my early recovery, I feel that I’m finally starting to understand the distinction even if I can’t fully explain it. What I do know is that spiritual practices enrich life rather than degrade it.

This book is about a week long visit between two of the most compassionate and loving men to walk the earth in our time. It tells the story of their week together from a very intimate perspective. The deep empathy and understanding the two show each other brings about a joyful feeling in my heart.

Compassion. Empathy. Joy. These are some of my spiritual practices and they are independent of any religious dogma.

Joy; Unbridled — Thoughts on My Higher Purpose During the Coronavirus Pandemic

As the pandemic reaches the seventh month here in the United States, and our death toll continues to climb — in part due to mismanagement and disinformation on the part of the highest levels of our federal government — we are assaulted by science denial and lies on a daily basis. We watch as the President intentionally sows distrust of the electoral process, spreads baseless conspiracy theories, and has calls for his cult like followers to actively participate in voter intimidation at the polls, as it becomes more and more likely that he will lose the election.

We are, rightfully, wary of our fellow humans — no one knows who is infected or who has been exposed. Most of us wear masks, but some refuse to do so — I don’t believe in hell, but if I did, I’d be sure that there is a special place in hell for these people. For those of us who are practicing sanity, we have forgotten what life without masks looks and feels like. We don’t see other people smile.

For many of us, life has taken on a tone of monotony, as if we are living the movie, Groundhog Day, were we are going through the motions and every day feels the same. Blendsday — waking up on Saturday often leads to a moment of confusion about what I have to do for work, only to realize that it is the weekend.

But having the weekend has become small comfort — we can’t really do the things we’d normally do on the weekends like gather with friends and family. Put simply, life doesn’t feel much like the life in the land of the free and the home of the brave lately. It feels dysfunctional because it is dysfunctional. We aren’t living through a time that simple feels dystopian, our time has actually become dystopian in many ways.

This weekend has been different. My son’s scout troop went on it’s first camping trip since COVID started. Things were different on this trip. Each boy slept in his own tent. The adults prepared all the meals. We wore masks all day and gloves during meal prep. We used disposable plates, cups, and flatware. We camped on private land rather than at a campsite — the county parks are still closed to overnight camping and all the state parks are booked.

And yet, it was a change in homeostasis. We were outside. We were together. Doing things. Building fire pits and fires. Boys learning to use tools like axes and saws. Tug of war. Ultimate frisbee.

It was clearly not Blendsday.

Yesterday, in the middle of the day as I was prepping and serving lunch to middle school and teenage boys, I felt something in my chest. A peculiar sensation.

Buzzing. Tingling. Warmth. Excitement.

Moments of joy have been few and far between for so long I almost didn’t recognize it. I mean, I literally felt the feelings in my chest and wondered what was going on. As I made another sandwich, I took inventory of the rest of my body. It was only when I recognized that I was actually smiling under my mask that I could name it.

Joy; Unbridled.

It was a feeling brought on by doing the next right thing. In this case, being a responsible father, serving young men, being a role model for them, and knowing I was making a difference.

One of the other fathers said it best while we were lounging around a fire mid-day yesterday day, “I needed this.” He was referring to being out in the woods, the fresh air, the petrichor of the forest floor after a passing shower, and the physical activities of camping.

And while I needed all of that, it was not just the experience of getting out in the wilderness that brought on joy. My higher purpose in life was being fully actualized in the moment. That’s what life is all about. That’s how we get through the dystopia.

Recover Your Joy

Our world has felt heavy to me for a long time. If I’m honest, it has felt heavy ever since 9/11/2001. That was the day that everything changed. Collectively, we lost our innocence in the United States on that day.

Since then, we’ve been involved in protracted, un-winnable, perhaps unethical, wars in the Middle East. We witnessed our leaders cavalierly abandon our principles, forgoing due process and endorsing torture. We have suffered presidents who have failed to lead the country with honesty and integrity. And we have witnessed a rise in radicalism on both the left and the right, and with this rise, a fracturing of the country along political lines that is more severe than at any time in our history.

And we now face a deadly plague that has expanded around the globe.

These are difficult and challenging times. And it can be hard to find reasons to smile. Hard to find joy and humor in these times. But that’s exactly what we need in times like these.

It’s incumbent upon us all to find humor and joy wherever and whenever possible. We must have faith and hold hope that things will get better, and they will. They always do.

So how does one find hope, humor, and joy, in times like these?

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Go for a walk, a run, or a bike ride and feel the sun and wind on your face. Getting outside is foundational to my recovery. I have always been one to be outside rather than inside, even as a child. There is something to getting some vitamin D and immersing oneself in the natural world. Don’t wear earbuds.
  2. Cook good food and eat it with your family and friends. Cooking is creativity. For me, it is an outlet. Magic happens as onions sizzle and flavors combine in the pot. Sitting down to a good meal with friends and family resonates deep in the human experience. We have been eating communally for millennia.
  3. Escape. Healthy escape in a good book, a podcast, or a movie can be just what one needs to feel momentarily happy. There’s nothing wrong with an escape once in a while, but escape can become problematic when it’s the only coping mechanism that one knows and practices.
  4. Meditate. Yes, meditation really does make things better in life. Get yourself an app, a pair of earbuds and a cushion and practice. I can personally recommend Calm, Insight Timer, and 10% Happier. I have used them all and have found them to be well worth it. I am not paid or otherwise compensated by any of these companies, I just like them and use their products.
  5. Make art and music. Maybe you don’t fancy yourself an artist. Maybe you don’t believe you can play an instrument. Maybe you’re a Picasso or Santana’s cousin. Drop the judgement and just do something to get creative. You may surprise yourself. You may find that you have a talent that you never knew existed. And if you do these things without judgement, you may just have some fun.
  6. Listen to music. If you really don’t think you can make music, spin some tunes that remind you of a good time in your life. My go-to tunes to feel good include The Rolling Stones, the Stone Roses, Van Halen, New Order, Bill Evans, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane. And of course that band from college that played the same set every night in all the bars that I frequented, the Dirges.
  7. Watch a child play. Or better yet, play with a child. I guarantee you will find some joy and laugh if you get down on your hands and knees and play with a little one.

We need to have some fun and find joy to make this life meaningful and to get through the hard times. These are hard times. Find and make joy whenever and wherever you can. Even if it’s just a small thing, it will make a difference in your day.

How do you find joy in life? Drop me a comment and let me know.