The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World
According to co-author Douglas Abrams', this book "was envisioned as a three-layer birthday cake." First are the teachings of this two eminent co-authors, second is up-to-date science on the topic and third is the stories of the week the Dalai Lama and the Archbishop spent together talking in Dharamsala, India. A final section covers practices that can assist all in incorporating these teachings into our daily lives. The book delivers on all levels.
The layers are intertwined in a narrative of the days of the meetings, interspersed with scientific knowledge from eminent researchers. Followers of the Dalai Lamai will be aware of his interest in, and sponsorship with Buddhists, of knowledge of the tenets of how the brain works.
The Dalai Lama opens the playful, serious and wide-ranging conversation by asking: "What is the purpose of life?." He answers his own question stating, it is to find happiness. The Archbishop agrees "every human being wants to find happiness and avoid suffering." Both concur, that the source of happiness is within us.
The book is broken in two three primary sections, the first of which is the nature of true joy. Woven without is the consideration that suffering is always present. The two explore the differing kinds of pleasure, from the senses and deeper within. Some things are in our control, some are not. The two concentrate on dealing with what is not within our control, while taking control of what we can. The "hedonic treadmill" or pursuit of pleasure is not the way, nor is pursuing self-interest. In fact, both advocate love, concern for others and generosity, and Abrams shares research from neuroscientist Richard Davidson, indicating the ability to be generous is one of four circuits" influencing 'our ability to maintain lasting well-being.'" The authors posit that "the more we heal our own pain, the more we can turn to the pain of others." So it is worthwhile to properly pursue joy, which they say is about "a more emphatic, more empowered, even more spiritual state of mind that is totally engaged with the world."
Obstacles to joy are plentiful, unfortunately. They include fear, stress and anxiety, although the Archbishop and the Dalai Lama disagree a bit about what is realistic to fear or be anxious about, with the Archbishoptaking a bit more of a face your fear viewpoint, with the Dalai Lama saying fear and anger are "destroyers of a calm mind." Sadness and grief are explored, as are the afterlife viewpoints of these two holy men, with the Archbishop seeing a hereafter with the almighty and both looking very matter-of-factly at mortality as a given of life. Despair and loneliness are also obstacles, though they argue that one who is "thinking about others" is never lonely. Envy, another barrier to joy, has its antidote in the Buddhist concept of mudita, described as deliberately taking joy in another's good fortune. Suffering and adversity happen to all, and it is how we deal with them, in seeing them as challenges or opportunities to gain strength that can assist us.
Both holy men act on what Abrahams a consciousness, reflecting on options which show their prayerful and meditative lives. Meditation/prayer? Abrams posits, where does one begin and the other end? As in the other topics explored, the meditation service offered by the Dalai Lama and the Eucharistic service offered by the Archbishop reflect their belief one should remove barriers between people.
What are described as the eight pillars of joy are also explored, to help us gain the end result of joy. Half were connected to the mind: "perspective, humility, humor and acceptance." Half deal with the heart: "forgiveness, gratitude, compassion and generosity." In other words, take the long perspective, see yourself as one, not above, laugh and don't take yourself too seriously, and find acceptance of, rather than reaction to events. Forgive using "tonglen," a practice of taking the others negative - even what they do not recognize - onto yourself and giving them love and forgiveness. Gratitude is a pillar of many traditions, as is compassion, a skill the Dalai Lama says can be practiced and grown. Try being kind as you walk around suggests the Archbishop. The old saying, "it is in giving that we receive" is one they both believe. The Archbishop says: "start where you are…do what you can."
Consult the book for specific "Joy Practices", but they including cultivating the eight pillars of joy, using meditation to develop mental immunity. Start and end your day with inspiration, whether meditation or prayer. Focus on an intention: such as "Today ma I be less judgmental." Use breathing practice. Check out Buddhist or prayer traditions and practice forgiveness daily. The authors invite you to visit bookofjoy.org for more information and video footage.
Book Review provided by Connie Barrington, County Librarian Emeritus