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Finding Joy Amidst Adversity

Published on March 22, 2021 Back to blog
The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu

Last week, while the nation was dealing with yet another horrific act of racial violence, I was in the middle of reading “The Book of Joy” by The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. While just the thought of joy could seem ignorant and counter-intuitive in light of the current state of adversity in this country and around the world, I found the lessons and guidance from these two spiritual leaders extremely comforting as I personally grappled with my own thoughts and emotions around these most recent events.

To put it in perspective, these two wise men have been dealing with great adversity for most of their lives. The Dalai Lama has been living in exile from his homeland of Tibet for more than 50 years, while the Archbishop fought against apartheid for the majority of his life. They have not only witnessed great pain, tragedy and adversity, they have personally experienced it. Hearing these two men speak on the virtues of humanity, the power of compassion and the joy of life was enlightening and up-lifting. While I encourage everyone to read this book, below here are a few of the lessons I found most relevant and inspiring for these times:

  1. We are all part of one community: Humanity. We often define ourselves by race, religion, gender or other factors. However, such descriptors only serve to highlight our differences among one another. Instead, we must start by viewing ourselves as all part of the same community. One tribe ties us all together: humanity.  
  2. We find the greatest joy through compassion. While empathy helps us understand others’ challenges, compassion is the act of doing something about it. As we give of ourselves, we not only give joy to others, but receive joy from doing so – and create even more “space” for joy in our own hearts and lives.
  3. Do not react. Respond. The difference could be as tiny as one second. We tend to to quickly react to words and actions based on preconceived thoughts, notions and assumptions. But, if we just take a moment to reconsider the “why” and try to better understand the root of the words/actions, we can respond in a more rational, positive and productive way. Often times, the “why” stems from a perspective, upbringing, background or other education that was different from our own. Seek to understand and educate.
  4. Humor and humility are key ingredients to joy. I was surprised by the amount of joking and laughing from these two religious and spiritual leaders, as they teased one another and showed humility around others, even with their revered status. These characteristics ground us and provide the perspective necessary to experience joy. It is not a coincidence that both of these words (and the word, “humanity”) are based on the latin root “hum” which literally means “ground.”
  5. Forgiveness frees us from anger. Forgiveness may be the most difficult thing to do, but is also the most freeing. The Dalai Lama and Archbishop not only forgive those who have harmed them, but also pray for their joy. This does not mean that they condone the behavior but, rather, they recognize that it comes from a place of anger and/or ignorance, and believe that it is more important to help their aggressors overcome those obstacles than to let the anger and resentment linger forever (and prevent joy within themselves).

As we think about the violence, suffering and adversity in the world around us, it is difficult to imagine how we can experience joy amidst it all. But the words and lessons from these two leaders has given me hope and guidance. One of the greatest themes of the book acknowledges that joy depends upon adversity. These struggles are what enable us to show compassion, recognize inequities and, ultimately, bring greater peace and joy to our lives. We may never reach Nirvana, but we will continue to get better. Humanity will win.

I hope that you enjoyed this post and it helps you find joy in times that can feel dark. Please share your thoughts and comments with me here. And, as always, feel free to pass this along to others you believe may benefit from it.