Specialist in addiction medicine since 1973, author of The Twelve Step Pathway - A Heroic Journey of Recovery



Posted on March 24, 2023, tagged as Heroic Journey, spirituality

Some time last year I made the comment to Judy, my dear wife, that I don’t think I experience joy. She found this disturbing, and bought me The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World. It is by Douglas Abrams, and tells the story of the visit of Archbishop Desmond Tutu to His Holiness, the Dalai Lama on the occasion of the Dalai Lama’s eightieth birthday. Meeting at the home of the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India, they spent five days together talking about joy. I found the interaction of these two great spiritual leaders to be a special pleasure, and I believe I have learned some important lessons, as well as having been reminded of others. For one thing, I discovered that I had a limited understanding of joy. I had thought it was extreme happiness. I now understand happiness to be a mind experience based on how things are going in life. Joy is more of a heart /soul experience which comes from within, and does not depend upon external conditions. They identify eight pillars of joy, four of the mind and four of the heart. The four pillars of the mind are perspective, humor, humility, and acceptance. The four pillars of the heart are forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, and generosity. One achieves a joyful life by cultivating these characteristics through experiencing life and through meditation. Experiencing life is necessary to joy because it is not possible to to forgive, to be grateful, to accept the past, to be humble without having experienced suffering. How can I have compassion for you unless I can relate to your suffering? How can I be grateful if I have not suffered injustice and deprivation?

According to these great men, certain important characteristics are part of human nature. These include an instinct for fairness (justice), a need to be part of a community, and an instinct to be compassionate. Though coming from different religious traditions, they found little to disagree about. What was clear was that they knew how to have fun, and they enjoyed teasing, laughing with and at themselves and each other. They were playful, hardly what I would have expected from men who had experienced the lives of struggle that had been their lot. I picked up on some powerful statements which provide guidance for what to seek in life. For example, there is no benefit to loving my neighbor as myself if I do not love myself. And from the Archbishop, “The path of joy (is) connection, and the path of sorrow (is) separation. When we see others as separate, they become a threat. When we see others as part of us, as connected, as interdependent, then there is no challenge we cannot face—together.” He also said, “As we discover more joy we can face suffering in a way that ennobles rather than embitters. We have hardship without becoming hard. We have heartbreak without being broken.” And from the Dalai Lama: “Too much self-centered thinking is the source of suffering. A compassionate concern for others’ well-being is the source of happiness.” He adds, “The only thing that will bring happiness is compassion and warmheartedness. This really brings inner strength and self-confidence, develops trust, and trust brings friendship. We are social animals, and cooperation is necessary for our survival, but cooperation is entirely based on trust.”

For many years, but especially for the past year or two I have spent much time contemplating spiritual matters. One of the words that I meditate on daily is compassion. Many times during the day I remind myself to be compassionate and kind. It was encouraging to read that compassion tops the list of human virtues to which to aspire. Compassion means to “suffer with.” Having compassion for others is a direct antidote to the constricting trap of self-absorption. As in the Cherokee saying, you can either feed the Good Wolf or the Bad Wolf. Clearly, the pursuit of joy will be successful through the pursuit of loving qualities, those of compassion, forgiveness, and generosity. In this way we can develop the qualities of gratefulness, acceptance, and humility, and as I have begun to experience and finally recognize for myself, joy. May you all find your own joy on your journey through life.