We are living through very difficult times throughout the world today. Our goal during this period is to remain positive about the state of humankind, and energized regarding our ability to make some difference in its future. Nevertheless, trying to keep an appropriate balance in our life, and not succumbing to despair or stagnation about the state of things, requires a focused effort on our part. The following is an excerpt from “The Book Of Joy,” a series of moderated dialogs between His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Perhaps the perspectives of these two highly recognized leaders, who have carried a lifetime of burdens on their shoulders, will give us some guidance in our efforts. Indeed, perhaps even some form of joy in the midst of the suffering we see everywhere?
[Moderator Question:] This question is for people who feel interdependence [among people] profoundly and are so compassionate that it makes them world-sick and heartsick. [A] person wants to know how she can find joy in her life while there are so many who are suffering.
“Yes. Very good,” [Archbishop Tutu] said, looking down and reflecting on the question. “As an old man, I can say: start where you are, and realize that you are not meant on your own to resolve all of these massive problems. Do what you can. It seems so obvious. And you will be surprised, actually, at how it can get to be catching.
There are very many, many people – I mean, my heart leaps with joy at discovering the number of people – who care. How many people walked in New York City for the environment? I mean, it was incredible. Nobody was going to pay them anything. But they were there in droves. There are many, many people who care. And you will be surprised when you begin to say, well, I would like to do something relating to the aged. You will be surprised at the number of people who come forward and want to help. Why are there so many NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations)? I mean, it is people who say, We want to make a better world. We don’t have to be so negative.
Hey, remember you are not alone, and you do not need to finish the work. It takes time, but we are learning, we are growing, we are becoming the people we want to be. It helps no one if you sacrifice your joy because others are suffering. We people who care must be attractive, must be filled with joy, so that others recognize that caring, that helping and being generous are not a burden, they are a joy. Give the world your love, your service, your healing, but you can also give it your joy. This, too, is a great gift.”
[Moderator Observation:] The Archbishop and the Dalai Lama were describing a special kind of generosity: the generosity of the spirit. The quality they both have, perhaps more than any other, is this generosity of the spirit. They are big-hearted, magnanimous, tolerant, broad-minded, patient, forgiving, and kind. Maybe this generosity of spirit is the truest expression of spiritual development, of what the Archbishop had said it takes time to become.
The Archbishop had used a beautiful phrase to describe this way of being in the world: “becoming an oasis of peace, a pool of serenity that ripples out to all of those around us.” …
In generosity, there is a wider perspective, in which we see our connection to all others. There is a humility that recognizes our place in the world and acknowledges that at any other time we could be the one in need, whether that need is material, emotional, or spiritual. There is a sense of humor and an ability to laugh at ourselves so that we do not take ourselves too seriously. There is an acceptance of life, in which we do not force life to be other than what it is. There is a forgiveness of others and a release of what might have otherwise been. There is a gratitude for all that we have been given. Finally, we see others with a deep compassion and a desire to help those who are in need. And from this comes a generosity that is “wise selfish,” a generosity that recognizes helping others as helping ourselves. As the Dalai Lama put it, “In fact, taking care of others, helping others, ultimately is the way to discover your own joy and to have a happy life.”
Sometimes, even if the water may be a bit cloudy, nevertheless the glass really is half full.