I have been noticing that my normally ebullient self has been less so lately. This is, of course, natural when one or both beloved parents are ailing and approaching that gateway to the next world. However I am kind of amazed at how buffeted my emotions have been by circumstances. I prefer to think of myself as “stronger” and more grounded than that. Well, apparently I’m not!
This morning as I awoke feeling down I thought, ‘Oh man. Is this what it feels like for my friends who suffer from depression?’ Yikes! Not fun!!! I much prefer to wake up in my mountain home, gaze out the window at those massive guardians that stretch toward the ever-changing sky, walk outside to breathe the fresh mountain air, and feel utter joy. But right now, that is not my path. Right now I am choosing to be an emotional support, a problem-solver, and a witness to the transitions of both my parents, and this is not always a fun path.
Today I have found myself several times thinking of that Bible verse: “Be thankful in all circumstances.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) I can actually do the thankful part. I am thankful that I have such dear parents. I am thankful that we’ve been able to care for them at home as long as we have. I am thankful there is a big team of staff people now caring for Dad – providing many of us, including Mom, a bit of much-needed relief. I am thankful that Dad qualifies for hospice and that we have an additional team of superb nurses, aides, and social workers at our disposal. I am thankful that I have had such a wonderful father in my life. I am thankful that there has been some improvement in his level of discomfort. And I’m thankful that I’m at peace about what happens after death.
But what about that “joy” thing? Is there any way I can conjure up some authentic joy in the midst of sometimes trying and sad circumstances? What about that verse that comes slightly before the “Be thankful” part? “Rejoice always.” (I Thessalonians 5:16) That’s the trick, isn’t it? I don’t want to simply paste a ridiculous smile on my face when it’s inappropriate or inauthentic, but if there is a way for me to be in a more consistent state of joy and peace, I would like to be able to do that.
I understand there are spiritual adepts such as the Dalai Lama and Thich Nat Hahn who exhibit a rather omnipresent state of joy. This is something I would like to cultivate. How can I be a peaceful and joyous person in spite of external circumstances? I’ve decided to consult the Dalai Lama and see what he advises. Here are a few of his pearls of wisdom:
- “When you think everything is someone else’s fault, you will suffer a lot. When you realize that everything springs only from yourself, you will learn both peace and joy.”
- “Human happiness and human satisfaction must ultimately come from within oneself.”
- “How can we eliminate the deepest source of all unsatisfactory experience? Only by cultivating certain qualities within our mindstream. Unless we possess high spiritual qualifications, there is no doubt that the events life throws upon us will give rise to frustration, emotional turmoil, and other distorted states of consciousness. These imperfect states of mind in turn give rise to imperfect activities, and the seeds of suffering are ever planted in a steady flow. On the other hand, when the mind can dwell in the wisdom that knows the ultimate mode of being, one is able to destroy the deepest root of distortion, negative karma and sorrow.” (The above 3 quotations are from http://www.myrkothum.com/10-most-inspirational-dalai-lama-quotes/)
- “From the very core of our being, we simply desire contentment. Therefore, it is important to discover what will bring about the greatest degree of happiness.”
- “Joy and happiness, by definition, are the results or fruits of wholesome actions.”
- “When we feel love and kindness toward others, it not only makes others feel loved and cared for, but it helps us also to develop inner happiness and peace.” (The above 3 quotations are from http://www.squidoo.com/dalai-lama-quotes)
- “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
Here are some other pearls from other wise ones:
- “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” (Thich Nhat Hahn)
- “We find the greatest joy, not in getting, but in expressing what we are.” (R.J.Baughan)
- “The pleasantest things in the world are pleasant thoughts, and the great art of life is to have as many of them as possible.” (Montaigne) (The above 4 quotations from http://www.inspirationpeak.com/joy.html)
Okay, here are my thoughts on all of the above. I don’t know that simply practicing compassion, kindness, and love necessarily leads one to a place of joy (no offense intended, Your Holiness, and not to say that I don’t wholeheartedly advocate compassion.) However, I do agree that smiling when possible and cultivating positive and pleasant thoughts can make a difference. I can, for instance, begin to let go of my worry about Dad’s care by affirming, “Dad is in a good place filled with caring people.”
I also agree that no one else can “make me happy.” The opportunity to be happy is always my choice. Therefore I can say, when feeling sad, “I understand this sadness, I don’t judge this sadness, and I choose to not remain here. It is okay for me to choose joy.”
In fact, I remember when I was separated from my husband almost twenty years ago. I would occasionally sink into a morass of sadness, guilt, and shame. A turning point came when, at one point, my husband encouraged me to “let the joy in.” It seemed I simply needed to give myself permission to feel joy.
And here are my final words on this topic today:
It’s a process. One learns through practice. Life is not always filled with warm fuzzy good circumstances. I need to learn joy in all circumstances by experiencing many circumstances and then choosing to allow myself to feel peace and joy in the midst of them.
I’ll work on this. Meanwhile, I send out blessings of peace and joy to you. May we all be so blessed.