I’ve been inspired by The Book of Joy with the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu. We don’t need a book club, I’ll just read books and pass on how it inspires me and maybe it will inspire you. I used to joke with a friend who would say she didn’t have time to finish a book: “That’s OK, I’ve highlighted the good parts for you.”
There’s a strange balance up here of vulnerability and strength. How much of your own stories to share to make a point and to be real and at what point do you cross into too much detail? Don’t worry, you won’t get any big deep dark secrets today.
I was the generation of: “There are people starving in Africa.” Eat your food, be grateful, people have it much worse than you. We’ve always done it, in some form. Compare. Contrast. Count your blessings. Deal with it.
Maybe it’s helpful. There are people starving in Africa and in other places and people everywhere do have it worse than I. I’ve found it helpful, going through some of the struggles in my life. Not so much the starving in Africa piece, but knowing (and reminding myself) that people have it worse than me. That my experiences could have been worse. I’ve never really been able to articulate it, but it can be comforting.
Then again, sometimes it’s not helpful. It invalidates our own pain and grief and experiences. It might make us feel like we don’t deserve to feel our very real emotions. Or it makes us feel guilty, because other people have it way worse. For the most part, other people will always have it way worse and other people will have it way better. Or so it seems, we never truly know another person’s story or their capacity to cope with it.
It does sometimes put things in perspective to think not just about our experience, but others. Maybe we can learn from others. Maybe we have something to teach. Life. Struggles. We all have them.
We’ve all heard PTSD. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It’s got an opposite: Post Traumatic Stress Growth. Which is what awful experiences do for us, if we’re able to process and digest them. It’s out of these terrible times that we have an opportunity to dig deeper at what inspire us, to help us look deeper at our beliefs, faith, attitudes, life goals, relationships…everything.
This is not to say that I am in any way invalidating PTSD. That is a very real issue and a very real problem. It’s normal for us to lean toward the negative. We’re actually biologically programmed that way for survival. It’s why the news is so powerful, it plays on this programming. We forget that things make the news because it’s unusual. Bad is not the norm. Sit with people on a day to day basis and they’re not bad or evil. They might be thoughtless, oblivious, distant, or busy. Maybe people are mean sometimes, or gossipy, or unkind. But why? In our individual encounters it’s likely they are suffering and feeling alone or there’s some underlying story we don’t know. Isn’t it said that it’s hard to hate anyone when you really learn their story? And it’s here that we have the potential to do good. Make someone feel less alone, scared, busy, or stressed…
Stress and how we respond. It stinks and it’s not fair. Emotions come in, that’s powerful stuff. There are those who say we should be able to control our emotions. Maybe. Maybe not. Or maybe under normal circumstances, but under deep stress? Maybe not. The important piece is not to beat yourself up and sink into Guilt and Shame for being human and feeling very real human emotions. This is a good piece of advice from Desmond Tutu.
Pain is an opportunity to learn and grow and reassess. It’s not always easy. There’s a law in human anatomy science. Wolff’s Law. The more stress you put on your bones, the stronger the bone becomes. Life too.
Growing through pain is not always easy but it’s always possible, perhaps not in the way we would like to heal or grow. One of my favorite quotes from a Teacher, it’s very simple: there is always hope. And what does God, Grace, Spirit represent if not Hope and Love.
When things don’t go the way we’d like them to, maybe it’s a time to surrender to the divine, God. Maybe it’s time to seek support. Family, friends, neighbors, community. Maybe there’s a need for more help in the form of a teacher or therapist, or a group of people struggling with the same thing. Places where we are supported and are reminded that our healing is important and possible. There is hope and we can do it. Faith.
There is a problem with comparison. Looking at the world with the idea that other people have it worse. It’s invalidating. It can cause a build up of shame and heavy grief. But what if…
What if we look at it differently? What if we’re not contrasting or comparing, but uniting?
The Dalai Lama puts it this way (pg 37): when we think of others suffering, we unite our situation with theirs. We enlarge our identity and send it outward. Yes, I am hurting, but so are others. Look, so are others. In some ways, this is how we are given the power to action. To serve when we are ready from our pain. We begin to see where we might be helpful to others when we look outward.
I’ve always felt that the root of all is fear. We all know Yoda: fear leads to anger leads to hate leads to the dark side. Buddhists would call the dark side: suffering. A teacher recently said, it’s not fear underlying it all, but loneliness.
Reading The Book of Joy, I really felt to this reality. When we enlarge our identity to think of other people suffering in similar (or even very different) ways, we enlarge our identity and unite it with others. We also connect to a way of helping, serving. We unite with people and we unite with…God.
(p46) Desmund Tutu reminds us that for Christians, when we feel deeply or suffer deeply, we unite our pain with the anguish of our Saviour. Christ. When we look away from ourselves to others and to God/Christ, it becomes bearable.
When we turn inward, we’re alone. We’re isolated and in pain and we feel like we’re the only one. It seems no one understands or could possibly understand.
We’re communal creatures, we need support and to support. It’s how bullies (who are also afraid, by the way) get away with bullying. They use this natural leaning toward feeling alone and isolated to keep their victims from telling anyone. If we shared our grief and pain and remembered to connect, we wouldn’t be alone…and we could better help one another. Yes, the bullies too…
We need to care. Care about the wellbeing of others. Make more friends. Genuine friends. Be trustworthy and trust. I’m always saddened when I see posts of people feeling like friends betrayed them or vice versa. Sure, it happens when we’re young and growing and learning, but as adults…what’s going on? I see disconnect and miscommunication that leads to distrust and fear (we’re back to fear). Then it trickles over to friends who are real friends, or could be, but you feel you can’t trust them because you’re focused on those situations where there was misunderstanding and disconnect. Then, your potential genuine friends feel they can’t trust you, because you haven’t really opened up…and so the cycle goes on and we become more alone with 2000 fiends on Facebook. See, these concepts aren’t lofty characters in books ideas, they are real in-our-lives concepts…that’s how we have power to manifest change.
Genuine friends. It truly is a Life Keystone. We are communal creatures. Why do you think we love a good supper? Cooking, gathering, eating, being, together.
Tutu again (pg 62): This God community is fellowship. We flourish in community. We need each other.
How we wake up daily is a re-commitment. To God. To humanity. Maybe it’s to remember to think and say and act with kindness and compassion. Maybe it’s to wake up and thank God for another day and to go our and do God’s work.
As Tutu says “Be a reservoir of joy, an oasis of peace, a pool of serenity that can ripple out to those around you.”
Do Good work. Do God’s work.