This is the second of my blogs on The Book of Joy by The Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu. The first was essentially a book review (https://www.renofriends.org/the-book-of-joy/#more-5464). This second blog is about my experiences of cultivating joy using the practices in the book over the last six months.
As often happens in life, I’ve been given an interesting opportunity to work with moving from suffering back into joy over the last week while I was contemplating this blog post. I finally got Covid! Of course, it picked an incredibly bad week to visit me. I was facilitating the last Quakerism 101 class on Tuesday night, Wednesday morning was my Embodying the Light class, Thursday was a performance at UNR I wanted to see, and Saturday I was to clerk a memorial for a dear friend and attender at the Meeting House. I had also inadvertently exposed a lot of people to the virus, including the Meeting during Sunday Worship and my 88-year-old mother.
I remember staring at the positive result and immediately crying out, “NO!!! This can’t be happening! Not this week!” Then I was mortified that I may have given it to a lot of other people. Quickly my head began running away with me down a rapidly descending spiral of catastrophic thinking. When Scott got home and I shared it with him, he met it with his usual “darn the luck” calm and reminded me that this too shall pass. I so appreciate his steadiness in moments like this. It helped me to get a grip and start figuring out logistics. A Quaker Friend encouraged me to read the practice on Acceptance in the book.
I sat down and did the meditation, coming into the present moment and following my breath. Then I brought into my mind my difficulty in accepting my current Covid situation. As instructed, I reminded myself this is the nature of reality, and this is what is happening right now. I breathed into my heart and felt all the disappointment and fear. I cried a little, gave myself a hug, and told myself it would be ok. Then I asked myself what I needed to do to meet the situation in a positive and helpful way. A list began to form in my mind, so I got a piece of paper and wrote what came to me. By the time I finished the practice, I had an action list of decisions to be made and people to call for help. I felt empowered rather than overwhelmed and helpless.
As I worked my way down the list, I was met over and over by helpful and caring responses of friends and family. So many people stepped up to take on the tasks I could not and expressed their concern and good wishes for my speedy recovery. By the time I was done, I had tears again, this time of gratitude and joy. I felt so very loved and comforted. I thought, how lucky I am to have so many caring and wonderful people sharing my life! This feeling stayed with me all week as people brought food, ran needed errands, called, texted and phoned to check on me. Everything I was worried about was taken care of or rescheduled. The memorial was wonderful by all accounts and others had the opportunity to shine their ample Light and skills on the day. Of course, I was sad again that I didn’t get to go, but I’ve found joy in experiencing it through the eyes of those who were there.
This week of not feeling well and being isolated brought to mind so many of the joys of my normal, healthy life: energy, freedom from pain, hugging my honey and being near him, the company of others, clear sinuses, the ability to taste and smell, a clear head, good digestion, strength, freedom to come and go as I please, sharing food, silent Worship, physical activity, dancing, and the list goes on! It was a powerful exercise in appreciating what you normally have when it’s gone. There is so much I take for granted.
As I move back into health, I hope I will remember the valuable lessons I’ve learned from my Covid experience. This has definitely been my most challenging test since reading the book, but I know more will come. In general, I’m finding that I spend more time in joy and appreciation of the present moment, and less time stressing needlessly over long to-do lists or things that are out of my control. Looking back on these last 6 months, I see that I’ve been easier on myself and taken things as they come. I see more clearly what is really important and what is not. I’m more ok with being a messy, imperfect human and I can laugh more easily at my foibles. When I have struggles with suffering, I try to remember to go to the practices and find one that is relevant to the situation and work it. For my struggle with the suffering of others, I’ve found the Tonglen practice helpful—breathing into my heart their pain and suffering and offering out joy, love, Light, peace, courage and strength. I’ve discovered my heart is big enough to hold a lot of suffering with love and compassion.
What a treasure this book has been to me! I’ve resolved to keep it near as I travel down the roads of my life. It’s a valuable map and I’m ever grateful it found its way to me. It turned what I saw as a Covid tragedy into a Covid gift.
Rhonda Ashurst, Blog Contributor, Reno Friends Meeting
The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.