"Joy is the reward, really, of seeking to give joy to others. When you show compassion, when you show caring, when you show love to others, do things for others, in a wonderful way you have a deep joy that you can get in no other way." Archbishop Desmond Tutu pg. 293.
The Book of Joy: Lasting happiness in a changing world explores joy from "what is it" to "how do I get/increase it" in the eyes of two of the world's best known moral leaders - His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Their central agreement is that by practicing compassion for others you gain joy as the reward which then drives you to do more compassionate acts for more joy and so on. Talk about a perspective shift: Compassion is a skill that must be routinely practiced to gain joy! If you're like me, you probably view compassion more as a mind set or a disposition that some people are more prone to than others. Hearing compassion presented as a skill that I can practice, and build with tangible rewards, has truly changed the way I look at it.
I grew up playing sports. From the moment I could wrap my tiny fingers around a miniature basketball, my dad had me practicing something. Basketball, volleyball, softball, horseback riding, pole vaulting, golf! You name it, I probably tried it. Every sport and coach had practice drills each person could do at home to improve their skills away from official practices to help set them apart. The summer between my eighth grade and ninth grade basketball seasons, I shot 100 foul shots in our driveway every night because I was determined to make the varsity team. I'm not tall by any measure but I'm fast and I could draw a foul just about every trip through the lane so I needed to excel at the line to stand out in varsity try outs. That time in the driveway paid off because I made the team!
I am no stranger to the concept of practice bringing rewards is my point. But for those sports I had designated skills to practice to reap those rewards. How does one practice compassion to build joy? All of the answers that immediately come to mind are vague at best. Be nice. Be considerate. Pay it forward. These are indeed ways to practice compassion but they depend on other people being present for you to practice with. Relying on the availability of others makes establishing a practice routine difficult. The Dalai Lama and Archbishop agree! The final pages of The Book of Joy detail mindful practices that these two compassionate leaders use to help them routinely practice and build their joy.
These practices are meditative in nature which is to say that they are easier said than done at least in the beginning. I wrote on a book called Mindfulness in Plain English not too long ago and Bhante Gunaratana, another world morality leader, made it abundantly clear that meditation takes perseverance and self-forgiveness. No one "gets it" over night. It takes time to tame the mind to focus at length on abstracts. Its also not a "one size fits all" concept. Sitting cross legged on the floor may not work for you. It no longer works for the Dalai Lama because of his knees so he adjusted and so can you if you are gentle with yourself and don't get frustrated. The Joy Practices in the final pages are ordered in a crawl, walk, run/endure progression so that you can ease in to it.
The practices build up to Compassion Meditation and Joy Meditation which focuses you on the eight pillars of joy presented in the main body of the book. Let's look at the Compassion Mediation as that is the linchpin to this whole joy-building process. This is a longer meditation which is why it is in the run/endure phase of the progression. It isn't for your first day of meditation. It is a goal to strive for as you build your practice routine. This mediation has you conjure four specific people/beings in your mind's eye to focus your thoughts on at various portions of the meditation and then to send your compassion towards after you've focused on them.
First, you'll think of someone you love very much (a relative, friend, or even pet). Next, "think of a time when you experienced great difficulty and suffering - when you were a child, or perhaps even now" pg. 339. Thirdly, think of someone you have neutral feelings for. Someone you neither like nor dislike like, a waiter at your favorite restaurant or a cashier at your grocery store as examples. Finally, you'll "fill your heart with the desire that all be free of suffering, perhaps even someone with whom you have a difficult relationship" pg. 340. Once you have the images of each of these beings in mind, you silently repeat four powerfully compassion-filled phrases:
May you/I be free from suffering.
May you/I be healthy.
May you/I be happy.
May you/I find peach and joy.
Archbishop Tutu says that "this ability to open our mind and our heart to others who are suffering, whether we know them by name or from only the news, helps us to reorient our heart to compassion from the inevitable self-preoccupations of our day" pg. 341. That is the aim of the Compassion Meditation, to open your heart to others and to change your perspective on your day. If you do this in the morning before your day even really begins, imagine the Joy that could fill your day just from beginning with compassionate thoughts. Now add compassionate action