A few months into the pandemic, I read an online editorial responding to requests to write more about the problems facing our world. The reply: “Our focus is not on the world that is ending, but the world that is struggling to be born” went on to suggest how each of us could be a solid presence in these times of instability and fear. “Replenish joy and gratitude in the life you have now.”
Something rang true: cultivating joy and gratitude as a contribution. Not denial of a serious situation, not refusal to recognize the tragedies and crises of our world, nor dismissal of the prevalent pain, fear and anxiety; rather, the potential for positive influence.
Yet, in these times of despair for the afflictions befalling the earth, the suffering for loss of habitat and lives, uncertainties for the future, and sense of helplessness in the face of such suffering, how does one find joy? Is it even a suitable response?
But I remembered how people such as the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu and others less well known faced horrendous suffering and hardship, yet achieved joy and offered encouragement to find it.
The pain and suffering are not irrelevant and need to be addressed and acknowledged. Words from those who faced such challenges and found they could also experience joy can give hope. Thupten Jinpa knew sorrow and hardship as a refugee child and discovered, “Humans cannot avoid physical and social suffering and pain…. The key to joy is to get in touch with your own natural compassion and live by that.” Desmond Tutu observed, “As we discover more joy, we can face suffering in a way that ennobles rather than embitters.” The Dalai Lama emphatically stated, “Joy is in fact our birthright.”
In the midst of sorrow and pain, how is joy found? Yoga teaches that the path to joy is within and accessible. Swami Radha taught how in conscious relaxation, one can “go to the fountain of joy…. yours for the asking.” The well-spring of joy within can fortify our determination to meet the difficulties facing our world.
Choosing to be replenished with joy, we can indeed be a solid presence in these troubled times, sharing a contagion of joy that awakens our stamina and strength to meet the challenge. For as Teilhard de Chardin said, “Joy is the most infallible proof of the presence of God.”
(first published in the Nelson Star, Nov 3, 2022)