Ways to Joy: Letting Go of Self Without Self-Sacrifice

From September 2016 — after dipping into The Book of Joy.

From the few pages I read, it’s clear that letting go of the small self is key to joy.

Of course that means being there for others — but does it mean “service”? The obvious response to this is yes, but for those of us who slip too easily into letting others walk all over us, perhaps not. Instead, here are some other, safer avenues that come to mind.

  • Kindness and generosity
  • Compassion and empathy, particularly for those who drive us nuts
  • Gratitude
  • Awareness practices, e.g. the kind Eckhardt Tolle writes and speaks about.

And here, from the Book of Joy, Day 1, Part 2, “Nothing Beautiful Comes Without Some Suffering.”

“In a paradoxical kind of way,” the Archbishop continued, “it is how we face all of the things that seem to be negative in our lives that determine the kind of person we become….”

The Buddhist practice of mind training, called lojong in Tibetan, is an important part of the Dalai Lama’s tradition. One of the fundamental messages in the original twelfth-century text echoes what the Dalai Lama and the Archbishop were saying about looking away from oneself: “All dharma teachings agree on one thing — lessening one’s self-absorption.

The text clarifies… “Contemplate that, as long as you are too focused on your self-importance and too caught up in thinking about how you are good or bad,you will experience suffering….”

Jinpa, who wrote a translation and commentary on this revered text, explained … that joy is our essential nature, something everyone can realize…. It seems that Buddhists believe that joy is the natural state but that the ability to experience joy can also be cultivated as a skill…. So much depends on where we put our attention: on our own suffering or that of others, on our own perceived separation or on our indivisible connection.

“We have to take care of ourselves, [said the Dalai Lama] “without selfishly taking care of ourselves…..”

According to [psychologist Sonja] Lyobomyrski, the three factors that seem to have the greatest influence on increasing our happiness are

  • our ability to reframe our situation more positively,
  • our ability to experience gratitude,
  • and our choice to be kind and generous.