I’m usually not a fan of self-help or spiritual books but The Book of Joy is a bit different.
It’s not the sort of book that I’d normally read. I typically dodge self-help and spiritual books.
At the start of the year as President Donald Trump’s administration took office in the US, and the UK Government appeared set towards a hard Brexit, I was looking for answers.
I asked a number of friends how they remained upbeat when there was seemingly so much doom and gloom around us.
Penni Blyth, an old friend from Northumberland, instantly suggested The Book of Joy.
It is so much more than a self-help book. It’s deeply spiritual but in a human, rather than a religious sense.
The Book of Joy is the shared wisdom of two men who have experienced tremendous suffering but are incredibly joyous.
The Dalai Lama has been living as a guest of the Indian government after being exiled from Tibet since 1959.
Desmond Tutu’s life covers the arc from apartheid to the reconciliation of black and white South Africa.
The conversation took place over the course of a week at the Dali Lama’s home in Dharamsala in India.
The main thesis is that everyone experiences suffering in their lives to varying degrees and it’s our response that will have the greatest impact on our health and mental wellbeing.
“No dark fate determines the future. We do.”
It’s hardly revolutionary analysis of the human condition but what is extraordinary is the candid, humble and practical insight from the two men.
Both men share anecdotes and lessons from their lives.
The conversation between Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu is retold by Douglas Abrams. He draws on history, science and third party sources to support the stories and insight shared by the two Octogenarians.
The book is in three parts.
The road to Dharamsala
It starts with Desmond Tutu and Douglas Abrams making the trip to India, and the Archbishop’s relationship with the Dalai Lama.
The two men share a deep respect, affection and love for each other. They tease and joke with each other throughout the book.
There’s a poignant moment when it becomes clear that this is likely to be the last time the two men will meet due to Desmond Tutu’s failing health. He’s being treated for prostate cancer.
Douglas Abrams challenges the men with the big questions about life, death and human suffering. He also includes questions crowdsourced from people around the world. It’s a nice touch.
We learn that happiness cannot be found in pursuit of a goal, or achievement. It must reside in our mind and heart, and in our relationships with each other in our daily lives.
Eight pillars of joy
The second part of the book sets out eight pillars for joy through a series of conversations: perspective, humility, humour, acceptance, forgiveness, gratitude, compassion and generosity.
It suggests that living these traits will bring joy and happiness.
Practices of joy
In the final section of the book Douglas Abrams records a series of practical tools shared during the week by Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama.
Prayer, meditation and reflection are a key aspect of the lives of both men.
There are processes for helping to rationalise and come to terms with things that you cannot control.
Douglas Abrams shares the process that Desmond Tutu used during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings in South Africa in the late 1990s.
He suggests that the process that enabled South Africa to come to terms with its past can equally be applied to reconciliation following a relationship breakdown.
Among other things the final section of the book deals with coming to terms with anxiety, illness, jealousy and suffering.
I read The Book of Joy over a week. It’s a book that I want reflect on and come back to.
The Book of Joy
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