Not Another Self-Help Book

When I read books, I tend to cruise through them pretty quickly. If it’s a good story, I will be glued to it and flip through the pages, determined to finish and start another.

The most recent book I have finished was a different story (pun intended). I went into it expecting to fall in love, but to not to the degree I actually have. And some people might cringe a little out there thinking it’s a self-help book. Admittedly, a lot of those “read this and your life will change forever” books might have some interesting ideas or inspiration, but they rarely make a difference in day-t0-day life. We’re creatures of habit, and unless we’re so profoundly taken aback and inspired to change, it can take a lot to live differently.

Instead I have another book here that is yes, here to help, but I see it very differently from others of a similar nature. The Book of Joy depicts a week spent with the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa as they discuss how, despite their hardships, have led lives filled with not simply happiness, but true, sustaining joy. They discuss the limitations and difficulties achieving joy in today’s society as well as their “eight pillars of joy” and daily practices to incorporate those ideas into daily life.

The thing that I appreciate most about this book is how organic and down-to-earth it feels. You would think when talking with very prestigious spiritual figures, the dialogue would be formal and maybe a tad uptight. That couldn’t be the complete opposite of what these beautiful souls are like. They’re just people, just like us. They joke around with each other and have reached their state of wisdom through a life of tested strength and perseverance. And their friendship is as normal and fun as any other.

The ideas they present and talk about aren’t necessarily revolutionary or new. We live in a world full of suffering. If we change our perspective on it and live more compassionately and intentionally, the world will be a better place. That’s easy enough. For me, the message gains greater context when two very inspirational people whom I truly admire talk honestly about, at times, unapproachable large topics. Simply defining what “compassion” means isn’t easy.

Although the book isn’t just for those who are spiritually inclined, I really appreciate that element, especially when the two leaders come from very different religious backgrounds, one religion I practice and the other I also feel very inspired by. It’s so much easier to live in a world where we can look past our individual divisions and designations for ourselves, like religion or ethnicity, and see ourselves as fellow humans. We all face obstacles and negative emotions of anger and frustration, but we have the power to actively choose to not let those difficulties set us back. We don’t have to wander the earth carrying a heavy burden upon our backs. We can instead set it down, acknowledge its presence, and use it as a stepping stone to better things ahead.

Whether you’re a believer or not, we’re all sentient beings made in the image of God (and nature). Natural disasters are unavoidable, but human suffering doesn’t have to be. If we consider ourselves all in the same family, not divided as “us versus them,” it’s much easier for us to see the importance of looking beyond ourselves, our own needs and desires in competition with everybody else, and extend a helping hand to others. It’s one thing to assume others emotions and be empathetic toward them, but it’s another thing to use that empathy as a channel for compassion, understanding, forgiveness, and generosity.

From this book, I’d like to take away a reinvigorated desire to dedicate my life to helping others. I’ve never been one too concerned about money and fame, but I see even more now how important it is not only for others, but for myself to feel truly fulfilled and put my life toward others. When I get overwhelmed by the idea of others my age or even younger doing so much in this world and I feel like I am just wasting time, I’d like to change my perspective, not seeing that as competition but just fellow people finding their own joy, and that doesn’t interfere or degrade mine. This book is a reminder, as always, to prioritize my relationships with loved ones and myself and not be afraid to be the one walking to class smiling at anybody I make eye contact with. (Most people I do that with tend to be quite confused.) I can look at the world and the faces of others and just be grateful, and who can’t help smiling knowing just how blessed they are?

I’m so tired of constantly worrying about all of these little details in life that, in the retrospect of everything, are so minuscule and insignificant. After I’m done with school, who cares what grade I got in that one class? Who cares about that one social event I didn’t go to? In light of earth’s evolution, we are technically about halfway through evolving. And in the history of the earth and humanity itself, my life is just one little thread woven in the fabric. I want to define that thread with love, hope, and, of course, joy.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

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