This past weekend a group of women from Redeemer gathered in western Maryland for a weekend retreat. The theme of our retreat was “Fostering Joy in Transition & Stressful Times”. Our main presenter from Well for the Journey led us through an exploration of joy. What is joy? What is the difference between joy and happiness? And what habits or practices might allow us to experience more joy in our lives, especially during the times in which we are living? (And yes, for any who may be asking — even in this season of Lent!)

One of the resources shared during the course of our retreat was The Book of Joy, the fruit of a weeklong conversation between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, co-authored and shared by Douglas Abrams. Together, these extraordinary human beings and spiritual leaders identify eight “pillars” on which to build a joy-filled life amidst — not separate from — the reality of suffering, pain and injustice in our world.

These eight pillars fall into two categories: habits of the mind and habits of the heart.

The 4 habits of mind are:

  • Perspective – Practicing imagining what it is like to walk in another person’s shoes, or perhaps picturing our place in the whole cosmos. “For every event in life,” says the Dalai Lama, “there are many different angles.”
  • Humility – Recalling that, in the spirit of Ash Wednesday, “we are but dust and to dust we shall return”, that we are literally fashioned from the earth. The Dalai Lama offers a Tibetan prayer—“Whenever I see someone, may I never feel superior.”
  • Acceptance – Abrams writes about “the ability to accept our life in all its pain, imperfection, and beauty.” Acceptance is neither resignation, nor is it defeat, but rather aligning our consciousness with What Is so we can choose with intention (as opposed to wishing things were different than what they are, living in denial, depression or anxiety).
  • Humor – Seeing our common humanity, or sometimes the ridiculousness of a situation. Not taking our own selves too seriously and being able to laugh at ourselves!

The 4 habits of heart are:

  • Forgiveness – Allowing ourselves to be liberated from the prison of past grievances and wrongs, as well as from the violent, endless cycle of retribution. Forgiveness is not forgetting, nor does it mean that we do not respond to the wrongful acts, or that we allow ourselves to be harmed again.
  • Gratitude – Allowing ourselves the gift of regularly acknowledging, naming and feeling thankful for both the little and the big blessings in our daily lives, and not taking any good thing, good act that makes us happy, or any person or kindness for granted.
  • Compassion – Allowing ourselves to feel with and for another human being, and holding this space for ourselves as well. Jesus was often moved to act out of compassion for those he encountered, aligning himself with human suffering. Compassion moves us to towards connection and out of isolation.
  • Generosity – Allowing ourselves to live and love from a place of awareness, consciousness and belief in the Abundance of God; God’s Providence and Grace.

We may have set aside our “Alleluias” for Lent but we need not set aside our joy. How might choosing to practice at least one of the habits above enrich your Lenten journey?