Well, maybe not just like—but more alike than I imagined.
I’m still reading The Book of Joy, of course. I try to take in a chapter or two at a time, then stop to think and process, usually overnight. Sometimes I reread the same section the next day. It’s not a meditation, but I find that I want to spend time thinking through the text.
Meditation is not something I have ever seriously tried. That’s one of the myriad ways in which I’m unlike the Dalai Lama. (I won’t presume to list them out—because let’s face it, we are unlike in so many ways that it would be arrogant of me to suggest a list could contain them.)
Coping with life’s minor annoyances
But as it turns out, the Dalai Lama is no stranger to frustration caused by life’s minor annoyances. That seems unlikely; he seems filled with serenity and grace and peace. But here he is, recounting just that frustration:
“When I was young and very eager to do something,” the Dalai Lama said, “then they would announce that there was a delay or cancellation of the flight, I would feel angry and sometimes angry toward the pilot or toward the airline.”
What? The Dalai Lama used to get upset if his flight was delayed? Now that’s a feeling I know and understand. We really do have something in common.
But wait; there’s more.
You might have noticed that he was speaking in the past tense in that passage. It seems he has found a way to transcend his frustration (something I’m still working on):
“Now when an announcement comes that my flight is canceled or postponed, which does happen quite a lot here, I take it as a good opportunity to sit and do my practice, to sit and meditate. So now I feel less frustration.”
Now’s the part where I amaze you with my transcendent wisdom.
I’ve spent a good portion of my professional life managing websites and other digital media, and in that role I’ve spent a lot of time working with online tools and analytics. In one of my previous jobs, I spent a fair amount of time analyzing website traffic data using a proprietary interface developed by my employer. It was a tool that delivered great data in a decent interface. Until…
One day it just kind of stopped working. I would request a report, and the interface would churn and churn, trying its best to give me what I wanted, but it would be full minutes before it could deliver my report. Full minutes eaten up in my very busy workday. For one report. And sometimes I would want to run dozens of reports in a day.
I got a little frustrated.
Then one day, I just decided I could cope with it. Rather than be frustrated, I started looking at the time spent in front of that computer screen as an opportunity for calm in the middle of my day. I began to just sit quietly and breathe deeply while the software churned, letting my mind wander. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to meditation. And it made me a happier person.
Lemons from lemonade. And just like the Dalai Lama, right? We’re practically soul sisters.
Working toward perfection
This takes me back to the first theme that struck me in The Book of Joy, which is that we can choose joy over sorrow. We can’t always control life’s events, but we can look for the good in them and work to embrace them with inner peace and joy.
“We have perceptions about our experience, and we judge them: ‘This is good.’ ‘This is bad.’ ‘This is neutral,'” the Dalai Lama explained. “Then we have responses: fear, frustration, anger. We realize that these are just different aspects of mind. They are not the actual reality. Similarly, fearlessness, kindness, love, and forgiveness are also aspects of mind.”
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama’s counterparts in the dialogues that form the basis of the book, revealed that he also has struggled with daily annoyances: “I used to feel very frustrated and angry” when delayed in traffic on the way to an important meeting or event. “But growing older I said, well, this is an opportunity for being quiet.”
This isn’t exactly easy to do. It’s natural to get caught up in the demands of daily life and start to get frustrated when things don’t seem to go our way. It’s hard to change habits, and learning to move past this frustration certainly requires us to break existing patterns.
But I take heart in knowing that the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu have struggled with this as well. “We are human beings, fallible human beings,” said Tutu.
“And as the Dalai Lama points out, there was a time … I mean, we see him serene and calm. Yet there were times when he, too, felt annoyed and perhaps still are. … But this being on earth is a time for us to learn to be good, to learn to be more loving, to learn to be more compassionate. … And so I would say to everyone: You are made for perfection, but you are not yet perfect. You are a masterpiece in the making.”
A masterpiece in the making. I’ll take that.