Training in Joy

Such wisdom from Pema Chödrön in her book The Places That Scare You.  Happiness (true happinessseems scarce around the holidays.  We don’t like to admit it, but it’s true.

So, I thought this tender reminder might help us a bit.

In the midst of our overscheduled lives, how do we discover our inherent clarity and compassion?

Sharing the heart is a simple practice that can be used at any time and in every situation.  It enlarges our view and helps us remember our interconnection….

The essence of this practice is that when we encounter pain in our life we breathe into our heart with the recognition that others also feel this.  It’s a way of acknowledging when we are closing down and of training to open up.  When we encounter any pleasure or tenderness in our life, we cherish that and rejoice.  Then we make the wish that others could also experience this delight or this relief.  In a nutshell, when life is pleasant, think of others.  When life is a burden, think of others.  If this is the only training we ever remember to do, it will benefit us tremendously and everyone else as well….

Even the simplest of things can be the basis of this practice—a beautiful morning, a good meal, a shower.  Although there are many such fleeting ordinary moments in our days, we usually speed right past them.  We forget what joy they can bring.  So the first step is to stop, notice, and appreciate what is happening.  Even if this is all we do, it’s revolutionary.  Then we think of someone who is suffering and wish that the person could have this pleasure to sweeten up his or her life.

When we practice giving this way, we don’t bypass our own pleasure.  Say we’re eating a delicious strawberry.  We don’t think, “Oh, I shouldn’t be enjoying this so much.  Other people don’t even have a crust of bread.”  We just fully appreciate the luscious fruit.  Then we wish that Pete or Rita could have such pleasure.  We wish that anyone who is suffering could experience such delight.

Discomfort of any kind also becomes the basis for practice.  We breathe in knowing that our pain is shared; there are people all over the earth feeling just as we do right now.  This simple gesture is a seed of compassion for self and other.  If we want, we can go further.  We can wish that a specific person or all beings could be free of suffering and its causes.  In this way our toothaches, our insomnia, our divorces, and our terror become our link with all humanity.

A woman wrote me about practicing with her daily misery in traffic.  Her resentment and her uptightness, the fear of missing an appointment, had become her heart connection with all the other people sitting fuming in their cars.  She’d begun to feel her kinship with the people all around her and to even look forward to her daily “traffic jam tonglen.”

This simple way of training with pleasure and pain allows us to use what we have, wherever we are, to connect with other people.  It engenders on-the-spot bravery, which is what it will take to heal ourselves and our brother and sisters on the planet.

Isn’t that wonderful?

I’m feeling a little weathered right now, and I’m uncertain about what my future holds for me.  I know that some of you may feel the same way.  This makes me feel like I’m not alone…and links me to you and you and you.

Hi, buddy.  Do you mind if I sit next to you a short while?  Just until I get my land legs back?

Thanks a whole bunch.

[Post image: Balloons by hisks on stock.xchng]


  1. Shawn
    Dec 05, 2011

    You most definitely are NOT alone. Thank you once again. You inspire me every day. I am feeling weathered as well. I’ve been wondering if I’m having a midlife crisis or something. I cherish this post, our connection though miles and miles apart and I hope that someone else is out there benefiting from this spiritual uplift you bring to us each week. : ) xoxoxo

    • Elissa
      Dec 05, 2011

      Thanks, Shawn! I’m happy to be connected to you as well…it helps, knowing I’m not an island…

      You’re sweet to write, letting me know you’re there…thank you, thank you. xo

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