Book Reviews

Mental Immunity and the Book of Joy

Why, exactly, am I promoting the practice of mindfulness and meditation?  Why am I advocating introducing it to our kids?  Yes, there’s research out there about brain benefits and development, handling stress.  But there are so many reasons!  And here’s maybe the best reason–JOY.  Happiness.  And a great deal of JOY can be found in: The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World     How do we find joy in the face of life’s inevitable suffering?   by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Douglas Abrams

The Book of Joy is an exploration of how to foster mental immunity so that we, and our kids, can be more joyful.  Mental immunity is a new phrase.  What does it mean?  “Mental Immunity creates a healthy disposition of the mind so that it will not be susceptible to negative thoughts and feelings.”  Definitely a topic for parents and teachers and, well, humanity in general.

 

A little story as an example.  🙂 Last weekend, while constructing an Island of Sodor train track throughout the living and dining room, my husband was using the construction as a time to make my son problem-solve and build complicated track setups.  As my husband congratulated my son on figuring something out, I heard him say, “Thinking is the most important thing.”

Whoa, whoa, whoa.  Stop the train.

No.  Is our brain the most important thing?  Obviously, it’s important to be able to think.  But how does that balance out with FEELING? Haven’t we seen, in the last two decades, more and more research on the importance of feeling, and emotional intelligence and multiple intelligences?

 

Now, my husband is the smartest person I’ve ever met.  He’s an engineer, an inventor and a professor and great at all of them.  He’s logical and excels at debating difficult and complex topics.  He’s a thinker. But is THINKING always the most important thing?

 

As a complementary health care practitioner and a mom, I spend a significant percentage of my time dealing with emotions.  I think the heart must balance with the brain, and get at least half of the consideration. Balance.  I don’t think people trust their gut instincts enough these days (and we’re also finding out about how important our gut is, and its important role as part of the nervous system.)  I don’t excel at debate, but luckily I have HH Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu to present the case for emotional and mental immunity, and for Joy.

 

You’ve seen headlines, I’m sure, about how today’s kids are having more mental health challenges.  As a parent, I want to help my child not just be physically strong, but also able to navigate life emotionally and mentally in a healthy, strong way.  Teaching science, math, coding, history, facts–all that is important.  But we can’t ignore the other half of the equation of maturing and ‘growing up’ and learning how to e with ourselves, our family, our community and the world.  The Dalai Lama is often quoted as saying “when educating the minds of our youth, we must not forget to educate their hearts.”

 

Enter, The Book of Joy.  Our kids need us to model appropriate ways to deal with the ups and downs of life, and to help them learn to do it as well. As a parent, reading this book asked me to think deeper about joy and pain, about kids and pain, and helping them learn to be okay in spite of life happening.  The pages are rich with material. This book shares the personalities of the two men, who, in the midst of being world and spiritual leaders, can laugh and joke and be mischievous.  How can a man who is a refugee from his homeland, who sees very non-joyful things on a daily basis, be so happy?  How can a man who experienced such oppression be so joyful?  How can I be that joyful?

 

There’s a reason this book has been on the NY Times Bestseller Nonfiction List for months.  The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu  devote pages to bullying and violence, and what the authors see as the precursors to those two acts.  Both His Holiness and Archbishop Tutu have witnessed considerable acts of bullying, violence and oppression, and they speak to what they think and feel is happening on the INSIDE of the bully, the violator, the aggressor.  This is an important topic for families today.

 

The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu present, in this Book of Joy, the Eight Pillars of Joy.  This can start as a simple craft—making art using this list, perhaps something to hang in the classroom or on the refrigerator? It can also start out as a vocabulary exercise—what do these eight terms mean?

 

Qualities of the Heart:

  • forgiveness
  • gratitude
  • compassion
  • generosity

 

I start with these four because I think they are accessible for younger kids.

Qualities of the Mind:

  • perspective
  • humility
  • humor
  • acceptance

 

 

The book goes into all of these, and while there are bits of religion here and there, these two men of very different spiritual traditions talk about these qualities in a pretty secular, non-preachy way. I would add a fifth Quality of the Heart, courtesy of Matthieu Ricard:  altruism.  It goes naturally with compassion and generosity, and Ricard’s teachings on altruism are, to me, very heartwarming and encouraging.

 

A few curriculum ideas to go along with this book:

  • Activity of gratitude practices—lists, a jar that every day you write on and put in the jar, gratitude trees
  • History / book of centuries:  Desmond Tutu, South Africa, apartheid and HH Dalai Lama, Tibet, Chinese invasion of Tibet and his exile to northern India
  • Art/crafts:  mandalas (there are mandala coloring books out now) but also sidewalk chald and painting madalas as well as creating mandalas out of objects in nature. Check out Danmala, who makes mandalas out of flower petals.

My copy of this book, encased in a dust jacket full of smiles of joy beaming from the faces of the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu, is treasured, passages underlined, notes taken, pages dog-eared for future reference.  Photocopies of the book’s Compassion Meditation sits by my yoga mat and meditation cushion. I love this book, and I truly believe it spreads joy.

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