“A New Day: The Eight Pillars of Joy” with Rev. Melanie Eyre
Come join us as we explore “The Eight Pillars of Joy” with Reverend Melanie Eyre.
A revised transcript of this week’s talk is provided below for the Deaf and hard of hearing, including prayers, readings and songs.
Community Circles Discussion Guide – View and Download
God of Love,– Joseph P. Shadle (adapted)
You are with us in every transition and change.
As we enter into this new era with excitement and even some anxiety,
we recall your deep compassion, presence, and abounding love.
We thank you for the gifts, talents and skills with which you have blessed us.
We thank you for the experiences that have brought us to this moment.
We thank you for the work of others that gives breadth and depth to our own work.
Be with us as we move forward, rejoicing with you and supporting one another.
Bless this new beginning. Bless this new day.
We ask this in the many names of God.
May today there be peace within.– St. Therèse of Lisieux and St. Theresa of Avila
May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.
May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you
May you be confident knowing you are a child of God.
Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.
It is there for each and every one of us.
“A New Day: The Eight Pillars of Joy” with Rev. Melanie Eyre
Welcome, and thank you for being here today. I bet you think I selected this title due to events of the past week, our inauguration of a new President and Vice President. It’s a good fit, as that is surely a new beginning, with new opportunities, challenges and hopes.
But that wasn’t only it. This title is appropriate for every Sunday, every talk, because every day is a new day. As we move forward, I can’t think of a better focus for us – to keep in mind that every day is a new day.
Yes, it’s pretty obvious and it’s not rocket science. However, if you’re like me, how many mornings do you get up and start your day by picking up the same bag of rocks we carried around yesterday, without even taking a moment to realize the miracle of new beginning and new possibilities. We are given such a gift every day, and we so often just miss it.
We are going through such a time of transition right now – individually and collectively. How much better would our coming weeks and months be, possibly, if we could approach them with that energy of new beginnings, joyful possibilities. If we could see, as the Christian scriptures teach us, all things new.
You may be thinking how naïve can she be? We live in a time of peril – look at all that’s going on! Pandemic, violence, division – get real. This is not the time to be a crazy optimist.
But I suggest it is. I think it was Thomas Friedman who said “Pessimists are usually right and optimists are usually wrong but all the great changes have been accomplished by optimists.” Think about it.
The world is changed by those who see hope, who see possibilities and breakthroughs where others see only barriers and breakdowns. My message today is an exploration of how we can leave room, in the midst of all the stuff, for the possibilities ahead. How we can invite them into life with the joy and expectancy in our own hearts.
So today our focus is joy, and new beginnings. he ancient wisdom from the book of Psalms declares, “This is the day that the Lord hath made, I will rejoice and be glad in it.”
I draw wisdom today from two extraordinarily joyful teachers. In April of 2015, the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu spent a week together in Dharamsala, the residence in exile of the Dalai Lama in India. They had met before, and were friends. Each called the other “my mischievous spiritual brother.” These two old men, one of whom, Archbishop Tutu, was ill with a recurrence of his cancer, and both of whom had lived through grief, tragedy and loss, spoke of joy, hope, human nature, the future. Author Douglas Abrams was there to record the event and the conversation as these two sages spoke, as he put it, in a quest to understand joy. His record of their conversations is entitled “the Book of Joy.”
They met for a week, and all the wisdom, stories and humor they shared fills much more than a brief talk. During the dialogues they agreed on and discussed eight pillars of joy—four pillars of the mind and four pillars of the heart. As we now focus on new beginnings and possibilities, it seemed the right time to share this wisdom with you.
“One great question underlies our existence,” the Dalai Lama had said before the trip. “What is the purpose of life? After much consideration, I believe that the purpose of life is to find happiness.”
What is your reaction when I said that? Did you think “how frivolous”? Don’t we think the purpose of life is loftier – to find God, to serve others, to lift up humanity. Isn’t it more than being happy?
We need have to dig deeper. We so often misidentify the source of our happiness – we think more money, more stuff, a new car, fame and renown, will make us happy – once we get that, it’ll be fine. We don’t realize these things, our attachment to these things, is instead a source of our suffering.
These two wise men, and many other wisdom teachers, show us that the life well lived is the source of happiness. a life of compassion, connection, service leads us to happiness, to joy.
I’ve used both those words, and it’s really semantics for them. The Dalai Lama used the term happiness, while Archbishop Tutu focused on joy.
“Joy,” he said, “is much bigger than happiness. While happiness is often seen as being dependent on external circumstances, joy is not.”
Their discussion revealed that they were speaking of the same quality. The Dalai Lama said “The ultimate source of happiness is within us. Not money, not power, not status. Some of my friends are billionaires, but they are very unhappy people. Power and money fail to bring inner peace. Outward attainment will not bring real inner joyfulness. We must look inside.”
Happiness is not the goal, it’s the journey. As Archbishop Tutu said, joy is the byproduct – you cannot succeed by, as he put it, clenching your teeth with determination and setting out to find joy. You will miss the bus. You must live in a way that opens you to joy.
Easier said than done.
I remember the story of the young child who was asked in school to write down what she wanted to be when she grew up. She wrote “happy.” Teachers told her she didn’t understand the assignment. She told them they didn’t understand life.
So what, after a week of insights, stories, fun, did these two men agree was the secret of joy? They gave us what Abrams called the eight pillars of joy. These qualities, if we can cultivate them, lead to a more joyful life. They lead to that attitude that tells us each new day is a gift. Four are pillars of the mind, and four are of the heart.
So before I give you these 8 pillars, I’m going to stop talking for a minute, to give you time to consider your own list. If you had to give a list of the 8 pillars of joy, what would be on it? Take a minute and write them down (and keep it for Wednesday). We will have some nice music while you consider. How close will your list be to that of these two men?
Take one minute to meditate on your personal “8 Pillars of Joy”
As I said, Four of these pillars are of the mind. They are perspective, humility, humor, and acceptance.
Four are of the heart. They are forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, and generosity.
Let’s focus on the first four.
The first pillar is perspective.
This is the ability to reframe the events of your life in a way that is uplifting and leads you forward. As the Dalai Lama put it, for every event in life, there are many different angles. As you know, in his early years he was forced to flee Tibet in the dead of night and take up a life of exile in India. The Chinese killed or displaced thousands of his people. His life became very different from what he anticipated it would be, in his palace at Lhasa.
But as the Dalai Lama in these spoke in these conversations it became clear that he valued not only what he’d lost but what he had gained. His world opened up – he was the first DL to even leave Tibet. He met thousands of people around the world he never would have met, experienced different cultures, met and befriended Archbishop Tutu and other wise men and women. As he put it “We must look at any given situation or problem from the front and from the back, from the sides, and from the top and the bottom, so from at least six different angles. This allows us to take a more complete and holistic view of reality, and if we do, our response will be more constructive.”
Perspective is listed first because it is a quality of the mind, over which we have greater influence than our emotions. We can become aware of our thoughts, and redirect them. The Dalai Lama’s friend and interpreter Thupten Jinpa noted that perspective “is nothing less than the skull key that opens all of the locks that imprison our happiness.”
The first step, in other words, is to change how we see, how we think, to open our perspective. When confronting a tragedy, and these two men have confronted many, in addition to the trauma and pain we can look at the healing, love and hope that were also present. Take the focus off ourselves, and open our hearts to the experience of others. We reframe, to see more broadly, beyond the elements that cause us fear.
We have heard about the need for perspective before. Isn’t this what Brian Perry was talking about when he spoke of his practice where he will ask “and what else is true?” It is. Perspective opens us up to full awareness of a situation or event – permitting us to see all aspects of it, removing our focus solely on our own self-interest.
The next pillar is humility.
Throughout their discussions, both emphasized they were ordinary people. The Dalai Lama refers to himself not as a spiritual leader to millions, but as a Buddhist monk. He has found that a sense of feeling special, or superior, leads to isolation, and loneliness.
Humility often escapes us, as we so often manage to puff ourselves up. Archbishop Tutu is fond of telling the story of three bishops standing before the altar, beating their breasts with great humility, saying how, before God, they were nothing. Shortly, one of the lowly acolytes in the church approached and started to beat his chest, professing that he, too, was nothing. When the three bishops heard him, one elbowed the other and said, “Look who thinks he’s nothing.”
Humility is one of byproducts, if you will, of perspective. When we are able to appreciate the wider view, we in a sense boot ourselves off center stage – we realize we are the same as so many millions of others. We are connected. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu put it, our vulnerabilities, our frailties, and our limitations are a reminder that we need one another: We are not created for independence or self-sufficiency, but for interdependence and mutual support.
The next pillar is humor.
Much of the time between Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu was spent just laughing and joking, and they bring that gift of laughter to their interactions with others. Laughter and humor help us realize our common humanity, defuse tense situations, and bring people together. DL tells the story of a visit to Belfast in Northern Ireland after the Troubles. He was invited to attend a private meeting where victims and perpetrators of violence were present, and you could cut the tension with a knife. As the meeting began, a former Protestant militant spoke of how, when he was growing up, he was told by other loyalists that whatever they did to Catholics was fine because Jesus was a protestant, not a catholic. The DL knew that Jesus was neither, and he just started laughing. It completely changed the energy – it gave the participants permission to be themselves, to interact more genuinely and honestly when they realized the absurdity of the prejudices that had driven them apart.
The message here for both men – don’t take yourself so seriously. It leads to self-importance. Humor brings us together.
The fourth pillar of the mind is acceptance.
At one point in the conversation, Archbishop Desmond Tutu asked the Dalai Lama why, given all the tragedies of his life, he was not morose. He answered with wisdom from the eighth-century Buddhist master Shantideva, who wrote “If something can be done about the situation, what need is there for dejection? And if nothing can be done about it, what use is there for being dejected?”
That’s the same lesson we have heard many times – focus on those things you can change and release the rest. That’s acceptance. We accept our lives, with their challenges, imperfections, successes. As our spiritual life deepens, we become more able to accept all that happens as, as Archbishop Desmond Tutu puts it, the warp and woof of life.
Don’t think that acceptance is the same as resignation – far from it. Acceptance of reality does not add up to inability to change it – it simply means you see what is there.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu says “We are meant to live in joy,” “This does not mean that life will be easy or painless. It means that we can turn our faces to the wind and accept that this is the storm we must pass through. We cannot succeed by denying what exists. The acceptance of reality is the only place from which change can begin.”
Acceptance is the last pillar of the mind, and it leads to the first pillar of the heart, forgiveness.
Archbishop Tutu spoke about his experience in South Africa, chairing the Truth and Reconciliation commission after the ending of apartheid. Story after story about the healing power of forgiveness – healing to the victim, the abuser, the community.
“Now I don’t pretend that comes easily, but we do have a nobility of spirit. you and you and you and you have the potential to be instruments of incredible compassion and forgiveness. We cannot say of anyone at all that they are totally unable to forgive. I think that all of us have the latent potential to be sorry for these others who are disfiguring their humanity in this way. Indeed, no one is incapable of forgiving and no one is unforgivable.”
That is the key – not forgetting the action, or abandoning justice and compensation, but also not forgetting the humanity of the one who committed these atrocities. As Dutch Jew Etty Hillesum said in her interaction with the Nazis, she never stopped trying to see each human face beneath, as she put it, “the ugly masks of war.”
It was this conviction that enabled her to maintain her humanity, to defeat fear, to continue to love, even in the most desperate circumstances.
The next pillar of the heart is gratitude.
What is the Dalai Lama practice here? Every day, wake up with the thought “I am fortunate to be alive. I have a precious human life. I am not going to waste it.”
Gratitude for these two men was a way of life, creating a vessel for wonder and joy. Again, these pillars are all so connected – gratitude arises from our ability to change perspective, to accept, even to forgive. As our speaker Marylou Palmer reminded us several weeks ago, quoting Brother David Steindl-Rast: “It is not happiness that makes us grateful. It is gratefulness that makes us happy.
Brother David goes on to say that every moment is a gift. There is no certainty you will have another moment, with all the opportunity it offers us.”
To illustrate the power of forgiveness, Abrams told the story of a man named Anthony Ray Hinton, arrested in 1985 in Alabama for two murders he did not commit. His story is included in the 2019 film Just Mercy – he was the cellmate of one of the main characters, Walter McMillian.
Convicted of the murders, Hinton spent the next 28 years on death row in a 5×8 foot cell, in solitary confinement, except for one hour a day. He became a counselor and friend to other inmates and to prison guards, many of whom sought his release.
The Supreme Court ultimately ordered his release. He was later interviewed on 60 minutes, and said he had forgiven, and was not angry. The interviewer asked “But they took thirty years of your life—how can you not be angry?”
He responded “If I’m angry and unforgiving, they will have taken the rest of my life.” He chooses to forgive, he chooses to be happy. In the quest for joy, forgiveness is a necessary step.
The next pillar is compassion.
Both these wisdom teachers tell us of the centrality of compassion in living a life of joy. As the Dalai Lama said,
“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”– Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama
Compassion is not pity. Compassion is opening your heart to others in a way that leads to acts of kindness, generosity, and comfort. This concern for others arises from the truth that we are all connected, all interdependent. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu puts it, we are wired to be other-regarding. We are happier when we are focused on others.
Abrams goes back to the life of Anthony Hinton, sharing that he spent the first two years of his confinement angry and heartbroken. He refused to speak or respond to others. Then, one night, he heard the inmate in the cell next to him crying. He said “the love and compassion I received from my mother spoke through me, and asked him what the matter was.” He found out the man’s mother had died, and he comforted him.
He said “Suddenly my voice and my sense of humor were back. For twenty-six long years after that night, I tried to focus on other people’s problems, and every day I did, I would get to the end of the day and realize that I had not focused on my own.” Compassion is a foundational principle of the world’s enduring faith traditions – articulated in each as a version of the golden rule.
The last pillar of joy is generosity, a natural outgrowth of compassion.
This is also a fundamental principle in numerous faith traditions – called Zakat, it is the fifth pillar of Islam. Generosity strengthens our relationships, reflects our interconnectedness. As Abrams put it, money can buy us happiness, as long as we spend it on other people.
We can be generous with our time, our hearts, our gifts as well. Members of this One World community know well the healing and joy that come from the many ways we can be generous with each other and our world.
So these are the 8 pillars of joy – perspective, humility, humor, acceptance, forgiveness, gratitude, compassion and generosity. In the coming year we’ll speak more about these qualities – we have an entire month devoted to joy. For right now, let’s begin this new year with this energy of joy, possibility, and opportunity, realizing that every day is a new day.
“God Is My Source” written by Karen Drucker
“Imagine” by John Lennon
This service aired on January 24, 2021.