Joy, it's something we long for and something that often seems out of reach. After all, where is the joy in today's world when we see the suffering human condition, financial hardship, war, crime and natural disasters? While joy isn't something we can buy, it is something we can cultivate and develop within ourselves.One of the main ways of opening the doorway to everlasting joy is to live with an awakened heart which is called bodhichitta in the Buddhist teaching. Bodhichitta is a way to bring joy to your heart as well as to the world as a whole. Simply starting with the intention to free yourself from suffering and to do the same for others begins to heal and to benefit ourselves and humanity. In other words, we begin to release the ego's hold on us, drop self-centeredness and make meaningful change.
When we focus on helping others, our hearts soften and we become kinder and more compassionate which cultivates lasting joy. So then, how can you practice bodhichitta in your daily life? Start in small ways, and you will reap big results. For example, you can offer to go the extra mile at work when no one else is willing to do so. You can offer your place in line at the grocery store to someone who looks frazzled and in a hurry. You can contribute to any life-sustaining effort such as the environment, animal rights, health advocacy, serving the homeless, etc.
I practice this focus on others every chance I get from working at Hospice to working with kids and teenagers. I found that once I started working with kids and Hospice patients that while I was there to help them, it was me who was being helped with an expanded and awakened heart. These opportunities abound in our world today and should not be hard to connect with.
By contrast, it's the letting go of self-absorption that may not be easy in the society we live in today that endlessly promotes the "me" mentality. So much media attention is given to what we need to buy, how we need to look and where we need to vacation in order to be happy. Dropping this focus on "me" is not only preferable but required for joy to flow in our lives.
As you progress on your path of Bodhichitta, I hope that you are inspired to offer yourself to be in service to others. As a result, the one who will benefit is you with an awakened heart filled with egolessness, deepened compassion and love.
Drop me an e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) and let me know how you are doing. And if you would like help in opening your heart to joy, spiritual coaching packages with me are available via Skype, Facetime, phone or in person.
Dr. Barbara Gulbranson is one of the nation's leading spiritual teachers, author, spiritual coach, ordained minister and director of the Suicide Prevention Center, a program of United Health Services.