The Book of Joy: A Reaction Paper

I sat in the passenger seat of my husband’s pickup truck, riding along the country roads in the Northern Neck on a Saturday morning, my two little dogs asleep between us on the bench seat, their scruffy hair blowing in the air conditioning. It was a hot, sunny day in late June, and we were heading to a small beach on the shore of the Potomac River, where it opens wide to the Chesapeake Bay. Outside my car window, I watched the fields, green with corn, and the wildflowers, alive with butterflies, flourish under the summer sun. It was summer break. I was beachbound. 

And I was crying. 

Despite my situation seeming so pleasant–even idyllic, I felt pretty miserable. My inner experience was completely incongruent with my outer experience. I felt so stressed and anxious about the upcoming school year and all I would have to learn and change and do to prepare, much less be effective (not to mention safe), in the face of a global pandemic, that I was struggling to enjoy the present moment. My worries and uncertainties about the future were stealing any present peace I might have hoped to enjoy.

Joy Littles on the beach BQS
Nacho (left) and Soda (right), AKA The Littles, lounging on the beach later that day.

Around the same time as the situation described above, I began participating in a book group begun at my school. The group, which focused on the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Abrams’s The Book of Joy, could not have been better timed for me, both professionally and personally–especially since my professional life and my personal life often seem to bleed into each other.

On page 88 of the book, we read that “…so much is determined by our own perception.” My perception of the pandemic and how it would affect me at work and at home come August was an extremely negative one–one that did not serve me or the people around me. It was a perception that brought about fear, insecurity, self-doubt, and stress. Some of what I have read in this book has helped me think about reshaping my perspective to see the current situation and next school year as a challenge instead of an obstacle, as an opportunity for professional and personal growth instead of a hindrance to peace. Part

Joy cover
The Book of Joy, by the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Abrams

of what makes this perspective shift possible is an idea expressed on pages 196 and 197. Douglas Abrams writes, “When we confront a challenge, we often react to the situation with fear and anger.” He might as well have replaced “we” with “you,” so accurately does this sentence describe my initial reaction to challenges, which I tend to see as frustrating inconveniences at best, insurmountable obstacles at worst. On the next page, Abrams advises, “…what we think is reality is only part of the picture” and “our limited perspective is not the truth.” The book goes on to talk about taking a broader perspective–about realizing that we are not alone, and that all of our roles (AKA Teacher During A Pandemic) are temporary. Thinking about my present situation in a longer view, “in the larger frame of [my] life” (198), enables me to see that in the future, it will be just one strange year of a years-long career, a little blip in the otherwise mostly smooth (I hope!) experience. Thinking about my present situation in a wider view, I am able to see that even now, in the throes of it, people around me are innovating and collaborating like never before. They have all learned to “…respond instead of react” (181), a lesson I am trying to take to heart for myself.

In the vein of learning, another idea that comforted me was the concept that we are all learning–that our lives consist of innumerable lessons, each tailored to our own needs. At one point in the book, we learn that Abrams’s father suffered a terrible injury as a result of a fall. When Abrams’s brother told their father he was sorry he was going through such a rough time, his father’s response was: “‘It’s all part of my curriculum’” (157). I love this idea. “It’s all part of my curriculum” can serve as a reminder that we are all getting the lessons we need. In my case, these are likely lessons in flexibility and grace (not to mention instructional technology…).

A few days ago, I was lamenting to my husband about the fact that I don’t believe I will be as effective a teacher next year as I hope I have been in years past–that I don’t know how to use the technology and even if I figure it out, I won’t know how to use it well. That I don’t have the first lesson plan done. That I don’t even know where to start. That I feel woefully unprepared on a number of levels. On page 211, the Archbishop says, “…even if you are not the best one, you may be the one who is needed or the one who is there.” I don’t think I am going to be the best anything next year, least of all teacher, but I am going to be the one who is there, in the classroom, and for next year, that might have to be enough.  

I sat in the passenger seat of my husband’s pickup truck, watching employees scurry around a parking lot at a Chick-Fil-A, tirelessly delivering to-go chicken to cars parked in numbered spaces throughout the lot. It was a warm, humid evening in early July, and we were heading to my parents for dinner with my sister and her family. Outside my car window, I watched as what must have been a dozen masked people ran around in black pants and red polo shirts. They had not worked like this before–wearing masks in the heat, serving food through car windows, hoofing drink carriers from the drive-through

Joy Littles on the deck
One of my greatest sources of joy comes from doing my best to give The Littles a good life. Here, they look over their side yard and driveway from the outdoor couch on  our deck.

window to the far end of the parking lot. But here they were, uncomplaining, productive, and efficient, serving the needs of their customers. Reading this book enabled me to draw a parallel between what I was watching from my passenger seat, and the work I myself need to do for next school year. If these Chick-Fil-A employees could work this hard and this well under these conditions–then couldn’t I do it, too? Granted, we waited 30 minutes for our meal–but everyone I saw was working so hard, the wait hardly seemed important. What was important, though, was realizing I wasn’t alone. I’m not alone. None of us are. Since the shutdown in March, essential workers all over the world have had to adapt how they operate–including my own husband, who works at a bank. I can’t promise I won’t find myself crying again before school starts in September, or several times throughout the school year as I struggle to adjust to the demands of the unknown, but now I can remind myself that we are all in this together. That other people are struggling, too. That it is okay not to be the best one. And that it’s all just “part of my curriculum.”  

4 thoughts on “The Book of Joy: A Reaction Paper

  1. Amanda, I just finished reading your blog about the book of Joy. Your article really hit home for me. I did not sign up for the book discussion this summer because of the overwhelming feelings and emotions that I am dealing with right now but as I read your article it makes me wish that I had. Maybe it is okay for us overachievers to not be the best but to be there. I too am struggling and started counseling last week to deal with it. What was interesting is that my job and the upcoming school year was one of the issues that I talked about with my counselor. It is amazing how everything in our life intertwines with one another; my mother’s death, covid, black lives matter, Malcolm’s passing. All of these things wind through our psyche causing us fear and anxiety. Again I apologize for rambling. I don’t know why I tend to do that with you but I wanted you to know that this was a very well written blog and I think a lot of us can relate to it. Thank you for expressing how I feel. Kathleen

    On Thu, Jul 9, 2020 at 10:11 AM Mind the Dog Writing Blog wrote:

    > ascreasey posted: “I sat in the passenger seat of my husband’s pickup > truck, riding along the country roads in the Northern Neck on a Saturday > morning, my two little dogs asleep between us on the bench seat, their > scruffy hair blowing in the air conditioning. It was a hot, ” >

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kathleen, thank you so much for reading the post. You really have had a lot to deal with over the last several months.
      As for work, I always find it difficult to ascertain when I am being productively self-forgiving and when I being destructively self-indulgent. I’m always afraid of giving myself an unearned free pass. I’ve really had to decide that right now, with all the challenges we will face at work and at home, I am just going to have to quiet the overachiever in myself and be okay with just being there, doing my best–whatever that looks like on any given day. Some days will be better than others.
      I am really glad you began counseling. I bet that will be really productive for you. It has to be a relief, at the very least, to be able to talk about it all with an impartial party.
      If you decide you want to read The Book of Joy, you are welcome to borrow my copy of it–if you don’t mind wading through all my messy notes on almost every single page. 🙂

      Like

  2. Amanda, I enjoyed your blog post and find it interesting that we all are experiencing similar feelings even though in different professions. I too feel overwhelmed at times with new technology and ways of working that are focusing us all to just keep moving forward and just keep showing up. In general I have tried to see it as an opportunity to keep learning , adjusting, and being flexible. Sometimes it is easier then others to keep from sinking into the self pity abyss. I think we all want to live in the land of what is comfortable and familiar.
    Thank you for pointing out this book. I think I will read it in all my spare time. Ha. Ha. No. Really I will.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Aunt Peggy. I really think you’d enjoy the book, if you can find the time to read it. I got a lot out of it, personally and professionally. The book talks a lot about how we are not alone, which is a really pertinent idea in general–but definitely right now. Regarding feeling overwhelmed and stressed and forced out of our familiar comfort zones, something in the Bible Lesson struck me this morning, from Section 5: “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, they will be done” (Matthew 26: 41-42). I will try to remember this line when the temptation to feel stressed or anxious or inadequate arises. If “my cup” is to teach during a time of global crisis, I can “drink it” without fear or worry. If God is the cause of all the obstacles or challenges I face, then they cannot be bad, and neither can the outcomes of my efforts to meet them. If God is the cause of all the obstacle or challenges I face, then I shouldn’t be tempted to feel angry or fearful, but instead can try to recognize my God-given abilities to succeed and excel. Easier said than done, but they are good prayers to keep in my pocket. It is important to remember that no one material cause and no one person or group is actually the cause of anything; divine Love is. So when I am tempted to think, “This pandemic is sure making my life stressful and scary,” I need to reframe that thought, and instead ask: What is God knowing about my life right now? What is God causing to happen in my life? Certainly not a pandemic, stress, or fear. Or if I am tempted to say, “So and so is asking too much of me; I can’t get this all done,” and feel resentful, I need to remember it is really God that is asking something of me, and I definitely don’t resent Him. Anyway, those are my still infantile attempts to express the inspiration I experienced this morning. Maybe it makes sense? 🙂

      Like

Leave a Reply to ascreasey Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s