A well-known Buddhist teaching says “When you open your heart, you get life’s ten thousand sorrows, and ten thousand joys.” However, for many, it may seem like the balance has tipped to sorrow rather than joy.
This teaching asks us to be open and grateful for both the sorrows and the joys–acknowledging that the sorrows can teach us even more, if we allow our hearts to stay open and feel the quivering of the heart of compassion. “In certain temples that I’ve been to, there’s actually a prayer that you make asking for difficulties,” said Jack Kornfield, a prominent Buddhist teacher in the United States. It says “May I be given the appropriate difficulties so that my heart can truly open with compassion. Imagine asking for that.”*
But, it is also interesting to consider that some people’s sorrows are other people’s joys. Yesterday I had to run my car by the collision center where I had gotten it repaired recently to have an annoying squeak evaluated. I asked how business was, thinking it would have decreased due to the limited driving people are doing these days. He said “The recent hail storm in Jefferson City was great for us! We’ve had a lot of business from that.” I can’t imagine the people with the hail damage would say the same thing.
Last week, my daughter asked if she could give me and her Dad a call. While my first thought was “Oh dear, I wonder what is wrong?,” she exclaimed that “I’m actually happier now.” For a devoted introvert who spends much of her time online with friends anyway, not having to trudge across the university campus is absolutely wonderful for her. On the other hand, I’ve heard my more extroverted friends chomping at the bit to get out among others again.
More important than these examples, is the fact that many of us are extremely more privileged than others during this time of shelter-at-home. For those of us who have not lost our businesses, our loved ones, our livelihood, or our ability to care for ourselves by paying rent, mortgages, and even buy food, the current restrictions are creating minimal difficulties in comparison. Others are experiencing tremendous hardships that are hard to even comprehend.
Reflecting on the privilege that I have, I have decided to reach out each day to a business, a non-profit, or an individual that might need help and consider how I might be able to be a support. If you have the ability, asking what you can do and doing it can even improve your own resilience. In the Sunday New York Times article, called The Science of Helping Out, it cited studies which suggest that supporting others helps buffer our bodies against the detrimental effects of stress and increase our ability to cope with our own life challenges.
Don’t underestimate the importance of small acts like grocery shopping for a friend or buying a gift card at your favorite local restaurant or business. Someone I talked to yesterday mentioned that she was envisioning the world that she wanted to see when she was able to go back out again and was supporting those business to maintain economic stability.
Ways to help that you may consider:
1. If you know how to sew, make masks and give them to people that need them on the front lines at the grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and health care settings.
2. Buy gift cards from your local businesses.
3. Order takeout from your local restaurants.
4. Call someone you know that is having a difficult time.
5. Donate money to local food banks.
6. Donate restaurant meals to those in need or those at risk.
7. Donate blood.
8. Buy books from your local bookseller.
9. Support non-profits to continue their work.
10. Help older people and others at risk be safe by running necessary errands for them.
11. Give a financial break on the services you offer.
12. Support your local arts, theater, and music community.
13. Think about local fundraisers that have been cancelled and give money to these organizations.
14. Give money to your service workers even though you aren’t getting their services.
15. Give people at least 6 feet of distance when you go out among others.
I’m sure there are many other things that we can do. Open your eyes and hearts and see where the needs are that you can help fill. For instance, I’m spending a lot of time with my ten-year-old nephew giving him virtual cooking lessons over Facetime. I’m having a blast and I’m sure his mom appreciates both the food and the extra time he stays occupied.
If we let this moment in our shared humanity open our hearts to each other in a deeper way than we’ve been called on before, then our collective sorrows can become our collective joys through our acts of compassion and giving.
Here is a big virtual hug to all of you. May the compassion that you feel, that quivering of your heart in response to the suffering of others, guide you through these times of uncertainty.
*from O’Brien, Barbara. “Being Grateful.” Learn Religions, Feb. 11, 2020, learnreligions.com/being-grateful-449576.