Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Running Toward Sunshine

I live in an apartment just off of Riverside Park. Every time I take a walk there, I see kids playing in one of the many playgrounds. The other day I saw one dashing away from her mom toward the sunny side of the jungle gym. It made me think of how often we go running toward light, toward something that will reveal to us some kind of warmth, comfort, and joy.

In this spirit, I went to see H.H. the Dalai Lama on Sunday with my friend, Rob. I have had a hard time writing this piece for this blog party because I am afraid that no words I am able to express will lend the kind of simplistic beauty that his message sends. However, after reading in the paper today about China's threat to destroy relations with the U.S. if H.H. is given the Congressional Gold Medal tomorrow at the White House made me realize I must spread his message. We all must. As he says, "dialogue is the only way."

His most incredible attribute is without doubt his unbridled humility. He sat center stage in lotus pose, with matching visor because the lights were so bright, and spoke to us for two hours. No notes, no teleprompter. It was as if we had been invited to his living room to ask our questions and tell him our fears. He made very clear that if we came to be fixed, to be enlightened, that we would be very disappointed. He could only tell us how he saw things. This was ironic because just as my friend, Rob, and I entered Radio City, I was thinking of the spiritual song whose verses end "oh lord, fix me."

H.H. made clear that he does not think prayer fixes anything. There is no magic in it. It will not stir change. The only way forward is effort, failure. More effort, more failure. And again, and again. The only way forward, quite simply, is to keep going.

Fundamentally, he believes we may all be non-believers because for most of our lives, including his own, we do not practice our faith at every moment. It is in the background. We are human.

His talk was entitled Peace and Prosperity. He explained to us that this awful gap between rich and poor in the world must be closed. We will never all have peace if we don't all have prosperity. It is almost as if the two must be achieved jointly. Not one before the other.

Despite his professing that he does not know the answers to most of our difficult situations in the world, people asked. They wanted to know how he felt about Burma. He replied, "This is very difficult. Very sad. The monks there wear robes similar in colors to mine. And I don't know how to help them. I don't know."

He does believe fervently that war is outdated. That while we see so much tragedy and hardship, the world is getting better. He says there is no cause for hopelessness. There are only pockets of distress. By and large, the world is vastly improved from when he was a young man.

Exactly two hours after he began he put up his hands and said, "well that's it. Until our next meeting, take care." And with that simple statement, he stood up, bowed with his hands in prayer position, and bid us farewell. No fanfare, no excess. Just, "until we see each other again." And I believe that moment will come. I really will see him again.

The thing I remember most about him is his rich deep laugh that enveloped all of us, took us into his comfort, and held us for a little while. A man who has suffered so much, who will undoubtedly never see his homeland again in this lifetime despite his constant effort to free his people, was by and large a happy, even joyful, man. And it made me think that regardless of my hardships in life, they are nothing compared to his. If he could laugh, and mean in, then so can I.

A few years ago I read H.H.'s book "Happiness at Work". And at the end of the book the author was looking for some piece of pure wisdom. He asked the Dalai Lama how he could get up every day and work so tirelessly with seemingly little results. What would he do if he was not able to free his people in his lifetime? "Well, we will do the best we can." And that was that. He would do his best. It's all he could promise. And that small phrase gave me freedom. No matter what terrible loss or sadness or disappointment I may suffer, I had to know in my heart that the most I could was my best. If H.H. asked no more of himself, and he is enlightened, then how could I ask more of myself.

There was the sunshine I was looking for. I didn't have to run toward it. It has been with me all along. It is with all of us, at every moment.

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