My soul insists that the 14th Dalai Lama is a personal friend, is kin. The Dalai Lama turned 80 a week ago, but my soul says the two of them are the same age, timeless. They are running buddies. They have stories they could tell each other but neither bothers because they already know each other’s stories, infinite.
If an age were demanded of them, if they were forced, they would probably say they were 11 years old because of the mischievousness. Or something over 2000 because of the knowledge they have that I cannot normally access.
The Dalai Lama and I had our moment. It was a few miles north of Santa Fe in 1995, maybe 1996, and started over a breakfast of huevos rancheros at a five-star resort in the desert.
Out the dining room window I saw Tibetan flags leading towards the mountains. Moments later, monks in orange robes walked by the window.
I grabbed a waiter, “Is the Dalai Lama here?”
“He’ll be here soon.”
“There’s a press conference.”
“I’m supposed to be there.”
“It’s private, it’s closed.”
“I’m supposed to be there.”
“Talk to those people over there.”
Abandoning huevos rancheros and my husband, I rushed to the very official looking people “over there.” They had clip boards and check off lists.
“I’m supposed to be at the press conference.”
“But I’m a reporter and a photographer,” I sort of, vaguely, exaggerated, even as I knew I was supposed to be there. I was.
“Show me some i.d.”
I don’t remember what I showed them. I think I rattled off places where I worked years earlier.
“Okay, but you better get in there. It’s starting in five minutes.”
I sprinted out the door to my room among the cacti, grabbed my Nikon, and sprinted back past the monks, and slipped through the double doors as they were being closed.
Not a single chair was available. Everyone was silent, waiting His Holiness.
I stood alone against the wall inside the double doors. They opened and six monks entered. Together we stood in a line against the wall.
When the Dalai Lama entered, he came in with his head down and palms together in front of his chest. He bowed to each monk in turn without raising his head.
Orange robe to orange robe to orange robe to orange robe to orange robe to orange robe . . . to levis. The Dalai Lama was bowing to me.
He looked up, surprised and curious, his head 12 inches from mine. Then he smiled.
He smiled just for me, his eyes sparkling. The Dalai Lama and I shared a joke, a visual joke, a quiet joke, a timing joke. A joke of the misplaced and unexpected. Fifteen minutes before I had been eating huevos rancheros.
His eyes have been called “laser eyes.” It is true. Their amusement and curiosity etched into my mind. It was only a moment, but it was timeless.
And the memory, the reality of the memory, returns now with good timing for I have been weighed down by the suffering in the world. Old questions such as “How can any of us be happy when so many of us are in misery?” are unanswered and seem to me to be unanswerable.
Yet, the Dalai Lama tells us we can have peace inside and experience daily joy. He shows us we can have peace inside and experience daily joy. But he’s the Dalai Lama, it’s his job description. How does it become ours?
In the last week of my father’s dying, he laughed in that time of the dark night of the soul around 4 am. It was a muffled laugh. He had only one-half of one functioning lung.
But it was enough to wake me on the cot next to his hospital bed. Well, I was in a listening sleep and heard his every breath.
“What’s happening, Dad?”
“It’s a joke. It’s all been a joke!” He was in bliss, radiant, and highly amused by his 82 years of life.
The next morning a nurse asked in that loud voice nurses sometimes use, “Howard, are you in pain?”
“Why be in pain?” he answered.
Only a week before he had been remembering every injury ever done to him. He started with my mother and worked his way backwards through time until he was in his twenties. He spoke of people and things I had never heard of. He was angry, resentful, and fed up. He was not going to leave this earth without letting someone – me – know every time he had been cheated, betrayed, humiliated.
After three days, I asked, “Dad, is this how you want to do it?” He stopped talking to me for the next two days. Then in the dark, he muttered something incoherent, a guttural sound.
“What’s happening, Dad?”
“I’m trying to get my head on straight.”
Two nights later, he saw life was a joke and he abandoned pain. Three days after that he abandoned this physical life.
The Dalai Lama and a farmer from Iowa have the same message. The difference is one has had decades to tell it to millions while the other had only a couple days and told it only to me.
But the message is the same. Everyone has a right to be happy, joy is possible, the suffering do not wish us also to suffer, it is ego to think our sadness helps their suffering. It is also ego to turn away from those who suffer.
My soul is quietly saying, “Go girl, you’re getting there.”
Joy is not a luxury item. It is as basic as corn and potatoes were to my father, and as the twinkle in his eye is to the Dalai Lama.
I think, yes, that the point where we do not belittle those who suffer by thinking they are different from us – that we are greater and, therefore, somehow guilty – but that we realize we are all equally deserving of joy, it is native to each of us, that is the point where we have gained a little bit of new understanding.
To take on suffering gratuitously that has no benefit to others is its own hubris. It is saying I think my suffering will make a difference when, in fact, it is our joy that makes the difference.
None of us is god, and each of us is god. My soul and the Dalai Lama have this conversation all the time. Perhaps I am just starting to hear a little bit of it.
When we feel joy, we are not ignoring those who suffer, we are keeping the light bright. We are accepting our natural state, and it is from this natural state that we have something more to give than our grief. It is light that clears darkness, our own and other’s.