A walk in the woods on Saturday afternoon, an interview with a community leader for my new book on Sunday afternoon and a WordPress blog that I read first thing this Monday morning – what do they all have in common? And the answer is…who is the Dalai Lama. I find that borderline bizarre or mildly convergent.
First, a walk in the woods. Saturday morning my young bestie Meghan texted me with an invitation to join her and a couple of her other friends and their dogs to drive to Fort Jackson and hike a portion of the Palmetto Trail for a little while. The day was perfect – the weather like it had been ordered for a walk in the outdoors: give me a bright sunshiny day, hold the rain, no mosquitoes, extra colors and a splash of conversation. Teresa was at work, and I hated it for her, but I was in.
I took my black lab Chelsea because she is the least likely to create a fuss in a pack and we all set off together in high spirits. We did set off together, but the dogs ran ahead of us with the small group of three relatively younger adults following at a brisk pace; and then there was the token senior adult, me, bringing up the rear with my camera. We had random moments together, though, when the others would drop back to make sure I was trudging along with no problems.
During one of these chats along the way, I mentioned to Meghan that I felt guilty for having such a wonderful walk on such a gorgeous day while Teresa was inside working at the Mast General Store. We then engaged in a tongue-in-cheek exchange about feelings of guilt, and she jokingly told me the Dalai Lama said guilt shouldn’t be a word. According to him, guilt was unproductive in our lives and interfered with our expectations for happiness.
Now, Meghan is a student in an acupuncture school in North Carolina and also a licensed massage therapist who has tried to help my various aches and pains in the past few years. She is way more informed about alternative medicines and Eastern beliefs than I am – which made me think if she said the Dalai Lama didn’t believe in guilt, then he clearly did not. I certainly wouldn’t argue with her. But, the conversation made me try to think of everything I knew about the Buddhist spiritual leader, and the only image I could recall was Richard Gere dressed in a white robe sitting on a hillside in a faraway place with a little Asian man who looked like the cat who ate the canary.
Sunday afternoon I interviewed Michael who is one of the people that will be included in my next book which has a working title of A State of Our Own: Oral Histories of the Queer Movement in South Carolina from 1984 – 2014. While I’ve known Michael for fifteen years, I didn’t realize the depth of his passion for his spiritual commitments and certainly never knew of his interests in religious experiences outside Christianity. Although no mention was made of the Dalai Lama, I made a mental note that I found it coincidental to be discussing spiritual topics in a twenty-four hour period. That’s really strange for me.
This morning I opened my WordPress Reader to wander through the blog posts of the people I follow, and the very first one was a blogger who went to see and hear His Holiness the 14th. Dalai Lama in Birmingham, Alabama yesterday. Apparently, it was the conclusion of his three-day visit to Birmingham, and she was effusive in her description of the experience.
Okay. Knock, knock. Who’s there? The Dalai Lama, that’s who.
And then I went off on a cyberspace search for a man who leads a religion I know very little about and yet, has been the confidante of world leaders and an inspiration for an enormous following of truth seekers including Richard Gere.
His Holiness has a web site and is connected to Facebook, twitter and a vast array of You Tube Videos that offer a glimpse into the man. I’m not sure why I was surprised that I could Tweet the Dalai Lama, but I totally was. I am clearly out of touch with spiritual matters in the 21st. century.
I read about the history of the Dalai Lamas and found it most interesting. In a nutshell, this Nobel Prize winning man of peace is a descendant of centuries of violence and political mayhem in Tibet-and lives in exile in India.
I randomly selected a You Tube Video of his appearance at Macalester College in March of this year. Macalester is located in St. Paul, Minnesota and is one of the foremost private liberal arts colleges in America. His Holiness was being honored with a doctorate from the school and looked the way I expected him to look in his robes and eyeglasses as he sat on the stage with the other dignitaries . He was short but not a tiny man. For a man in his nineties, he looked to be in good shape.
I was stunned when the Provost gave him a Macalester baseball cap along with his degree – and even more stunned when he wore it during his entire address to the gathering of students and teachers and visitors in the large auditorium at the college. The audience responded with a cheer when he donned the cap, but it became very quiet when he spoke in English that I could only compare to my spoken Spanish. Not great, but you get your point across.
Time is always moving, he began, and no force can stop time. The past is past. The future belongs to the young people of the 21st century – the people who are inheriting a lot of problems because of our failures in the 20th century: a population of seven billion people separated by a huge gap between the rich and the poor, major disasters that will occur due to global warming, a lack of water, and so on. But the most important message he drove home was that violence brings more violence, and the 20th. century was one of violence. His hope for the 21st. century is dialogue. He urges us to talk and to not draw weapons. He said the world is one world now because of our communication capabilities; but we have different colors and different religions, different economic resources and we must talk to each other to resolve our differences that lead to conflict.
I confess I didn’t listen to the entire speech, but I also admit I enjoyed him. What I liked most was that he laughed a sincere loud laugh when he thought he was being funny. He had an interpreter who stood at his side while he spoke and occasionally the Dalai Lama looked to him for a word or encouragement. I noticed the interpreter also made sure to laugh when His Holiness laughed.
I don’t know if the 14th Dalai Lama is really the incarnation of the 13th or not, and I can’t verify the elimination of the word guilt from his vocabulary. What I do know is that I admire anyone whose truth resembles my own, and I have a new appreciation for a man who advocates peace and non-violence in a country where our teenagers gun down each other in our public schools on a regular basis. More power to you and your baseball caps – the message is more important than the messenger.
I may even Tweet you.