In April of 2004, I got a chance to cross paths with his Holiness the Dalai Lama. I was awaiting his arrival, sitting patiently in the front area of a room that was packed with international media along with their fancy cameras and credentials. I’ve never experienced anything quite like this – we were all under this hot light bulb, waiting to go off at any moment. The energy in the room was palpable and I was meeting some of the most fascinating people ranging from journalists, to book authors, to documentarians. Their stories often no less interesting than that of the special guest we were all anticipating that day.
When the Dalai Lama finally entered the room and took his seat, he waved in my direction, greeting me. Was he waving to me? Surely not. It felt just like a moment from a typical slapstick comedy, so I looked behind me to see who the Dalai Lama was in fact waving to. When I turned back, he was laughing kindly. I pointed to myself, quizzically asking, “Are you waving to me in this room of hot shot journalists?” He read my expression, nodded, and laughed again.
The shy soul that I was, perhaps that acknowledgement gave me the courage to pose a question of my own. In the midst of questions about important issues and hot topics of international significance, I simply asked about how we might be able to “listen better.” A vague question, and I immediately felt guilty for asking it. But, surrounded by so many voices and words, at that moment, it was on my mind.
His answer was simple. I’m attempting to capture here, with some difficulty given that the recording of it had far too much “ambient” noise and was only partially in English, and partially a translation. He cited a Tibetan expression, something about how if an answer helps heal the wound, you should take it.
The rest went something like this: “There needs to be a greater preference to be open… If on your part you’re receptive and open, then you’ll enjoy the benefits from the interactions. There’s no problem to listen, there’s always room for ideas, whether you believe in them or not, is up to you…listen, listen, listen…maybe you’ll come to new ideas…”
Rabbi Schachter-Shalomi was also in the room and he added the following: “When you’ve heard something that touches you and you don’t think about it a second time, you’ll forget. It is necessary to listen to the heart’s response to ideas that you’ve heard and then rehearse them in your mind as you go to sleep, as you wake up, and you’ll find that these ideas will take root in you and grow.”
A simple idea, but true and practical advice.
Sometimes, the answer really is that simple. Later, I was attending several talks by the Dalai Lama when someone asked: “You’ve been through so much troubles, how can you remain so positive?” The Dalai Lama’s response was logical. While it’s true that he had encountered many challenges and hardships, had he not, he probably wouldn’t have travelled the world or met the people he had. His advice, in essence, was to use logic in order to find the positive outcome of life certain events. In other words, “positive thinking.” I tried that for a while. Missed the bus? Maybe I wasn’t meant to catch it and narrowly avoided something worse. Something didn’t go my way? Perhaps it was a life lesson or is meant to lead to something bigger. At first, this approach seemed forced. But through practice, it became more and more natural. And I have learned a lesson.