The Dalai Lama has hope for humankind. His Holiness, the 14th reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, thinks we can make it if we put down our guns and wallets and realize that we’re all the same; we all want a warm bed at night, food for our brothers and sisters, a peaceful future for our children, and someone to hold our hand and/or light a fire under us when things get tough. The Dalai Lama believes this, despite the fact that his country has long been usurped and his people are dying. Right now, his people are dying.
If the Dalai Lama has hope, I do too.
Friday afternoon at Key Arena the Dalai Lama met with songwriter Dave Matthews, journalist Ann Curry, and a fat Seattle crowd to kick off the Seeds of Compassion event, going on right now all over the city. I had never seen His Holiness in person before, and what struck me the most was the grace and moreover the humor which radiated from his being, his very essence. Easy smiles and laughs bubbled out of the cute 72-year old man like a stream (I said it, what? A bodhisattva can be adorable). Ann Curry helped steer the direction with a good journalist’s inquisition and a bad-ass woman’s confidence while Dave Matthews, always quite the freak (the biggest complement in my book), squirmed awkwardly in his seat; his twitchy nature, bizarre facial expressions, and clothes from the bedroom floor putting all of Key Arena at ease.
The panel spoke of many facets of compassion and the room was silently respectful of the wisdom incarnate that sat in front of us, leaning forward in our seats in order not to miss a word. Ms. Curry brought up the very tough question: how do we love and show compassion to our enemies, to those who have harmed us and the ones we love? How do we forgive and forget? The Dalai Lama answered that no one ever really forgets transgressions. We all this truth, but for some reason this idea of “forgive and forget” gets a lot of playtime even though we know it cannot be; it’s another myth we tell ourselves to make life better, like the Tooth Fairy or the idea of ‘closure’. His Holiness recognizes this and spoke not of forgetting, but of remembering with no ill will; a much easier goal than amnesia. We cannot forget but we can let go.
The Dalai Lama also emphasized the importance of females, especially mothers, when it comes to creating a compassionate world (as all the women in the audience nodded of course). Evolutionarily speaking (or back in cave-person days, if you prefer), it was much more important for females to create and sustain a stable community if they were to survive. Males could go out and hunt or forage for food on their own with no need for another person’s help; however when a female had four kids hanging off her whining for more Mastadon meat she didn’t have the choice to be a rugged individualist. To survive, she had to get along with others and make sure those others got along too and didn’t get pissy and storm out of the cave. This is of course a gigantic generalization but even today we have scientific signs of this survival mechanism: female humans have much higher levels of oxytocin, the “let’s-just-all-get-along” hormone. All around the world, the vast majority of people caring for the weak, for children, for the elderly, and for the sick, are women. Higher levels of oxytocin in the human female makes us want to hold families and social groups together; it also makes us hurt more than males when those relationships end. When science and the Dalai Lama agree, it should at least make you think. However this is not just a pretty flower in the bonnet for us ladies out there; yeah we have the skills but do we use them? Females of the world should take the Dalai Lama’s words as a call to action, for compassion without action means nothing; intent is useless unless it is backed up by behavior. Women must act and use their naturally evolved gifts to create a better world.
Another big topic of the evening was the relationship between music and compassion. The panelists agreed that when you speak of empathy and caring for others, the words go into your brain first and are processed, sorted, labeled and tucked away, an organizational byproduct of human existance and our need to categorize the world around us. A musical experience, however, is sensory- it skips your brain and all of it’s hangups and hookups and goes right into your body and through to your soul and to your spirit. You embody the understanding, you become a part of the sensory experience. All of you crazed music lovers out there are shaking your heads, going yes, yes, yes, music changed my life! It is true; I always say dancing is my religion and it’s not just a clever Myspace comment; when I am on the dance floor everything else in my life goes away. I transcend. Dave spoke of dancing by the fireplace when he was young, and his children bouncing on the couch to music these days, and truly if everyone could share this musical transcendence the world would be a happier place. Can you imagine if President Bush took a couple of hours every day to crank up some tunes and dance barefoot in the grass? Music makes everyone’s life better, and as a tool for compassionate action, it has no match.
This is the message as I understood it from the words of the Dalai Lama. No doubt every other person in the room took a slightly different idea home, but we all got the point: compassion leads to inner peace, and inner peace leads to world peace. And every single one of us has the duty to create this compassionate world for each other, for our six million brothers and sisters.
After the hour-long convo and a short break, Seattle’s band-of-the-moment, Death Cab for Cutie, took the stage in a surprise appearance. I had heard talk of an Eddie Vedder or Pearl Jam showing, so I was a bit disappointed as I am not a big fan of the emo genre. I find it depressing and just want to slap those kids and tell ’em hey: cheer up! Even the Dalai Lama is laughing despite his problems which are no doubt bigger than yours: have you heard of China? I gave Death Cab another listen but left after a couple of songs and went to Mecca Cafe for some fried cheese sticks and Mac & Jack’s.
Back at Key Arena after avoiding the screaming protesters outside (‘cuz compassion SUCKS) came Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds who somehow create and express emotions you didn’t know you felt with two little guitars and two giant talents. If you have not heard Live at Luther College, a recording of a Dave and Tim show, go online right now and acquire it. The combination of Dave’s genius songwriting skills and Tim’s redonkulous abilities on the guitar create a new animal that is greater than the sum of its parts. Friday night the jam began with Bartender, a Dave Matthews Band song about how the divine is found not in some far away universe or on a mountaintop, but within every single one of us. Crowd favorites Dancing Nancies and Everyday were complemented by newer songs like Eh Hee, and the show was wrapped up by carpe diem anthem Lie In Our Graves, which goes like this:
I can’t believe that we would lie in our graves, wondering if we had spent our living days well; I can’t believe that we would lie in our graves, dreaming of things that we might have been, could have been, maybe…
What a perfect theme for Seeds of Compassion! Do you use your gifts and talents to make this world a better place? Are you acting with compassion towards others- not just your friends (that’s easy) but to all humans, even those that don’t look like you or eat the same foods or have different beliefs about the world? Do you create positive, compassionate energy that makes those around you have a better day? Are your actions in line with your words? We can’t become the Dalai Lama overnight, but we can all strive to be such a caring, compassionate human being in small steps, every day.
The talk was inspiring, the music was thrilling, and the night was one of the best of my life (and I have a lot of great nights). My only small complaint (as usual) was that there was absolutely nowhere to dance in the nosebleeds at Key Arena; somehow I got stuck in the section of crowd who didn’t want to stand up at all so I felt like an ass when I got up to clap and cheer and dance. The set played by Dave and Tim was also much shorter than their usual shows, about half the songs that they usually play. I wanted more.
The real question is, will this whole big workshop on compassion make a difference in the world? Will people really change their actions and be more compassionate? Today driving downtown I happened to get behind His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama’s motorcade, backed up by Seattle’s finest. Paying attention to the little parade instead of the road, I cut off the driver in a Hummer behind me. Looking in my mirror and expecting a honk or a one-fingered hand signal, I received instead a wave and a smile. Yeah, it’s small, a tiny traffic transgression forgiven, but it’s a start. Seattle is a kind city, a polite metropolis, and a leader in this country when it comes to progressive thought and smart people. Let’s put all that to work to create a better world; let’s make sure that the Seeds of Compassion grow and blossom into a movement of kindness and actions of empathy. It starts today, with you.