Tuesday, October 30, 2007

An Ode to Forrest, Endodontics, and the Dalai Lama

A lot of firsts and milestones this past week.

Last night, I went for my first outside run at the new house. I've had my treadmill going, and while it's nice and all, I've learned that there's nothing like running outside among the long stretches of farmland. There was one point in my run where I found myself feeling as though I was in the movie Forrest Gump. The scenes where he's running through the Midwest...I swear, I was there. I even made a new friend...a huge Bull Mastiff who actually followed me for part of the journey.

This morning, I had my very first root canal. I'd rather have five pap smears consecutively than to have a root canal, but I went in and took it like a trooper, getting beat up on and then charged $500 for it. Um, thanks.

The best of all this past week - a very memorable personal milestone. Last Friday, I went to Purdue University for the day to see the Dalai Lama speak. After riding the shuttle bus from the intramural field and getting through a ridiculous amount of security, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I mean, the guy is referred to as “His Holiness.” You can’t help but expect him to be a little full of himself, as his very title means “Ocean of Wisdom.” But I was pleasantly surprised. In fact, I was shocked at his absolute normalcy, really. He’s small and unassuming and extremely real. He’s the antithesis of preachy, doesn’t have an ounce of self-righteousness, and says a simple “I don’t know” to questioning such as “How do you think we should end the war in Iraq?” Brilliant.

When the President of the University (who I also happen to love – she’s the University’s first female President, an astrophysicist, and new personal role model –https://engineering.purdue.edu/MEP/spotlights/PurdueWelcomesitsfirstFemalePresident) introduced the Dalai Lama, I got a little verklempt. I mean, how often do you get to see and hear a Nobel Peace Prize-winning (and deserving) spiritual leader and icon speak? Especially in the cornfield. His brother is a professor at IU in Bloomington (where the Tibetan Cultural Center was founded and continues to flourish, so we as a state luck out, in that respect. I knew this going in, but I didn’t really feel it until he walked on stage. Holy shit...there’s the Dalai Lama. It was a goosebump moment, without a doubt.

Even though I was surrounded by 2000 other people in an auditorium, I felt as though he was sitting in a fluffy chair across from me in someone’s living room and chatting with just me. That’s a gift, I believe. I think that the true greatness of him is his down-to-earth normalcy. That ability to be so “every man” while simultaneously being one of the most influential people in the world. Within the first five minutes of his talk, he asked the audience to excuse him while he took his shoes off and sat Indian-style on the chair. Then, he commented on how bright the lights were and took out a visor that matched his robe. He put it on like a baseball cap and kept right on talking.

The talk was titled “Cultivating Happiness” and it was all about how we, as a whole people, should practice more compassion. It also focused a lot on how individual happiness is just that - up to the individual. A life lesson I tend to learn again and again and try not to lose focus of. Just giving a crap about other human beings – trying to be NICE in a world full of shmucky materialistic fake crap – it matters. Being truthful, living authentically, not being something that you’re not. As completely hippie as it sounds, these things really do matter. They make or break a person’s happiness, and that happiness transcends.

He took questions from the crowd, giving his point of view on things from feminism to his favorite color (which happens to be green, by the way). On the topic of feminism, he said that he believed more women should be in power, as we are generally the more compassionate and therefore, more balanced, leaders. Bitch Magazine would've loved that one.

Someone asked him who he feels are the most memorable and friendly world leaders that he’s met to date. At a ripe 72 years of age, he’s seen a lot in his life. Two that he mentioned surprised me. One was Mao Tse Tung. He met him when he was only 21 years old, and this was around the time that he was exiled from China. Conceivably, this guy was his arch enemy, but he commented only on how “sincere” he thought he was behind closed doors. He added that he and Mao could’ve been great friends. And, beyond that, he didn’t say anything negative about him.

The second one that surprised me was his relationship with the present President Bush. He said, simply, “I love that guy.” And, in a room full of academe (a.k.a liberals), there were a few seconds of "I'm not sure what to do with that" silence. He went on to say that a lot of leaders he’s met in his life kept him at arm’s reach, seemingly insincere in their dealings with him. It’s almost as if many people think he’s capable of some special voodoo powers or something (which he also nipped in the bud early in his talk by laughing at the notion that he had “special powers” and those people who say they do – he usually doesn’t believe them). But, George W. was friendly from the get-go, and the Dalai Lama commented that even if he doesn’t necessarily agree with every political move he makes, he and George are good friends, and he’s always loved his sincerity.

He spoke quietly for a little under two hours, and as I left the auditorium, I knew that I had attended something once-in-a-lifetime cool.

It beat the hell out of my root canal.