Friday, April 18, 2008

Seeds of Compassion: The Roving Reporter (or not)

Sorry for the delay in posting about the Dalai Lama. Talk about poor reporting etiquette!

It isn't that I didn't want to continue blogging about this tremendous event. It was simply the fact that when it comes down to it, I am only part roving reporter and mainly a mom of three kids, an employee for a software company and a wife to a busy parent. First things first.

However, I have to admit, I thoroughly enjoyed my few days of being the roving reporter: chasing the story as it unfolds, capturing photos which embody each event, taking copious notes, driving from event to event, packing my camera bag each night with only essentials (digital SLR, video camera, pad of paper and pen, press passes, two apples for moments of hunger, and numerous forms of identification) knowing that I'd have to be ready to act quickly: living the lean and mean life of a reporter.

Well, let's say, I enjoyed IMAGINING that I was the lean and mean roving reporter. The reality is I ended up promptly coming down with a cold (sore throat, cough, runny nose and head ache). I believe it was because rather than being the "mean and lean roving reporter," of my imagination, I am, in reality, the "stress-case, worried, anxious roving reporter." I'm sure in time I'd work out all of these stress-related reporter kinks but it didn't happen in the last week, that's for sure, and took its toll on my health.

Here are some roving reporter highlights:

I was annoyed to no end for having to pay $25 to park in the Qwest field parking garage on the 6th floor (the press entry was there) and for not having found alternative parking ahead of time. Other reporters were annoyed as well but just laughed and said, "Ah well, at least we can expense it." A clear difference between me the little freelance reporter (where expensing means adding it to her tax return somewhere) and those who work for someone else who takes care of all of the tax details.

I was constantly worried that I'd get stuck in traffic and miss something (anyone who lives in Seattle will know what I mean: traffic is either great or suddenly horrible stop-and-go for miles and miles).

"Did I remember my press passes?" I'd ask myself a few times each morning. Then I'd wonder, "Did I recharge the camera battery?" or "Where did I put my keys again?"

Being that I wanted to do it all (take great photos, write up the most important highlights of the event, video tape just the right bits, interview some insightful people, purchase just a few pieces of memorabilia) I was always a little frantic. I'm sure those around me started feeling freaked out just watching me!

For goodness sakes, I was there to see and listen to the Dalai Lama and here I was feeling overwhelmed and exhausted - all from my own silly desire to do it all.

However, not all was lost on my frenetic silliness.

There were moments when I just put my photographic equipment away, breathed a sigh and let the moment fill me with awesome joy. Yes, there were moments when I even became teary-eyed and couldn't imagine being happier and more content. It wasn't always just from the words of the Dalai Lama. It was from looking around and seeing the faces of others caught up in the moment. It was from the rawness of the moment - people letting themselves feel vulnerable and open, teary-eyed and connected on a deep level.

Which brings me to my difficult relationship with groups: On the one hand I love being a part of them but on the other hand I feel confined and defensive. I often have a hard time letting go and losing myself when in a group of people. Someone is talking a few rows back, the speaker's voice grates on my nerves a bit, the sound system lacks in quality. I tend to prefer letting go and finding enlightenment alone on my own terms.

Yet on the other hand, I delight just being part of something large and all-consuming. When I looked around the stadium at each event I was captured by the fact that so many people were all sitting in one place at the same time hearing the same words and seeing the same images as me. For that it doesn't really matter whether someone is sitting right next to the Dalai Lama or on the other side of the stadium. The feel of the weight of the moment is powerful regardless.

Therefore, I am not quite sure what to say in terms of "reporting" on the Dalai Lama event. What can I say that can truly capture the event?

This is what I have taken from the series of events which I attended:

Find out what works for you. Compassion is not necessarily about any religion in particular, it isn't even about spirituality if viewing it through that lens turns you off. It is about finding what works for you so that you can go from understanding and conceptualizing compassion to acting on it to make the world a better place for our children (and ourselves). If that is through a religious context then that is wonderful, if it isn't, then that is wonderful too.

The Dalai Lama encourages a kind of contemplative, analytical meditation for creating compassion in our lives. It is an engaging task, not something in which we sit on the sidelines and watch. How we go about this analytical meditation is again based on our personality. Perhaps we need to set aside an hour each day for contemplation? Or maybe we can at least commit to turning off the radio in the car during our commute and spending that time on contemplation? Or maybe we should put on some soothing music for half and hour and spend that time contemplating our lives and how we can foster more compassion? The key is simply taking the time to focus on this rather than assuming it will just magically happen.

This kind of analytical contemplation is an interactive one. It may mean we need to start by looking at our lives and asking some hard questions (and then acting on changing things for the better). What is holding us up from finding true compassion for ourselves and others in our lives? Are there things in our lives which are straining our nerves and causing us to have a short fuse with others? What can we do to solve this?

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, the Dalai Lama discusses two different kinds of compassion: the biased=limited one and the unbiased=unlimited one. We need to strive to imbue our lives with the unbiased=unlimited one. This kind of compassion is about being able to understand another person, country, custom, event even if we aren't in agreement. It isn't about condoning actions but about understanding where others are coming from via their perspective and moving toward them from that standpoint. This isn't easy without giving it some effort and concentration.

Action is key. We can think about compassion, feel compassionate and want to be compassionate with others but then we need to actually do something about it. This starts with ourselves, then our children and spouses, then our mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers, then out to other family and friends, communities, neighborhoods and as wide as possible. We make sure to spend alone time to reflect and recharge. We take the time to be truly present with our children and spouse. We join with our communities to renovate parks and collect donations for the poor. We volunteer at local food banks and volunteer at events. We find things which fit with our personalities (some people aren't as out-going so maybe they can volunteer behind the scenes rather out front with the public).

Compassion feeds the soul. The Dalai Lama reminds us that through such compassionate actions, we will be feeding our soul, our heart, our minds, our spirits. Whatever we want to call it, through compassionate acts we get in touch with our true selves and find that warmth inside. It is the most satisfying food we can feed ourselves. It is ironic in some ways but through true acts of compassion, we gain the greatest benefits! How very selfish in some delightful way.

Viewed historically, the primary concepts about which the Dalai Lama speaks are really nothing new. People have been discussing such things for hundreds and hundreds of years. However, having the Dalai Lama come to town (or other such spiritual leaders) is a kind of reminder for us all. A wake-up call even. His words remind me that as a country, I feel the United States has become very cynical. Getting in touch with the more raw and vulnerable bits of ourselves is seen as weakness, and weakness is not a good quality in the "home of the free." Praiseworthy are often qualities such as wealthy, cool, popular, busy, efficient, tireless, reliable. Sure, we don't necessarily admit this but these traits come up as praiseworthy in casual conversations all of the time. And our children watch and learn this from us. They learn that making a lot of money is something to strive toward, that being number one and at the top is what we should all strive toward, that having lots of friends is better than knowing only a few people.

To end, I apologize for this not being a traditional report about the Dalai Lama's visit to Seattle. I find that since each of his events are available via the Seeds of Compassion website, that my personal reflections inspired by his visit may also have some value here. I know that many of you are reading my blog and I appreciate your emails! They are full of wonderful insights, thoughts and reflections!

Finally, I leave you with a comment from a baggy-pants teenager after the Monday event. I listened as he and his buddies chatted on the way out:

"I couldn't understand a thing that guy said. But he was really cute, wasn't he? A really nice, funny guy."

I'm sure the Dalai Lama would have loved the reference to himself as "that guy" and that what was remembered was that he was cute, nice and funny.

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