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December 2019
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Deconstructing The Angry Mind: Part II

Tobias Wolfe wrote a line of prophetic words caught somewhere near the end of his memorable memoir, “This Boy’s Life.” They took my breath away, and before I consciously knew it, I’d committed them to memory. And somehow or other I began to repeat them to myself, day after day, week after week, year after year, until the day they ceased to be a mass of words and morphed into one of the greatest wordless truths I have ever encountered.

“Knowing that all things come to an end is a gift of experience, a consolation gift for knowing that we ourselves are coming to an end,” Wolfe wrote. “Before we get it, we live in a continuous present, and imagine the future as more of that present. Happiness is endless happiness, innocent of its own sure passing. Pain is endless pain.”
What Wolfe was writing about, I now realize, was the body’s effortless return to its true form: the Self. The Self as Being, as pure unmanifested consciousness. Imagining the future, or projection into a false future divorces us from the reality of who we truly are underneath. Underneath the ugly gunk, the hideous layers of mind-made wrappings and deception. There is no such thing as endless happiness, just as there is no such thing as endless pain. Both are illusory. Only Joy is real and eternal. Coming to an end of form really is a gift, if we can remember to be amused by the impostor that is is our human body and mind.
Just for fun I decided to pick up several “New Age” books I found lying around my office. These were, in no particular order, Deepak Chopra’s “The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success,” Eckard Tolle’s “The Power of Now,” and Bartholomew’s “From The Heart of a Gentle Brother.” And then, just because I was on a roll, I started flipping through an ancient copy of “Seth Speaks.” Before even opening these books, I knew I would find what I was looking for. Because the message from all of these sources is the same. “The mind-made self,” these masters tell us with compassion and patience, is “a fiction. And once you know that, really know that, not a single thing you do in this world will hold a candle to Being who you are. Not at all. You are divine being. Let go of the mind chatter and you will Know it. Not think it. Know it.” It’s tough to wrap your mind around such essential truisms for the simple reason that the mind is incapable of grasping them. You have to be able to feel it, and if you can’t or won’t, you may get a nudge. I got one via a chance encounter with a master teacher who just happens to be one of the greatest spiritual figures of the century.
About eight years ago I shook hands with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. During a month-long trip to India I dragged my traveling companion from our well-charted course to veer off into the dirty and uninspired streets of Dharmsala, home of the Tibetan government in exile. I wanted, at the very least, to be near the seat of this great incarnation of compassion, even if I never saw his face. I had read in the Lonely Planet guide that he gave two public audiences a year in Dharmsala; otherwise he was busy traveling abroad and meditating with his monks. The chances of hitting the public audience, I learned, were extremely slim. Western Pilgrims had been waiting (intermingled with Tibetan refugees) six months or more to see His Holiness. That a skeptical quasi-Buddhist American tourist would gain immediate access to such an honor seemed highly improbable. Yet for some unknown reason, I wasn’t attached. And my dear friend David, who had never even heard of the Dalai Lama, had enough detachment for 100 Zen monks. And so, it was with a pleasant jolt of gestalt that I received the news from the Buddhist and Indian authorities that “Yes, His Holiness is giving an audience–tomorrow.” It was four o’clock in the afternoon the day before. We had just removed our sweating bodies from a deathtrap bus to disembark into a sweaty, humid drizzle of rain. Around us, the physical atmosphere was uncomely: the stench of garbage, hungry feral cats and lost souls alike wandering around in a haunted daze. The atmosphere gave me the creeps and it wasn’t long before I came down with one of the worst cases of food poisoning I have experienced (to be topped several years later in Thailand) and found myself bowing to the porcelain god. David quickly followed suite. Our sojourn in Dharmsala, as a fortune cookie might warn, had not gotten off to an auspicious start. Despite the misery in my guts, I wanted to be of service. So I spent the next morning tutoring several Tibetan refugees in English. They came to me with grammar books and pencils. My M.A. in English would prove useful at last. The rest of the day–several hours worth–was spent in the very long queue that formed the long and fraught gateway of access to His Holiness.
The tutoring aside, I began to wonder what the hell I was doing. Why was I here? I wasn’t wearing a mandala or prayer string. Other pilgrims were waiting in raptures to be blessed, an idea that hadn’t even occurred to me. I looked upon David’s cheerful, unattached bliss with some (very definite) attached envy.
“Do you think we should really bother with this?” I asked. “I mean, here we are, standing around like idiots, and for what? I’m sorry I insisted on coming up here.”
“Well,” David said shrugging cheerfully, “What else would we be doing? Now we can go back home and tell people–we’ve met and shaken the hand of this chap the Dolly Loma. Now how many people can say that?”
David’s ability to relish the experience just for the experience was the grand gesture I needed to get out of my head. He thought it would be splendid fun to meet “this chap”–some monk named Dolly something-or-other, whoever he was. For him, waiting in the line was part of the experience. It was not waiting. David, I realized now, had given me the gift of presence.
Several hours and body searchings later, we, along with the growing throng, were ushered along to a large courtyard. Our knives, cameras, passports, etc. were confiscated. The “handlers” gave us instructions. We were not to speak to His Holiness or ask for autographs. There would be no private discussions or questions. Those seeking blessings would receive them, then quickly move on. I flashed David a look of irritation and hissed, “No questions? What’s the point?” Again, he merely smiled and shrugged.
The sun was unrelentingly hot. Hotter than my June 1984 highschool graduation, when I felt sure I’d evaporate into water like the Wicked Witch of The West. For someone of my complexion, searing heat is practically a form of torture. I felt grumpy and desperate to meet this monk and get the hell out of Dharmsala. Where was he, anyway? I wondered, feeling more and more miserable. Was he even here? And then I saw him. A diminutive form in scarlet robes standing beneath a broad umbrella held out for him by one of his security people. Ordinary and unremarkable in every way except for the grin on his face. That grin was bigger than the umbrella, bigger than the throng that swarmed to gain a glimpse of him, bigger than the insidious grumbling inside my grudging mind. His grin was bigger than all of that because he was quite simply delighted. There’s no other word for it. Delighted to be standing under that umbrella on that stinking hot day. Delighted to be shaking the hands of hundreds of strangers. When he shook my hand I finally felt what true presence is, and what it is to be graced by it. For the few seconds he held my hand in his that direct, delighted gaze was focused on me and me alone. I knew in that moment, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I was his only focus. Just as the person who shook his hand after me became his sole focus in that subsequent moment. It blew the confines of my limited mind. What is that? I wondered. “How does he do that?” It was like awakening from a dream. The dream of the fractured mind, I realize now. Only the little monk’s intense, joyful presence was real. “A man who can see himself in all creatures, all creatures in himself, knows no sorrow.” The essence of compassionate presence is the essence of the Dalai Lama.
I am not an enlightened Being. I am merely a student with one wish in my heart: to stay present. To experience the sanctity of that moment with the Dalai Lama in every moment of my life. As Eckart Tolle says, the Master is actually more ordinary than the most ordinary person. There are those who did not recognize the Buddha or Jesus in their lifetimes. They did not recognize the master because they are that master. So are you and so am I. When we remember to stay present.