Reflections on my time in Dharmsala
Last year, at this time, I came to Dharamsala, hoping for spontaneous encounters with wise teachers, for close contact with HH Dalai Lama, for transformative spiritual experiences and insights. All of these expectations that I carried over with me, were built-upon a conviction that I am exceptionally special, and therefore needed to have special things happen to me. Well, nothing happened. I spent 3 weeks walking up and down the steep hills of McLeod Gang, while the unforgiving monsoon clouds rained on me as I tried really hard not to walk into cow shit while cars honked aggressively as they brushed past me day and night. I journaled, meditated, visited the temple every day and did practice, prayers and prostrations until I was drenched in sweat. No one noticed me. Nothing profound happened. Not even the Dalai Lama noticed me sitting there beaming, trying so hard to be validated. So I left feeling slightly disappointed, my ego quietly folded-up inside an empty bag, as I returned to NY.
When I came to Dharamsala this year, I felt that I should try something different. I genuinely attempted to come with no wishes and no expectations. I came with one intention only: to be invisible, to take up as little space as possible and to keep my head lowered, not needing attention, validation, special encounters with teachers or even profound insights. During the audience with HH Dalai Lama, for the first time, I kept my mouth shut. I didnt want to impress him by bragging about my accomplishments, nor make him notice my dedication as a student by asking complex questions. I remained silent, and allowed my partner and the others in the room to have their moment. I sat there, taking up as little space and giving as much to others as I possibly could. Note: this was the one moment I had awaited for the past 9 years of my life. It was the climax of all climaxes. An hour with the Dalai Lama! Take whatever you can, one would think. But as I finally got what I had wanted, and as the dream unfolded before my perplexed mind, I made sincere efforts to loosen my tight grip, and give the moment away. Not to try to hold on so tightly. "Be nothing, nobody" I told myself repeatedly as I sat in front of him with tears falling from my eyes.
Shortly after this occasion, as though there had been a conspiracy, I began receiving one incredible opportunity and transformational experience after the other. I tried genuinely not to allow these special experiences to get to my head. I chased away the habit to start assuming the "special-person status", and instead to remain vigilant as the dangers of becoming intoxicated by the spiritual ego lurked around every corner. "Keep your head lowered, show up to work and give others space" I kept repeating to myself.
Finally today, as the teachings concluded, and I left the audio/video department of the Dalai Lama's office, where I had been working for the past 2 weeks, I noticed a rainbow in the sky. Involuntarily, tears streamed down my face. I remembered that feeling again, of overflowing with gratitude. The feeling of having so much that it becomes impossible to contain it. A genuine experience of abundance. The state of mind in which gratitude overpowers dissatisfaction and whatever sense of self may remain becomes insignificant in contrast. Here, a deep peace pours into the mind. A moment of completion and a brief glimpse of liberation from the impoverished state of self-cherrishing.
I learnt that by making space for others, I am the happiest. This, is the most profound insight I take away from this trip. I also repeatedly learn that I am nothing without my teachers, and that all I am is because of their kindness. This includes my incredible partner, Mo Gawdat.
To conclude and dedicate, I will end with some verses from a text which HH Dalai Lama gave us today. It is my aspirational prayer, as I return to my life in NY, where the dangers of self-cherishing, individualism, competitiveness, spiritual materialism and pride wait for me like hungry predators.
"Whenever in the company of others, I will regard myself as the lowest among all, and from the depths of my heart, cherish others as supreme. In brief, directly or indirectly, I will offer help and happiness to all beings, and secretly take upon myself all their hurt and suffering. May I recognize all things as like illusions, and without attachment, gain freedom from bondage." Thank you. Please stay and continue to teach.