"Be Yourself:" My Lesson From The Dalai Lama
Updated: Oct 12
Around fifteen years ago I had the privilege of seeing His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Toronto. Even though I was seated in the nosebleed section, I was amazed at the power of his presence. When he walked on stage tears spontaneously ran down my cheeks. It was as if my heart opened so fully as to melt every hidden wall inside of me. I was not alone. The majority of people around me also wiped away their tears, eyes fixed on the Dalai Lama far below - and he hadn't even uttered a word.
His opening statements were worth the price of the ticket. "I think there may be some people here who will be disappointed because I am just a man" he said. Then later in his lecture, “Don’t try to be a Buddhist. Be yourself.” Hearing those words felt like being wrapped in a warm blanket on an icy cold night. Such a comfort to be reminded that being myself was enough. The question for me was, how to be myself?
I share this story because I attribute those wise and simple messages from the Dalai Lama to be what encouraged me to practice meditation to this day. I still have my challenges but I prefer to believe persistence pays off. I struggled for years trying different techniques, teachers and styles. I read extensively on the subject and even became an Applied Mindfulness Meditation Specialist. Despite completing this training, I would often feel frustrated or disappointed when the changes I expected seemed fleeting. Searching, grasping and more searching. My practice was inconsistent and often done with reluctance. Then over the last two years something began to reveal itself to me. The something was two-fold: Firstly, I began to notice my struggle with struggle and secondly, I began to realize I am meditating whenever I am fully present in my being.
The concept of noticing my struggle is my interpretation of what the Dalai Lama meant when he said “Be yourself.” I needed to be with my experience even if it was struggle. Like many of us, I often focus too much on “doing” and I forget to pay attention to me. My breathing, my thoughts, how I move my body and even how I eat are all part of being me. Noticing without narrative IS meditation! It is the practice of focussing my attention to whatever I am experiencing moment to moment – no interpretation required.
The main gift of being more present is feeling an inner stillness. This inner stillness has helped me be less reactive in my life. Reactivity is a high energy state which is incredibly draining over time. There are of course situations where I need to be reactive, such as crossing the road and seeing a speeding vehicle heading my way. However, reactivity is not conducive to harmonious relationships with myself or others for obvious reasons.
I used to believe being less reactive would mean I would become detached or apathetic. This has been far from the truth of my experience. Over the years I have noticed my practice of meditation improves my focus, my ability to listen and my ability to really trust myself. I have a deeper sense of my own resilience and I am far less destabilized by events or people around me. I become much more effective - my energy is calm and solid. There are times however, when I fall into the pit of reactivity and I usually feel a bit sad when this happens. So, I now practice allowing the sadness to be there instead of going down the rabbit hole of narrative. The irony is when I do this, the sadness melts away just like those walls around my heart did fifteen years ago. This is how to be myself.