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Lions Roar : July 2019
THE GIFT OF HIS PRESENCE I HAD THE PRIVILEGE OF MEETING HIS HOLINESS at the cancer center where I work with a palliative care team. He was in town for a speaking engagement at our university. I’m not sure how to describe the moment when His Holiness walked into the room to meet our small group. All I remember is physically feeling his presence and how time stopped for a bit in order to encompass his essence. I remember the sound of his melodious voice and his joyful laugh- ter. And I remember his smile that radiated such warmth. What I still feel in my bones was his ability to focus his attention on the members of our group and our patients. Even though he had a small amount of time for each of us, I still think about the way he was present for whoever was in his attention field. He had the ability to connect with others—he was really there with us—and engage in conversation while listening intently. What inspired me most, and continues to impact the work I do every day, is the example he personifies of what it means to find joy in the midst of suffering. In my job, where death is a daily reality, it is this quality I try to bring to my work with cancer patients. Embodied presence, open-hearted listening, joyful curiosity, optimism, humility, and compassion. These are all traits per- sonified by His Holiness in the short time I had the gift of being in his presence. JULIE HOWELL is a certified mindfulness facilitator at the Huntsman Cancer Facility at the University of Utah. FIRST MET THE DALAI LAMA in 1970, in Dharamsala, India. Along with two friends, I was privileged to have an audience with him that lasted well over two hours. In those days, it was quite easy to arrange such a thing: we simply stopped His Holiness’ assistant, Tenzin, on the street and asked if we could make an appointment. Tenzin took a notebook from his shirt pocket and asked, “Can you come tomorrow at three o’clock?” “Yes! Yes, we can. We’ll be there!” was our gleeful response. The three of us were college students from the States, happy for the freedom to meet the Tibetans and study with them. His Holiness the Dalai Lama, on the other hand, lived under a serious burden: he and almost one hundred thousand other Tibetans had been forced to flee their homeland and become refugees in India after the final Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1959. The leader-in-exile of the Tibetan nation and people, he was concerned with the survival of their religious and cultural heritage. He was only thirty-five years old then—but he evi- denced to us no indications of his burden. His Holiness was much taller than I had thought him to be, his voice and laughter deep and rippling. When we began to do prostrations, he quickly put an end to that formality: “All right, stop that. None of that is necessary. Please, come and sit down.” He wanted to speak with us, he said, about the situation of young people in the U.S., with their protests and peace move- ments. We talked at length about the events at Kent State, where four students protesting the Vietnam War were shot dead by the National Guard, and the necessity of patience and clarity in determining the most appropriate response to such events. “You should not believe that the Mahayana asks you to think of beings’ welfare only in some future time,” he reminded us. “You should try as much as possible to help in the here and now.” His Holiness was so open and frank that he seemed like an old friend and wise counselor all rolled into one—a true flesh-and-bones Buddha. I have seen His Holiness in many different venues since then. He remains open, energetic, curious, thoughtful, prag- matic, and, above all, joyous as ever. On stages large and small over the decades of his exile, he has offered us a consistent and transformative message: I JAN WILLIS is professor emerita of religion at Wesleyan University and is currently a visiting professor at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia. She is the author of the memoir Dreaming Me : Black, Baptist, and Buddhist. LION’S ROAR | JULY 2019 48