Originally printed in the Summer 2011 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: "Impractical Wisdom." Quest 99. 3 (Summer 2011): 84.
There are times in our lives when events move so swiftly that they require us to make our best efforts to merely keep from falling behind. Often we will later look back on these as times when we learned a great deal, whether or not we met the challenges faced. In these situations, we find the measure of ourselves and discover whether the time spent in inner preparation has prepared us for the rush of outer activity.
In recent months, I have found myself at the center of such a perfect storm of activity. To get ready for my upcoming term as president of the Theosophical Society in America, I moved from my Chicago home of thirty-seven years to the Olcott campus in Wheaton. Simultaneously I began my education into the substantial intricacies of administering the Society. If the Lords of Karma were listening to me, all of this would have been enough, but of course there was more in store. At the very moment when I was struggling to pack up my home and move, the TS got the call that the Dalai Lama had accepted our May 2010 request to allow us to sponsor a visit by him to Chicago. But instead of the 2012 date we had originally discussed, his visit was now to be in July 2011—less than five months away.
Our initial urge was to beg off and wait for a more opportune time. When it became clear that His Holiness' entire schedule for 2012 had recently been cast into question, we realized that if the TSA was going to host his visit, it would have to be now or never.
Still, we were uncertain in the face of the enormity of the undertaking. Although we knew we would be unwise to pass up this opportunity, Betty Bland and I engaged in a little game listing the reasons why we knew it was impossible. The most obvious was that Summer National Gathering was already scheduled for the week after the potential visit. Next, we reasoned that we had no experience planning an event of this magnitude. And where could we find a suitable venue on such short notice? Obstacle after obstacle was presented and evaporated under our scrutiny, until we reached the final obstacle, the stopper, the great killer of dreams—money—hundreds of thousands of dollars. That one we could not see our way around.
We decided to put a time limit on making a decision. We asked the Office of Tibet to give us a week. During that time we would explore our options, daunting though they seemed. A few phone calls later, and we were catapulted into meetings with national production companies, representatives for rock stars—even some of Oprah's people wanted to get involved. Quickly we found that the Dalai Lama's name drew a crowd of high-level people who could put together a large-scale event and make it possible for the Chicago community to hear His Holiness' message on"Bridging the Faith Divide."
Why did we hesitate even then? Over the years I have found that when we are faced with such a dizzying array of choices, there is often the possibility of"paralysis by analysis." At the level of the reasoning mind, an answer is hard to find. At such times a deeper level of perception is needed. One of the best ways to invite such a moment of clarity is to turn back to the basics. The fundamental question around which all of the details of this event had to revolve was"What is our motivation?" In numerous Theosophical writings we run across the idea that motive is everything. Our inner motivation in performing any task colors and determines the real value of the outcome.
So what were our motives? They began with a sense that the Dalai Lama can confer a blessing. His presence and message speak to deep levels inside of all people. He brings a message that empowers and cuts through superficial thinking. Our motivation was to create a space for the maximum experience of this presence. To accomplish this, we wanted to work with like-minded people—people for whom the deepening of consciousness and compassion were an important component of their lives. We planned to create an environment for the event that would embrace participants on multiple levels, visual as well as auditory, and leave an impact that would continue beyond the last word spoken on stage. We wanted to include the Tibetan community, who have suffered greatly with the loss of their homeland, and to finish the event with substantial funds that could be given to assist Tibetan refugees. We wanted to reaffirm and reenergize the longtime connection between the Theosophical Society and the Dalai Lama. We wanted our own TS members to be able to share in the responsibility of presenting one of the greatest men on the world stage today. We hoped that the Theosophical Society would be recognized for its contribution in seeding the consciousness of humanity with a vision of unity and cooperation. We also had an intention of modeling right behavior and right values in all aspects of the event, so that even the most mundane detail would be infused with spirit. In short, we hoped this event could serve as practice in living the Theosophical lives we have committed ourselves to.
Moving to this simpler point of view brought it all into focus. Quickly the right people either appeared or were identified. With the right people, the doors opened to meet all of the other needs. Even the financing became a nonissue as generous people came forward to commit substantial sums of money.
In some spiritual circles, there is a wish—expressed in numerous prayers such as"Use me, Lord,""Let your light shine through me," or"Let the will of the highest be done in me"—that our lives merge with the divine life and will. We want to be used to bring peace to the world, heal the pain of a suffering humanity, and right the countless imbalances inflicted on nature, and we invite some defining moment that will marshal all of the qualities we believe we have cultivated. We want to do great things. But we often forget that greatness is the result of compassionate attention to the infinite number of mundane events and small details that make up our daily lives. The great moment is this moment. The suffering of humanity is lessened by addressing the suffering of the person in front of me right now. The great initiation will one day be presented because of my attention to the daily initiations I face in getting my daughter off to school, listening to a hurt and complaining friend, or declining to be fearful in the face of the war, turmoil, and disaster that occupy the daily news. There is no moment more spiritual than this one. There is no task greater than the one in front of me now. There is no genuine spirituality that ignores the present moment in its longing for some future greatness.
The Theosophical Society has been given a great opportunity in the Dalai Lama's visit. It is the result of countless selfless efforts by our members in the 135 years since the TS's founding. Our members worldwide have attempted to deepen their understanding of the world's religions and to establish an awareness of the unity of all life. That is what has brought us to this point. As with all things, this event will come and go, but like a lingering fragrance, it will leave its imprint in our consciousness. When it has passed, we will pick up where we left off. The same work will be waiting for us, the same schedule, the same friends, the same world. The challenge before us will also be the same—to see the world with fresh eyes and to treat each moment as precious and extraordinary. May we rise to meet this challenge.