Grief is a sacred journey

Zapped by the Dalai Lama

Dalai Lama and Ella May Damiani

I squinted in the harsh morning light and shivered in anticipation. Standing outside a hotel near Carmel, NY on a May morning in 1997, I felt like a celebrity stalker. I was hungry for spiritual contact.

My husband Vic and I and a few friends from our spiritual community had come to see the Dalai Lama; He was taking part in a dedication of the Great Buddha Hall at the Chuang Yen Monastery. We’d been tipped off that the Dalai Lama was staying at a certain hotel, so about fifteen of us gathered outside the entry way, waiting for him to emerge.

Through large glass windows, we saw maroon monk’s robes and business suits milling in the lobby. We quietly arranged ourselves in two rows on either side of the door. Ella May Damiani, our deceased teacher’s wife, stood up front.

The Dalai Lama emerged into the brisk day, grinned, shaded his eyes with a flattened hand, and looked us over. Recognizing Ella May, he walked over to her and grasped her hands. They spoke quietly and then she offered him a recently published book, Living Wisdom, by her late husband and our philosophy and meditation teacher Anthony Damiani.

The Dalai Lama remembered Ella May and a few others in our group from his first trip to the United States in 1979. During that trip, he spent four days at Wisdom’s Goldenrod, our meditation and study center in the Finger Lakes of New York. He dedicated our library and blessed our studies and our children. In 1993, he visited us again. During that time, many of us also traveled to see him.

In those years, the Dalai Lama was accessible rather than walled off by security guards and impenetrable layers of protection as he is now. In large or small public groups, he moved through lines of devotees, gazed into eyes, held hands, leaned close to touch the heads of small children, and talked to people in wheelchairs. Then, as now, he beamed love.

On that morning in 1997, after his exchange with Ella May, he walked down our small line toward his waiting car, pausing before each of us. As he grasped my hands and gazed into my eyes, a startling current of heat pierced my heart. Bowing to touch my forehead to his soft hands, my chest filled with an expansive warm love for him and all of life.

 

Elaine (with curls) and Lauren

I watched as the Dalai Lama stopped in front of my friend Lauren Cottrell who stood beside me. After he had moved on, Lauren and I leaned into each other, stunned, wet-eyed, and overcome with joy. Vic snapped our photo and quickly moved to the end of the line to wait for his turn.

***

All the photos in this piece were taken by my husband Vic Mansfield (1941-2008). Have you seen the Dalai Lama? How did he affect you? Have you been strongly affected by other spiritual teachers? I’d love to hear about it. The Dalai Lama usually visits the United States once a year, so if he’s coming to your neighborhood, you might want to consider getting tickets. You may also be interested in this post about the Dalai Lama.

12 Comments
  1. I have never met the Dalai Lama, but your description of your meeting left me feeling a little tingle of what it must have been like.

    • I’m glad you got a second-hand tingle and hope you get to meet the Dalai Lama someday. Even in a crowd of thousands, his lovely kind heart touches everyone.

  2. Boy does this bring back memories! (this is Lauren from the story)
    I love your style and your ability to tell such a rich tale in so few words.
    I remember that the hotel surprised me. It was one of those, bland-along-side-the-freeway jobs, with a big empty parking lot in front of it. I remember feeling similarly to you, a bit like a celebrity stalker although I felt like it was ok. I saw it as a sign of appreciation and love. We were not paparazzi, but devotees to varying degree.
    Zapped is a good word. I remember being emotionally charged, as often happens in highly anticipated group events. And then, when he stopped, held my hand and looked in my eyes, something quickened in me, other than my heartbeat.
    There is a certain goodness that he elicits. You see it happen in most everyone he meets.
    To me it feels like bubbles coming up in a spring of clear water.
    It is lucid, joyous, and deep.
    Thanks for recalling this great moment.

    • Lauren, thanks for adding your description of being in the gaze and hands of the Dalai Lama. I love the image of bubbles rising from a spring of clear water. The sound of laughter from deep within his belly shakes the earth under me. He has this joyous clarifying effect each time I see him. His sparks of light encourage me to meditate with more focus and be a kinder person.

  3. Well written and well said dear Elaine. The Dalai Lama stories are endless, aren’t they. I don’t think the following story is in any of my books or in A Mystic’s Journal:

    After our teacher Anthony died, I went to New York City to see the Dalai Lama, bringing him a message from Ella May. He was giving a talk at St. John the Divine, and I had brought several NYC friends with me. None had ever met him, and their spiritual questings were questionable. As we sat on the front steps of the cathedral, one friend was wearing a headset listening to music – and the others ate pizza they had bought on the way.

    To my knowledge, I was the only person at there from Wisdom’s Goldenrod – for the simple reason that Anthony’s Memorial service was the same day, at WG.

    As you can imagine I was heartbroken over Anthony’s death, still trying to even comprehend it. Life without a Teacher seemed insurmountable. In any case, I met with His Holiness the Dalai Lama after the talk and gave him the letter from Ella May. I am sure that her recognized me, possibly he remembers everyone he meets. After that pleasant exchange His Holiness and several of his monks headed towards an archway that led to a small garden nearby. As they stood in the sun – suddenly the air became crystalline, and all my grief about losing Anthony mysteriously disappeared. And never returned.

    This, of course,from a certain point of view, was impossible. And yet it happened, and it happened to me – so I know it was true.

    A Gift from an Enlightened man is not to be taken lightly …

    • Thanks for this powerful story, Laurie. I know these transformations can happen around powerful teachers, powerful places in nature, when we most need help, or sometimes for no obvious reason. You may remember that 6 weeks before Vic’s death, a hug from the Dalai Lama erased Vic’s fear of death and made it clear to me that he was in good hands. Vic hadn’t been physically healed, but the Higher Self had been transformed and was ready for the next step.

  4. Celebrity stalkers…lol…nice turn of phrase. Thank you, Elaine, Lauren and Laurie, for these touching stories.

    • Thanks for reading and responding, Gita. It’s good to remember all that good fortune and all the love the Dalai Lama keeps pouring into our world.

  5. I love all of your stories, Elaine! Thanks so much for posting. I met the DL once when a group from WG went to a Tibetan center in upstate NY around 1988 or so for a special audience with him. I still remember it well…though not experiencing the charge you did, the clarity and peace around him feel as alive today as all those years ago.

    As you are begining to write of your experiences with teachers, I’d love to hear some from your meetings with PB, too. Thanks again!

    • Thanks for reading and responding, Deborah. I’m glad you were able to see the Dalai Lama in a smaller intimate setting. Those were great experiences. I hadn’t considered writing about Paul Brunton (PB). Unlike the Dalai Lama, PB was incredibly private, but I will think this over and now that you mentioned it, a story might pop up. Thanks for the suggestion and for your encouragement.

  6. Excellent piece, Elaine. I know that feeling when you know you are in the presence of a conscious person. I felt that the first time I met Brugh Joy

    • Thank you, Dan. It’s an incredible gift when we meet a teacher who opens a door for us or guides us toward a path that is just what we’ve been needing–even if we didn’t know it until we met them and their teaching.

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