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Peace through Inner Peace: A Public Lecture by the Dalai Lama

Last month I had the good fortune to see His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet speak at the University of Minnesota. His lecture, titled Peace through Inner Peace, touched on education, secular ethics, and the nature of compassion, among other things. He spoke of the immorality of inflicting fear on others, which got me thinking about the ways in which we sometimes inflict fear upon ourselves.

Anxiety, a common complaint of the clients I work with, can be seen as a type of self-inflicted fear. Fear is not all bad. In fact, it’s really important in protecting us from things that are truly frightening or dangerous. But when we generalize a “reasonable” fear to other areas of our lives that do not warrant a fearful response, when we perpetuate fear through worry thoughts, we are trying to control ourselves and our circumstances in ways that just aren’t possible. It’s like a pyramid built from the top down. One fear, unchecked, creates four new fears, which give rise to nine more, until the foundation supporting that initial fear is as solid as anything constructed by the ancient Egyptians.

The Dalai Lama’s lecture also contained many moments of levity. One of my favorite parts of the afternoon was when he entertained questions. One, submitted by a 9-year-old, asked, “If you could completely solve one problem, what would it be?” With an impish grin, His Holiness responded, “I don’t know!” It was comforting to be reminded that even (or maybe especially) great spiritual leaders are able to acknowledge and embrace uncertainty and not knowing, a stance that seems directly counter to those of many other prominent figures. Politicians come to mind.

This ability to hold a position of equanimity, even in the face of uncertainty, is a powerful antidote to fear and worry. Embracing uncertainty allows us to begin deconstructing the pyramid. We may not know what is coming down the line. We may not have all of the answers. But we do not necessarily need to be fearful.

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