Challenged By The Dalai Lama

By Sunday, May 12, 2013 8 0

His voice is deep, as in basso profundo deep, yet animated. His bare right arm, the only part of his body not covered by his red and gold robe, dalai-lama[1]gestures energetically when he talks, like an orchestra conductor.  All 11,000 of us at Memorial Coliseum yesterday morning were hanging on every word that His Holiness the Dalai Lama was saying.  

“Spending, spending, spending on luxuries and lifestyle,” he said. “Not so good. One side of us is greedy. Another side of us says, be careful, restrict these impulses.  We must prepare for limits, so that they are not unexpected when they come,” he said. “Happiness comes from our relationships with each other,” the Dalai Lama said.

Governor Kitzhaber followed up, stating that research has shown that after a certain income threshold is reached, additional income generally does not make people any happier. “The rate at which we consume makes a lot of difference,” he said.

Author and activist David Suzuki told about spending time with his father the last two weeks before his death. “I’m dying a rich man,” his father said many times, with conviction. He wasn’t dollar-rich. He was rich in his relationships with family and friends. So, he was dying a rich man.

I loved hearing from the Dalai Lama, and the notable panel around him, the same thing I’ve been saying since late 2007 here at Diamond-Cut Life, i.e. that we don’t need to consume a lot to be happy.

But consuming less is easier talked about than accomplished, including for the author of this blog about more joy with less stuff. The beliefs I share with the Dalai Lama got tested this past week.

On Tuesday a little girl at the Bridger playground near my house said to me, “Are you someone’s grandma?” I hoped I’d heard her wrong, so I said “What?” But she repeated those same damningly aging words all over again.

“No, I’m not,” I said, as nicely as possible. I bicycled on home, scared and strangely hurt, and that afternoon I spent an obscene amount of money at Nordstrom’s on two (yes, just two) anti-aging skin care products made by La Prairie.  That’s totally at odds with my values.

Let me clarify. It’s not that it wouldn’t be wonderful to be a grandmother. But I’m only 52. It drives me apeshit for people to think I’m already a senior citizen. Oh dear, that needs clarification, too. Some of my favorite people in the world are senior citizens. I just don’t want to look “old”. I’m too vain. In this culture, being attractive is equated with looking youthful.

So far I’ve been using these ding-dang skin scare  (was that a Freudian slip?) products that are supposed to reverse my face’s aging process. They maybe are making a little difference, but not a lot more than the cheap anti-aging creams that I’ve long bought from Rite-Aid.

A part of me, the part of me that is spiritual, and knows better, and loves the Dalai Lama, is ready to march right back to Nordstroms and return the luxury products, and donate the money to a cause that reduces the huge and growing gap between rich and poor, the gap that the Dalai Lama and I agree is immoral.

This part of me knows full well that even if these La Prairie products could delay my being mistaken again for a grandma for awhile, in the long term it’s absolutely a losing battle against aging. I have to accept my aging process, no matter what. As Buddhism teaches, everything here on earth is impermanent.

The Dalai Lama says, “My religion is kindness”. He does not espouse ideologies that polarize people or create enemies. He honors nature, and points out that we are part of it, connected and interdependent with it and with each other.

The problem is that we let ourselves feel separated from nature, and from each other. Feeling separate fuels a lot of our over-consumption. And our over-consumption is driving climate change. Yesterday morning Andrea Durbin, the director of Oregon Environmental Council, said it was auspicious that they were having this environmental summit with the Dalai Lama in the same week that our planet reached 400 parts carbon dioxide in the atmosphere per million parts. 350 is considered the upper limit for a stable atmosphere, and is the inspiration for, the activist group with global reach that is campaigning to limit production and investments in fossil fuels.

I support and its outward, activist focus. I am with the Dalai Lama, though, in his spiritual focus on our need to overcome our material greed in our pursuit of happiness. Fossil fuels wouldn’t be so profitable if our current culture wasn’t so addicted to their products, and the lifestyle they make possible.

And I’m still embedded in my culture, addicted to an ageist, youth-oriented definition of beauty . What do you think I should do? Should I return the overpriced skin care (skin scare) products? What do you struggle with the most when it comes to consumption?  (See here for the sequel/followup).

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  • Ami
    May 19, 2013

    And I, too, aspire to such spiritual evolution. Believing something is easy. Living it fully probably could be easy, too, but it doesn’t feel like it just yet. 😉

  • Ami
    May 19, 2013

    True enough about the products - in the global view, there is huge effect. I meant it more microcosmically (if the motivator to buy were different, then the meaning of buying would also be different), but you are right about the butterfly effect of purchasing them at all - in desirable and undesirable ways, each and both. :)

  • Ami
    May 16, 2013

    For me, it feels so easy to give my attention to the outward act (buying/using the product or not) and forget to see the feeling that leads to the pain the words caused, which motivated the act. If it were true that I felt like a person’s observation of me had no power to define anything about me, the words would blow like wind around and beyond me. If it were true that I felt fully in right relation with being alive and residing in this world exactly as I stand, the observation would have no power at all, positive OR negative.

    Is that possible to achieve? I don’t know. If not, that’s OK too.

    Still, you could buy a million products and come from a place of love and joy and the products might hold zero significance outside your joy of experiencing them. I think exploring the idea that you’re aging anyway and how if you look at it as (a) unavoidable and (b) real and therefore good, you could playfully examine other ways to see her words.

    Maybe her Grandma is her favorite person in the world and you made her very happy indeed. :)

    • Alison
      May 17, 2013

      I love the paths of your thoughts, Ami. If I were more spiritually evolved, then people’s words (about how old I seem or anything as superficial as that) would certainly “blow like wind around and beyond me” (that sounds like something Kahlil Gibran would write, such lovely imagery). I pray daily, and one of the things I pray for is to grow spiritually and be of greater service to the world, especially through my writing.

      If I were to buy a million products, though, even with love and joy, that consumption would have a lot of impact on the earth, its resources, and on the human economy. Supporting luxury industries has many toxic impacts in the deep structure of our world . . . the reasons for that are a topic for several blog posts.

      Back to aging: you and I agree that aging is unavoidable, real and something to be accepted. That theme is definitely something to add to my prayer life. Great idea about playing with other ways to look at being mistaken for a grandmother . . . you’re right that the child who mistook me for one may have had a very positive association with grandmothers :). I treasure your thoughts and presence here at Diamond-Cut Life, Ami.

  • Colleen
    May 14, 2013

    I do think that some of the less-expensive skin care products are likely just as good as the fancier stuff. It’s what’s in the ingredient list that matters … like caffeine and peptides and such. But really, I think you can — and should — give yourself a break on your impulse-buy at Nordstrom’s. If buying expensive things were your norm, then you wouldn’t be writing this blog. An entire life of luxury: I’m sure the Dalai Lama would not be so happy, but a moment or two, here and there? I don’t know him, of course, but I think he’d enjoy talking to you. :)

    • Alison
      May 14, 2013

      And would I ever love to talk with the Dalai Lama. Thanks for the broader perspective on my purchase, Colleen.

  • HKR
    May 13, 2013

    First off, you could be a grandma as early as 37, so if you haven’t gotten the Grandma question before age 52 I think that speaks volumes to your youthful appearance. Secondly, I didn’t even know it was possible to return used skin care product, but I don’t think you should. It was an impulse purchase that you now regret, whether due to the price or the ‘morality’ behind spending that kind of money, but it’s not fair to make the store pay for your mistake-regardless of the size of said store-because those partially used creams are certainly going in the trash if they do take it back. Obviously you feel remorseful and have learned a lesson, which is good and which will be that much better learned if you lie in the bed you made. You said you’re thinking of donating the proceeds from the refund to charity; if you are truly that concerned about your consumption affecting the less fortunate, stop consuming these skin care products altogether for a month or two and donate that money to charity.

    • Alison
      May 14, 2013

      I’m taking your thoughts into consideration, HKR. Thanks.