The Power of Friendliness: A Lesson Learned from the Dalai Lama
Excerpted from The Golden Sequence: A Manual for Reclaiming Our Humanity by Jonni Pollard (BenBella Books).
I remember the first time I met His Holiness the Dalai Lama. My dear friend and colleague, Jen, had organized for us to meet him personally in Dharamsala, India, to discuss our project, 1 Giant Mind, and our aim of teaching the world to meditate. As you can imagine, getting a private audience with His Holiness isn’t exactly a pick-up-the-phone-and-just-ask kind of deal. We were flying in just for the meeting and flying out later that afternoon.
When we arrived at his home in Dharamsala, we were informed that he was in the middle of offering a rare and long-awaited teaching. Apparently, there were thousands of students present at the main temple. Given his schedule, it was extremely generous of him to meet with us. We were told to wait outside where he’d be arriving soon. When his car finally pulled up, he bounced out like an excited little kid. He ran toward us, giggling with enthusiasm, and gave us each a hug and a blessing. It was like seeing a dear, old friend we hadn’t seen for a very long time—but neither of us had met him before!
As His Holiness took our hands and walked with us, he enquired about our flights and whether we had been taken care of by his staff. Then he expressed gratitude for us coming all the way to see him. We were both left silenced for a moment as we absorbed his grace and sincerity. His genuine friendliness was so incredibly disarming and heart-opening that I couldn’t help but instantly adore him. His quality of attention was impeccable. He would ask questions and then listen to us speak like his life depended on our responses. Whenever I finished a sentence he would ask, “You finished?” At first, I thought, “Oh shit, maybe I’m talking too much!” Then I realized that he wanted to be sure I had really taken the time I needed to explain what I wanted to share. He would always take a few moments before responding, and then when he did, his response was always fun, light, and full of affirmation. He was very direct about what he was and wasn’t willing to do and his conditions for endorsing our project, but even in his directness, his response always felt like a big, happy, smiley “YES!”
After the meeting was over, he blessed us in the formal, traditional Tibetan Buddhist manner. It was even more powerful than his friendliness. He then insisted on a photo of us together. To incite the biggest smiles for the picture, he pulled out his best “dad jokes.” I couldn’t work out what was funnier: his jokes or the fact that he totally cracked himself up . . . and had the cutest laugh.
The story of our meeting with the Dalai Lama is a great example of the power and effect of friendliness. An open welcoming heart that is enthusiastic to connect can inspire endless creative possibilities in life. The gesture of friendship and the act of being friendly immediately ignites connection, growth, and belonging. In that one hour I spent with His Holiness, we bonded like old friends and, in those moments of sharing, reveled in the joy of what makes us human.
I share this story of His Holiness for another important reason. You could argue that, given the turmoil, struggle, and resistance he has experienced, he would have a good excuse not to be so friendly. Having been exiled from his homeland and denied help from governments around the world might even entitle him to be a bit defensive and prejudiced.
For the Dalai Lama, the greatest weapon against his oppressors is his friendliness. He turned one of the most devastating blows that any of us can imagine—having his beloved homeland violently overtaken by another government who outlawed thousands of years of tradition—into an opportunity to be a worldwide symbol of peaceful resistance.
Friendship and friendliness have the power to dissolve all the pretension between us so that we feel safe and comfortable to be open, present, and generous with our loving attention: the most basic building blocks for lasting fulfillment. Another way I like to think about friendliness is simply as inclusiveness. Inclusiveness allows for sensitivity and awareness of everyone and everything we interact with. And only through sensitivity and awareness are we able to meaningfully connect with others and allow each other’s wisdom to fully flow.
Wisdom maintains its integrity even in the face of hostility, and the way it does so is through friendliness. His Holiness is the ultimate embodiment of this. Despite being exiled from his own country, he remains to this day compassionate and kind toward his oppressors. If grace is the foundation on which the house of compassion is built, then friendliness is the front door that is always open. Walking through the door of friendliness allows us to enter the house of compassion and stand on the solid ground of our grace. With those three in alliance, enmity within us cannot harm us and defensiveness doesn’t stand a chance. One of my favorite quotes from my teachers is:
Enmity exists only through the weakness of our friendliness. Minimizing the success of those who feel enmity towards us requires that we simply extend the greater power of friendliness to disarm them.
A Practical Exercise in Friendliness
Tomorrow morning when you wake up and look in the mirror, be mindful of the witness and observe the way you respond to the image of yourself. You can only be sincerely friendly with others to the degree to which you are sincerely friendly with yourself. What you may be confronted with, when you look in the mirror, is how judgmental you are of the way you look—and how you may be subconsciously reinforcing beliefs of inadequacy as a daily ritual.
In this exercise, take two minutes just to smile at yourself in the mirror and say out loud, with as much love in your heart as you can, “I am beautiful.” Repeat this exercise daily.
At first it might feel a little ridiculous. You may notice huge resistance in yourself, and smiling genuinely at yourself may feel impossible. Stick with it! Believe it or not, this is one of the most revealing ways to understand your relationship with yourself. How real and friendly can you be with your own reflection?
A word of caution: For some of you, this exercise may bring up a lot of emotions. Stay with the experience and keep showing up each day. Eventually, this practice is going to become more comfortable and a powerful way of connecting with your true beauty and lovability, which in turn will increase your ability to be less judgmental of others and more present with an open, loving, and accepting heart.
Pollard, J. (2018). The Power of Friendliness: A Lesson Learned from the Dalai Lama. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 2, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/the-power-of-friendliness-a-lesson-learned-from-the-dalai-lama/