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.