The Big DL and the Little Seed

A crowd bustled for position at the gate. O'Hare International airport, Chicago.

I consider myself to be just one among 7 billion human beings. If I were to think of myself as different from others, or as something special, it would create a barrier between us. What makes us the same is that we all want to lead happy lives and gather friends around us. And friendship is based on trust, honesty and openness.

I was at Chicago O’Hare airport, surrounded by thousands of strangers in varying mental states (some relaxed, but most livid, hurried, or harried), when the above quote from the Dalai Lama appeared in my Facebook feed. Suddenly, all of the people around me seemed a little less like strangers and a little more like compatriots in this particular moment in this funny ride called life. His Holiness, or The Big DL, as I sometimes call him, is one of the rare disembodied entities of the social mediasphere whose posts actually make me feel calmer rather than more agitated.

As I waited for my flight to Turkey to board, I looked up towards the ceiling-mounted flat screen television, tuned eternally to 24-hour news coverage. A pair of talking heads sparred on the topic of armed conflict on the border between Turkey and Syria. A sinister new organization called ISIS was storming a Kurdish town called Kobani, perpetrating all manner of horrors, while the U.S. and a few other countries offered a few air strikes as support. Just then, an email warning from the State Department flashed across my phone, warning me about protests, some violent, flaring up across Turkey. The protesters, mostly Kurds, decried Turkey’s lack of support for their brethren on the embattled border.

Again, my faith in humanity started to creak under the strain… Until, that is, I saw another post from The Big DL: “Because of our intelligence we human beings are uniquely capable not only of creating problems, but of doing so on a large scale.” So true, I thought. So perspicacious of him. But he continued: “Therefore, it is important that we use our intelligence in constructive ways. That’s what warm-heartedness and concern for others lead us to do.”

Say what you will about the Dalai Lama, but he does a great job reminding us—patiently and repeatedly—of some very important topics, like our shared humanity, that are so easy to forget when we think only of ourselves. For example, I’d missed my flight to Turkey the day prior and had to wait 24 hours to continue on my journey.

The confusion and inconvenience of it all, when viewed from the narrow and selfish vantage of the individual, is infuriating. “You cost me 200 dollars!” shouted one man at a weary airline agent in a rumpled suit sometime after midnight. There was so much dissatisfaction visible on the faces around me, everyone was laser focused on their own needs: have a problem! Why did this happen to me? Who will fix my problem? Who will make me happy again? There was little “warm-heartedness and concern for others,” in the air.

For some reason it’s common that we make more problems when we have problems. And because we have such big brains, we make much bigger problems than our fellow creatures on this earth. Remember Ghostbusters 2? Well that river of psychoreactive ectoplasm beneath NYC was a metaphor for what’s in our hearts when we think of ourselves as separate from everyone else, when we think that we’re the only ones with problems and everyone else is to blame. And the supernatural destruction the slime wrought? Nothing more than a stand-in for our own selfish and fearful acts, a manifestation of the poison within.

Since this strange little moment in the airport, I’ve been trying to carry The Big DL’s words in my heart and find the shared humanity in the “other” and the “stranger.” Now in Turkey for Petzl RocTrip, surrounded almost entirely by people from other cultures, I find the shared connection of climbing helps break down that all-too-common barrier so that we can connect and empathize. I’m pretty sure this sort of connection is the seed of a more peaceful and happy world… even if it sometimes seems like a very tiny seed.

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Justin Roth

A busy mind that aspires to be still.

7 thoughts on “The Big DL and the Little Seed”

  1. I often find myself in the Chicago O’Hare airport with problems. One year, after coming home from an extended Christmas season with my family, in a rush to get back to my love (and job), my plane was delayed.

    Not only was the plane delayed a few hours but there wasn’t enough room. There was a young women and baby who did not fit on the plane and they were asking for volunteers to take a flight out the next morning instead. Normally, I am the first to volunteer but this time, I couldn’t stand to think of being away from Seattle any longer.

    Yet, while I waited I was being eaten away from the inside questioning why I needed to be so selfish as to not give up my seat to a lady and baby who were probably longing to see their love much more than most. I also found it strange that everybody else, over 100 people, felt like an overnight delay was too much of a hardship to trade.

    Delay after delay, the airline finally sent everybody to a hotel around midnight.

    In the end, we all ended up on a flight the next morning. Nobody got to Seattle earlier than another. Yet every time I fly, I now think about that lady and child, whose seat I, and everybody else on the plane, was too selfish to give up.

    1. Trying. The rest of the trip has so far supported (and then some) my hope that connecting with people from different walks of life is very important indeed.

  2. Good post. But I am mainly commenting to say – as an avid reader of this blog I am saddened that I missed the possibility of meeting you in person in Turkey – cant make it to Petzl Roctrip, stuck in Istanbul. Hope you enjoyed Geyikbayiri/Olimpos…

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