The Dalai Lama is in town to meet with Gordon Brown, and the press is delighted with him. Journalists love a leader who has no airs and graces - at a function yesterday they watched fascinated as he fumbled in what the woman at The Times called his 'crimson man bag', which she thought might contain 'something sacred', and eventually produced a 'sweetie to keep him going', he explained, 'as Buddhist monks don't eat dinner'. What the hacks especially liked was his irrepressible light-heartedness. Every time he answered a question he would giggle, and sometimes even roar with laughter, not because anyone had made a joke but just out of sheer high spirits. This awes them, and they are constantly talking about it.
Well, I have my own idea about this. A few weeks ago (April 8) I mentioned my rediscovery of meditation, which I've practiced off an on for twenty years but without ever really getting into the habit of. I got interested again after reading a book by Mouni Sadhu, a devotee of Sri Ramana Maharshi, who describes the goal of samadhi. So I've started doing it twice a day, as recommended by my Transcendental Meditation teacher years ago (which incidentally is probably a reason I haven't been able to post as frequently as I'd like).
It's not that I'm particularly interested in developing siddhis, those special powers supposed to come with serious and dedicated practice. I suppose I am attracted by the idea of achieving greater stability and being able to face life's vicissitudes more calmly. But I did start to notice a rather curious effect. It doesn't always happen, but I've come to recognise it and even rather to look forward to it.
What I noticed at first was a sort of relaxing of the face muscles. At first I put this down to a general all-round bodily relaxation. But then I noticed the effect was concentrated in the middle of each cheek - it was as though some alteration was taking place there. I then realised that the corners of my mouth were lifting up, and not in response to any direct input on my part - it was quite involuntary. This went on gradually until I was embarrassed to realize I was wearing a big cheesy grin, at which point my features instantly fell back to their customary seriousness. After a while the same smile stole back, and again without any conscious willing.
This has happened a few times now, and I really can't explain it. It's not an expression of any inward feeling, as far as I can tell. Who knows, perhaps that will come later, and this is the advance indication, so to speak. I hope so.
But it does seem to suggest what can happen with dedicated meditation. At a Buddhist talk recently I noticed how the speaker would every so often suddenly stop talking in mid sentence. I wondered at first if something was wrong, and then realized he was just wheezing with quiet laughter, rocking backwards and forwards, although nothing particularly funny had been said. It was as though it was something he had to stop and do every so often - once the fit was over he carried on. It makes sense to me now that the late Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was known as 'the giggling guru'. Also in TV films I've seen about TM there's an atmosphere of constant gaiety among the practitioners.
As for the Dalai Lama, I read somewhere recently that he spends no fewer than five hours every morning meditating and praying - five hours! For the leader of a people in exile, and at a time of what for most people would be terrible stress, that's perhaps what he needs to go on seeing the funny side of life.