So it’s my last week in India. I’m in this café in Tso Pema, and the Dalai Lama is supposed to arrive in town to give a short teaching in… well, I don’t know when. A few minutes ago a group of us all hiked up the long flight of stone steps in the blazing subtropical sun to the main temple. We waited there for an hour only to turn back after getting word that His Holiness’s schedule had changed. Maybe his motorcade would arrive in two hours. Maybe it wouldn’t. In any case, everyone in this group of western Buddhists appears to be okay with this.
“Oh well, that’s how the karma cookie crumbles.”
Everyone, but me. I am decidedly not okay with this. This is why:
A few years ago I came out of the closet, got myself clean and sober and took off for India. It happened fast. In the clarity of those first few moments, right after I dropped the crutches of booze, drugs and cigarettes I had leaned on for so long, I picked up a book on Tibetan Buddhism. Within ten pages I was hooked.
What I realized at that moment, and what I continue to realize today more and more, is that life is a precious thing. It’s gift. And what’s more, it’s a gift that each and every one of us deserves whether we think so or not.
I didn’t think so for a long time. I hated myself, berated myself and beat myself down every step of the way. It wasn’t until I accepted my fundamental goodness that I was able to take a new direction.
This is not a new realization. It is not something I have done alone or thought up myself. All I did was decide I didn’t want to be miserable for one more minute. Then I asked for the help I needed and did my best to do the hard work required to heal.
What I’ve come to believe after that experience, and what I want people to know, is they are okay, too. In this culture of supercharged egos who think they’re going to live forever, where everyone is certain that one more latte, one more relationship, one more big screen TV is finally going to do it, I think there’s actually a deep sense of dissatisfaction.
Study after study finds that we in the opulent west, we who supposedly have everything, are actually profoundly unhappy. The truth is, rather than being filled up by our sports cars, houses and ninety-hour work weeks, we are empty. As a result, we think we’ve somehow failed. It’s sad, but I think more people than not, don’t want to admit they don’t like themselves.
It doesn’t have to be this way. People can wake up and change their lives. I see it happening all the time. Here in India I see real estate agents, housewives, therapists, waitresses and students all following a deep calling. People are hungry for something more, something deeper. There is a sense that all the things we’ve been grasping at, the external happiness that is always changing and never quite within reach, is not the way to go. People are taking a second look and this is wonderful.
Back in the café in Tso Pema we are sipping on cold lime sodas. I’m talking to Gerald, a new addition to the group. We talk about how we got here, why we’re in India, chasing His Holiness the Dalai Lama across a strange and sometimes difficult land just to catch a glimpse of him. The details of our story are different but the essence is the same. I tell him about my plans to go home to America, and then return to India right after this trip is over, taking only the time to wait out the visa requirements.
“That’s good,” Gerald says. “You have to live according to your principles. If you come to the end of your life and you haven’t done that, then what was the point?”
I drink these words like sweet nectar. This is what it’s all about. If I have learned anything in the past few years it’s to be true to myself, to trust myself, to take the necessary risks it takes to find true and lasting happiness.
Just then Gerald’s phone rings. Another friend, who has stayed up at the temple in full stake out mode, tells him His Holiness will arrive any minute. Gerald doesn’t hesitate. He leaps out of his chair and heads for the door. I don’t think about it either. I just pick myself up and take the next step on this journey I’ve decided is the only way to live.
My name is Chris Lemig and I’m on a journey. I’m not sure where it will lead me or how long it will last. All I know is that there are many people on this path, heading in the same general direction. They are good companions, all. Some are at the beginning. Some are well on their way. I look forward to taking this journey with them and sharing the adventure with you along the way.
Chris Lemig spent twenty-three years of his life in the dark closet of addiction and self-hatred. After coming out as being gay in 2007, he discovered the teachings of the Buddha and never looked back. He is deeply concerned with issues relating to the mental and spiritual wellbeing of modern culture and is looking for ways to bring happiness and contentment back into our lives. Chris is currently on a yearlong sabbatical in India where he is studying Buddhism and Tibetan language. He writes about his experiences and the practical applications of the Buddhadharma on his blog, The Narrow Way.