Dalai Lama to bring message of peace to Denver

By Katharine Bernuth, Greeley Tribune, August 20, 2006

Denver, CO (USA) -- There is little we can do about traffic jams, work deadlines and canceled flights -- not to mention accidents, illness or death. But what if we could choose the way these events affected us?

Many people report a sense of peace and well-being through regular meditation that is unaffected by the hardships of life. Universities are funding studies how meditation affects the brain, and the findings indicate that people who meditate regularly may be happier than the rest of us.

The Dalai Lama, the leader of Tibetan Buddhism, promotes meditation and would like to see the practice become a widespread, daily routine for people of all religions to maintain mental health.

That will be part of the Dalai Lama's message when he speaks in Denver next month. The 71-year-old Nobel Peace Laureate will discuss his vision of a peaceful world in which people use regular meditative practice as a tool to cultivate happiness and to comfort themselves in times of strife.

"If people don't have religious affiliation or don't care to, there is still opportunity for them to take advantage of these mental training tools, and they still work," said Adam Engle, co-founder of the Mind and Life Institute, a Boulder think tank sponsoring the Dalai Lama's talk in Denver. "You don't need the religious dogma to get the benefits."

Engle has been meditating for more than 30 years. Through meditation, a person can quiet the neverending stream of thoughts and direct the mind away from anger toward more positive feelings. Thoughts come with an emotional charge that makes us feel a certain way, but those feelings are subjective and not an accurate reflection of reality, says Engle.

"Just about everyone has an internal conversation going on in their head. The tenor of that conversation ... has a big effect on your happiness or your dissatisfaction."

Some may consider Janelle Helling an unlikely Buddhist.

She grew up on farms in rural Weld County. Her mother was a devout Christian, but her mother's rants of eternal damnation didn't sit right with Helling.

"I hadn't studied meditation," she said. "I just knew from experience that when you went out to the hay stacks, cleared your mind and looked at the open sky, there was wisdom there."

Helling, 54, has practiced Tibetan Buddhism for 25 years. Her spirituality contrasts with her predominantly Christian surroundings, and it hasn't always been easy. Through the years, Helling has coped with feelings of isolation by studying and meditating on the Buddhist teachings of patience and perseverance.

In 2002, a brush fire was burning out of control dangerously close to Helling's house south of Kersey. No one else was home as the winds shifted and Helling watched the fire blow closer and closer to her home. Keeping one eye on the fast-approaching blaze, Helling scrambled to pour well water on the earth around her house, all the while meditating to keep herself calm.

"It was a hair away from panic," she said. "It was a test of my beliefs. I don't know if I passed or not, but it certainly got me through that day."

As she fled the flames that soared higher than the treetops, she accepted the likelihood that she could lose everything. In the thick smoke she fell and hurt her knees, but she managed to escape the fire without serious injury.

Helling's home survived the fire with only minor damage. The fire burned up to the line where she had spread the water and cut a V around the house.

But often we are not so lucky.

Awful things happen to good people, and life can feel like an agonizing cycle of love and loss. But through regular meditative practice people access a constant, nurturing place within themselves where they can take refuge from the world.

"It's like a neverending pool of peace, and as one practices, they can tap into that," said Bailey Stenson of Fort Collins. "Meditation has brought a sense of peace and compassion into our lives."

When he was 20 years old, Stenson's son, Toby, took his own life. Upon hearing the news, Stenson and her husband, Dennis, sat down and meditated together. Through their pain and anguish, they promised to forgive each other, forgive their son, and do everything possible to support each other.

"We used those tools of meditation to bring peace and solace to our shattered selves," Stenson said.

After her son's death, Stenson took time off from work to recover. She says her twice-daily meditation practice helped her handle the intense emotions of her own mourning and helped her be supportive of her other two children.

Now six years later, Stenson, 49, is closer to her family, and her mission in the world -- to be of service to others -- has become clearer. On the grounds of Happy Heart Farm, which she and her husband Dennis run, Stenson teaches other people suffering with grief how they can use meditation to heal.

"The ultimate form of sustainability comes from within, and we can access that through meditation," she said. "And that gives us the sense of peace, health and love no matter what is going on in our world."

His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Denver
Public Talk at Pepsi Center, "The Science of a Compassionate Life"
2:30 p.m., Sept. 17
Tickets: $18-100, through Ticketmaster, at Pepsi Center Box Office, or call
(303) 830-8497