The Presence of Politicians.
Joining Heaven, Human and Earth.
Senators Bennet & Udall, Congressman Polis. Trungpa Rinpoche & Mipham Rinpoche. Combining greatness and the ability to be present.
Serving others as the highest call.An essay by Waylon Lewis.
“Service is the ultimate smile.” ~ Chogyam Trungpa
I’ve met many “great men,” and—of course—even more great women, starting with my mom, who raised me solo while working two poorly-paying jobs, and enjoyed it all thoroughly.
Now all grown up, I recently was honored to co-host a “meet the We the People” party for US Senator Bennet. While we talked, briefly, he didn’t remember me (can’t blame him, he meets more people than I and I can’t remember anyone I haven’t had a real conversation with) and thanked me vociferously (though I’m not sure he knew what he was thanking me for).
Macon Cowles, Boulder City Council member, started to tell Senator Bennet how much work elephant and I had done to get local youth involved in politics, which was sweet and over-generous…but Senator Bennet started playing with some children halfway through Macon’s explanation.
Still, you can’t go wrong, playing with children is always good politics.
Then, my speech about Senator Bennet was canceled—a big moment for little me, a casual decision for Team Bennet. So, after a few weeks of helping publicize and rally Boulder, after a few long phone calls in the middle of business days, I got one second of eye contact from an important man who is tasked with the great responsibility of listening to and representing We the People in the hallowed halls of Congress.
Now, all politicians aren’t people lovers. It’s hard to be present when everyone wants a piece of you. It was a chaotic event—and as a talk show host and social butterfly myself, I know how it’s impossible to remember names, make everyone happy, or even make eye contact. The first time I’d met Senator Bennet, at a quieter private party, I remember telling others how impressed I was by his focus, his curiosity (he asked for an elephant magazine, though I hadn’t even brought it up or offered it) and his eye contact.
90% of leadership is context, you could say.
Of course, at the same public event last week, I ran into Congressman Polis. Now, to be fair, I’ve known Congressman Polis for years, and if I were one beer too many I’d claim him as a friend. I’ve interviewed him on my Walk the Talk Show (then known as elevision) twice, he’s introduced my talk show another time, he’s written an article for my elephant magazine (now elephantjournal.com) and helped out my best bud, Sol Halpern, in his first entrance into politics a few years ago. When I finally made my decision to run or not to run for City Council, this year, Congressman Polis sweetly took the time to try and argue me back into running, sending me two emails that actually reflected the fact that he’d taken my considerations into consideration. And now, at Senator Bennet’s party, my quick hello was reciprocated, we talked, he looked into my eyes, he heard what I was saying…for all his millions (he’s relatively well-off) and power (Congressman at only age 34) and popularity (he was besieged by fans, the bandshell at Boulder’s Central Park being the epicenter of his kingdom)…Congressman Polis was surprisingly relaxed, focused, available, open, with an evident sense of humor. I was impressed.
I’ve also had the honor of interviewing Senator Udall (then Congressman Udall). And I’ve seen him many times. He combines that Senator Bennet-like distance and sense of being above-it-all with a focused, grounded curiosity—making him very nearly seem, well, Presidential.
I grew up in the Buddhist community, in Boulder, and knew Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. A governor in Tibet and a King of Shambhala, Trungpa Rinpoche was in my memory a tireless teacher, slow and deliberate, his Oxonian English echoing slowly through the hours…until I fell asleep. Give me a break, I was a child. Though I met him countless times, the only one I still really remember was up at Shambhala Mountain Center, and he was thoroughly human (his attendant said, yes, ask him your question in public, he’ll be less likely to say “no”) and yet thoroughly majestic (as a 12 year old child, wanting to take my Bodhisattva Vow early, he very nearly seemed to be ringed by a golden aura.
And I’ve palled around and served my Buddhist teacher, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, who is again both throroughly human, and a forward-looking, deep-contemplating architect of his one life and that of the direction of his, and my, community. He works tirelessly, as do all the above gentlemen, for the benefit of others. This is, in my estimation, what makes a great man.
I’ve known Allen Ginsberg, Ken Wilber, and Kanjuro Shibata Sensei. I’ve known Reggie Ray, and Dr. Judith Simmer Brown, Sharon Salzberg, Richard Freeman, Yvon Chouinard and Pema Chodron, I’ve interviewed Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche, Chris Sharma, Michael Pollan, Dr. Deepak Chopra, Bill McKibben, Paul Hawken, Lester Brown, Amy Goodman, Dr. Andrew Weil, Anne Waldman, Robert Thurman, many other folks working (and playing) hard for the benefit of others over the years.
The women are, perhaps, more grounded. The men are, perhaps, more self-asserting. But this isn’t about gender. This is about what makes a man or woman great. Truly great.
In Shambhala: the Sacred Path of the Warrior, Chogyam Trungpa describes the written Chinese character or word for “King.” He states that the character, these days, equally applies to women. It’s a sort of vertical line, if I remember, bisected horizontally by three lines: Heaven, Human, and Earth.
Heaven is the realm of vision, of vast, all-encompassing space, of ideas, of dreams.
Human joins the heaven and earth—it’s the sergeant who listens to the leadership, and communicates said directives to the people; while simultaneously listening to the concerns of the people and passing those along to the leadership.
Earth is practicality, doing, where magic and vision of Heaven actually take root, grow, and manifest. Earth is, perhaps, more feminine, in that it gives birth to and nurtures and makes possible everything else.
A great politician, or King, or Queen, or a great everyday ordinary citizen like you or me, combines those three. Stand tall, breath deep, think of the heavens of your dreams of your mission in life…pull that down into your heart, hold it there and then…breathe out, let go. That’s connecting Heaven and Earth. And when you’ve done that, you can be present with your friends, you constituency, you can be both important (full of vision, leadership) and grounded (in the moment, relaxed, humorous, sincere). Too often we see important politicians get lost in their own importance or vision (Heaven) or mired in the muddy muck of details and, sometimes, money (Earth).
A great man or a great woman, a great politician…is nothing more than a great servant. For that is the highest vision, and the deepest act: to benefit others.
And that is, in fact, the translation of the word “sergeant”: servant.
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A delightful video from that day:
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Waylon Lewis is the founder of elephantjournal.com
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