I arrived at the Andy Lee Field in Woodstock to hear the Dalai Lama speak, late. The crew was dismantling the stage. Small constellations of people sat clustered on the grass with children running in and among them. Everyone was smiling.
Living in Woodstock, I visit the field often to bring my son to the recently installed (and totally excellent) playground. Usually I exchange cordial nods and hellos with fellow parents, but this day the mood was different. People seemed to be seeking eye contact rather than nervously avoiding it. Standing by the slide, the mother of another child gushed about the message of compassion and forgiveness she had heard from the Dalai Lama.
Others who attended the event reported that "his message was so simple," and that the powerful feelings his talk evoked were more connected to the disposition of the man, than the words he spoke. The positive atmosphere that apparently surrounds the Dalai Lama was so powerful that it lingered not only within the people that encountered him, but like particles of light persisting at the site of the event after he departed.
We all carry an atmosphere around us. We can't see it with our physical eyes, but we can with another kind of sensitivity. We notice when a person is happy or sad, enthusiastic or angry, even from a distance. We can feel when someone is watching us, or when a person enters our "space." It is as though each person's atmosphere has a particular hue, and we feel the quality of that person's presence when our atmospheres interact.
Atmospheres come in varying degrees of intensity. Some people, for better or worse, are well endowed with animal magnetism, or charisma. My purpose is to talk about the conscious variety—the type of amplified atmosphere that a person must work to build. The Dalai Lama, a renunciate monk with decades (lifetimes?) of meditation practice, has a powerfully charged atmosphere. At least this was my experience on Andy Lee Field. A subtle cloud of his presence remained, though he was physically elsewhere when I arrived.
I had another taste of this last weekend, undergoing what is listed among the most stressful of all experiences for the human species—moving. Unpacking boxes all day, with a two-year-old running about, working on the side of entropy, and a two-month-old crying for the breast or needing to burp or poop, my atmosphere was becoming dark with frustration and fatigue. The general mood was dark. And then we had a visitor.
He came through the door with a screw gun and a smile. A lovely man whose atmosphere preceded him. He is also a meditator and a practitioner of directed attention, and on this day he was particularly bright. With his arrival it was as though someone had turned a light on in the room, and we were all put at ease as he quietly helped install shelving and move furniture. I was reminded by his presence to remember myself and pay attention.
What I've gathered from these experiences is that what we contribute to the world is primarily the result of what emanates from our person. This is the true meaning of what it means to be "productive"—our output being less a result of what we do, than what we are.
That said, there is a kind of "doing" that has a transformative effect on what we are. It's an inner effort to yoke our parts into a concerted whole. "To yoke" is the meaning of the word yoga, the asanas of hatha yoga being but the external context and preparation for an internal effort.
Meditation is an excellent endeavor in this regard, though it is limited in scope as the effort is made in isolation, with the hope that the results will magically spill over into the rest of the life. Better is what Trungpa Rinpoche called "meditation in action". In this practice everything, from praying to using the toilet, becomes an arena in which to refine one's atmosphere; to remember, as Adi Da Samraj formulates, that "no matter what arises, or does not arise, there is only consciousness itself."
Truly, refinement of our atmosphere is produced not by some inward-gazing exercise, but what we do. How fully are our actions permeated with awareness and compassion? Can we be as present for the setting of a glass on the table as we are for a kiss? How well do our actions align with our words? Can we actually keep a promise? Can we arrive where and when we have said we will? This is the essence of a powerful atmosphere—words and deeds are harnessed like the electricity of an arc lamp. Hence the simple yet powerful quality of the Dalai Lama's words: They were spare but every syllable was true.
The work to purify and amplify our atmosphere makes us bright—enlightened even. It makes us shine with an attractive and powerful light, which has an effect on everyone whose atmosphere we contact. We will not all gain the potency of the Dalai Lama, or even that of the man with the screw gun and the smile. But, holding this knowledge, we can have an effect that, like the flap of the wing of the butterfly that stirs a tornado 1,000 miles away, begins a chain of conscious interaction with far-reaching outcomes.