The headlines on the front page of last Friday’s The Chief newspaper read “Homeless Shelter to open in old firehall”. In spite of the previous opposition to the opening of a community drug treatment center and some of the negative and insensitive comments in previous editions of The Chief about our homeless and indigent population, it would appear that Squamish has heard the words of compassion espoused by the Dalai Lama.

His Holiness, The 14th Dalai Lama arrived in Vancouver last week for a three-day visit and to participate in various dialogs and discussions on peace, happiness, mental health, nurturing compassion and to inaugurate the $60 million  “Dalai Lama Centre For Peace and Education”, the only such facility in the world that bares his name. The 2006 Vancouver Dialogues reflect the Center’s mandate to foster and support “education of the heart” and teachings on kindness, compassion and interconnectedness. The Dalai Lama also made it into the Canadian history books earlier this summer when Parliament granted him honorary Canadian Citizenship. Only two other people have been granted honorary Canadian Citizenship: Nelson Mandela and Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who gave refuge to Jews during World War II.

The dialogues began on Friday morning at the Orpheum Theater with the topic “Nurturing Compassion”.  The Dalai Lama shared the stage with nine high school students and an audience of over 2000 young people, one of the first times The Dalai Lama has shared the stage solely with such a young audience. The normally restless teenagers were transfixed on the Dalai Lama and his every word. The Dalai Lama’s message to this young audience was clear. “The key to change is moving beyond selfishness toward compassion for others”. That is the road to inner peace and strength.  Extreme self-centredness and selfishness always bring disaster. People who always use the words ‘me, my, I’ have a greater chance of heart attack. This is scientific fact.”

During the Dialogues and other talks by the Dalai Lama, his message to the people of Canada was clear.  Promote peace and cultivate happiness, through compassion to others. The Dalai Lama was also clear to point out the distinction between what he called “biased” and “unbiased” compassion. Although most of us readily show compassion to our family, friends and certain select groups or individuals (biased compassion), we often ignore those in other unfortunate circumstances, especially those with mental illness or drug dependencies. The Dalai Lama expressed the need to show “unbiased compassion” whereby all humans are treated equally and shown compassion, regardless of social status, race, religion or family ties. We would be shocked and appalled if someone with cancer were forced to live on the streets as a result of their illness. Yet we often accept, and even pass judgments on those who are stricken with mental illness or drug addiction problems and are relegated to living on the streets.

The topic for the Saturday morning session at the Orpheum was “Happiness & Stress As Determinants of Mental Health”. Sharing the stage with such renowned scientists and scholars as Dr. Paul Ekman from the University of Californian, San Francisco. Dr. Eckman’s work  on facial expression as determinants of emotion is quite familiar to this writer through my own graduate studies in psychology at UNBC. Other speakers included best-selling author Deepak Chopra, Dr. Ed Diener (Positive Psychology) and others. Each scientist, scholar or author had the chance to dialog with the Dalai Lama and pose various questions, most of which were related to each their respective fields of scientific interest. Ultimately, each of the scientist’s studies suggested the same underlying phenomenon. Physical health, life span, overall success are all strongly related to our levels of happiness and stress. The more happy and less stressed, the longer we live, the healthier we are and the more successful we are in our lives and careers. When it was Dr. Chopra’s turn to dialogue with the Dalai Lama, he reiterated one of the principle precepts of Buddhism, which relates to the ability to make yourself happy through showing compassion towards others. Basically that there is no divided or separate self. “There is a fundamental interconnectedness of Being” said Dr. Chopra. When we help others, ultimately we are helping ourselves.

The announcement in last Friday’s Chief of the construction of the Homeless Shelter is an encouraging sign of Squamish’s own compassion to our poor, indigent and homeless community. Prior to this announcement I had been discouraged at the previous opposition to the drug treatment center and our interim mayors comments about some of our indigent and homeless people. In a few years time the world will be watching Whistler and Squamish. This will be a rare, and potentially precedent-setting opportunity for Squamish to show the caliber of our community.  By demonstrating unbiased compassion, concern and assistance to those less fortunate in our community, we not only present a positive image to the rest of the world, but as the Dalal Lama and the scientists claim, we are actually helping ourselves and promoting our own happiness, health and at least potentially, a longer life. Each and every one of us who has the great fortunate of living in the beautiful paradise of Squamish can participate in demonstrating to the rest of the world, that Squamish is a compassionate and community-minded city. All it takes is a kind word, a cup of coffee, or a donation to one or more of the non-profit groups in town, including the new Homeless Shelter.

So I welcome the announcement of the new Squamish Homeless Shelter to our beautiful city and feel privileged to live not only among the beautiful mountains and ocean scenery, but I feel privileged and honored at being a part of a community that is showing its compassion towards our own unfortunate and homeless community. A community that appears to have heard the message of the Dalai Lama and the scientific community with regards to increasing our own happiness and health through compassion, and the helping of others. In 2010 the world will be watching us and if we can continue to show our sincere, unbiased and genuine compassion to those within our own community, we can be proud of what the world will see.

Compassion is not religious business, it is human business,
it is not luxury, it is essential for our own peace and mental stability,
it is essential for human survival
(His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama)