Sunday, November 30, 2014

His Holiness the Dalai Lama – Part 2: What the Dalai Lama Actually Said

This is the second of my two-part series on His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s public talk given at the TD Garden Saturday Nov. 1st. While the first post focused on the events and experiences surrounding the talk, this one will reveal what the Dalai Lama actually said. You can read the words that follow, but I encourage you to download the audio, and hear the Dalai Lama’s talk in his own voice.

I have now had the chance to listen to the talk several times, and have taken something new away each time. The following is a much-abridged version of the talk, due to time and space considerations, sharing the most memorable and interesting parts of the talk, with use of direct quotes to the maximum extent possible, and my own commentary in parenthesis.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama is a rule-breaker – in a good way!
The Dalai Lama thanked the young performers for their dance: “They play quite freely. Some go like this, some go like that. I really appreciate that, the folk dance. When I was young, as a monk, these are not permissible, not allowed – but I played that!” (This drew laughs from the crowd, and was our first indication that he might sometimes color outside the lines.)

Humble, human, and one of us
“Whenever I give talk, I always make clear, the speaker and audience, we are same human being, no differences. Mentally, emotionally, physically, we are same. As a matter of fact, seven billion human beings on this planet – same. And most important, each one want a happy life; do not want suffering or problem. And all humanity have right to achieve their wish – be happy life. So I always stress importance of the sense of oneness of seven billion human beings. On human level, all seven billion are same. I think, on human level, I think hardly, not much cause for fighting, killing. On a secondary level, different country, different races, different color, different faith, different social status, different profession - then there are differences. So most manmade problems – not on the level of sameness of human being, but secondary level – different nation, different color, different faith.”

(Quite by chance, I have been reading the book, My Stroke of Insight, by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroanatomist – brain scientist - chronicling her own stroke and recovery. Since her bleed was on the left side of her brain, what she experienced after the stroke was what life would be like if she had to rely more/entirely on her right brain – and what she experienced was an incredible sense of oneness; of “being at one with the universe.” In fact, during her recovery, as her left brain functions returned - language, math, spatial awareness - she also feared losing her right brain sense of inner peace. A very interesting book – well worth reading. Only a scientist would react, once realizing that she was having a stroke, by thinking, “Wow, this is so cool!”  It’s intriguing, the thought that all we need to do is tap our right brain function more to foster this sense of oneness. And that most of society’s ills may stem simply from too much emphasis on the left brain activities; specifically ego. In a later chapter, she discusses a study by Drs. Andrew Newberg and Eugene D’Aquilie, using single photon emission computed tomography – SPECT – to look at brain activity in Tibetan meditators and Franciscan nuns while meditating or praying. What they saw was the quieting of activity in the left brain areas controlling language and spatial orientation, which literally causes one to “lose sight of where we begin and where we end relative to the space around us.”)

The Dalai Lama then talked about how much has changed in our country, noting the contributions of Lincoln, Martin Luther King, and now our President. “Much has changed.” He was recently in Alabama, and there “still sometimes see a little gap on basis of color; discrimination.” (And yet, there is still Ferguson, which he does not mention. We still can’t “all get along.” There are still wide “gaps” in opportunity and advantage between blacks and whites, and rich and poor.)

“And in some other parts of the world, also it happen. Then of course, different national interests, I think not only in the past, but even today, some violence. Then, very, very unfortunate thing is, in the name of religion, different faith, and causing killing – unthinkable. All major religion tradition teach us the practice of love, forgiveness, tolerance. And people who follow that – still killing. Unthinkable! People who practice love, forgiveness, tolerance – killing? Unthinkable. So, much problem which we are facing is too much stress on the secondary levels of differences.”

“So, therefore, logically, if you want to reduce these conflicts among human beings, killing each other, bullying each other, exploiting each other, cheating each other, we must promote oneness. We are all same human being, we all have same right to achieve happy life.”

(Ironically, the very next night – November 2nd – on Sixty Minutes, there was an interview with Islamic radicals in London who are trying to expand and impose sharia law everywhere. When asked if he could love his Mother, a non-Muslim, his response was: “It’s not allowed for me to love non-Muslims.” Such a juxtaposition of perspectives, separated by just a day.)

The Dalai Lama might peek in your medicine cabinet
“Now, question: What is Happy Life? Become rich? Millionaire? Billionaire? Is it right way to achieve happiness? No. If we closely observe. Some people very rich, but unhappy. A lot of worry, stress, anxiety. So, this shows money, wealth alone – no guarantee bring happy life. Education, knowledge, that also not very sure. Some have very smart brain, highly educated – but have too much stress, worry. So then also, people have disturbed mind. Take tranquilizers, alcohol, drugs.”

“Many years ago, one occasion, visited a family, very big house, rich. After lunch, went to bathroom, to take care of my teeth. Then while brushing, the front of the cabinet - a little bit open. Then, out of my curiosity – maybe, I think, maybe illegal – I opened. (big belly laugh, and laughter from the crowd) Then there I notice some pills, tranquilizers. Then I felt - this family, the people, live in big house – everything good. But they also need tranquilizers.”

“Ultimate source of worry and mental pain come from mind itself. So logically, the method to deal with that also must be developed within mind. So, our daily experiences, physical comfort, will not subdue our mental level of worry or pain. Other hand, physical pain can be subdued by mental calmness, or satisfaction.”

At this point, he donned a black Bruins cap, to the delight and applause of the crowd.

“This useful. Very powerful light.
Hockey! Hockey cap!
But have zero knowledge about hockey.” 
“Therefore, the right method to deal with mental level problem, unhappiness – must develop within mind. I think if nature creates physical pain, there’s some antidote for physical illness by nature developed within our own body, like immune system counters virus. Similarly, mental level, emotional level, such as anger, fear, too much worry, brings really unhappiness.

So, the counterforce also by nature, by biological factor – we are already equipped. Sense of affection, sense of concern for others well being. These are the countering forces we already have. So, therefore, irrespective, whether believer or non-believer – warm-heartedness, sense of concern of others’ well-being, that is the real important thing. Now medical science found through investigation: fear, anger, hatred weaken our immune system. Other hand, more compassionate thought, sense of concern of others well being - very helpful to sustain immune system.”

“Obviously, we all have experience, the day we face some kind of problem, quarrel, anger, and shouting – then next morning, you feel a little uncomfortable. Sometimes bad mood. Dreams also, some sort of discomfort.  The day you really enjoy with genuine friends who really trust each other, respect each other, genuine sense of concern for each other, then you feel lighter. This has nothing to do with religion. “

“Sometimes people, when we talk about value of compassion and forgiveness, then people feel these are part of religious practice, so those people who have not much interest in religion, then they also never think about these things. I think this mistake. That part we must make effort to make known. Whether believe religion or not, this one or that, is up to individual. Now, today, out of seven billion human beings, over one billion are non-believers. Okay if they prefer not, that’s their individual right.”

“So, here according to Indian tradition – secular concept. The secular means respect all religions, no preference of this one or that one. Unique – secular also means respect non-believer. Very, very relevant in today’s world. In West, secularism and atheism – close link.

So, I think India, constitution based on secular concept, not at all against religion. Most stable and non-violent and religious harmony because of secular concept and also ahimsa, non-violent tradition. India is really example – most populated democratic country. Stable, peaceful, though a lot of drawbacks – gaps between rich and poor, corruption.” (I would personally add to that list of “drawbacks” several more issues: honor killings, rape, the trampling of women’s rights in general, including a huge reliance on female sterilization as the preferred form of contraception, and of course their longstanding caste system.)

“Secular is something not distant at all from religion. Need to educate secularly about inner values, based on scientific findings. In conclusion, ultimate source of happy life is within ourselves. Not money, education. Education does not bring inner peace. Will not happen overnight, will take years. 21st century can be a different world. 20th century – century of violence. 21st century – should be century of peace.” (applause)

“Cannot pursue from one angle. Interdependent, so therefore – education system. Not enough paying attention to inner values. If put in more religious education – different faiths – creates complications. So, secularly educate these things. Change of humanity – achieve happy society, happier world - initiative must start at individual level. First individual think more about inner values, then translate to more compassionate life. Then create more compassionate family. One family. Ten families. One hundred families. One thousand families. Then society. Change society, build peaceful world.”

“I never consider myself the Dalai Lama, just another human being, simple Buddhist monk, so that we can communicate. If I think too much – isolate, then become lonely person. That brings more anxiety and frustration. No use.”

“When I consider I am one other human being - then easily communicate. Please think more seriously about these points. If feel make some sense, then try to implement. If you feel no sense – then Phuket!” (Big laughs from the crowd, most in shock and disbelief at his non sequitur reference to an island in Thailand in the midst of his talk!)

Q & A:
1.    Can you teach empathy? "Yes, certainly."
2.    Where is the middle path for a busy American life? “Actually, you know better… Extreme luxuries, not good. Of your money – spend more meaningfully. Extremes, blind faith, materialistic – not good. I think you should investigate that!”
3.    Most memorable thing you’ve done? Study of four fields: cosmology, neurobiology, quantum physics, psychology.

Q & A – from children ages 5 to 11:
1.    Do you have a pet? “Yes, nowadays one old cat. Now, no longer playful. In early period, very, very playful. Nowadays – like myself!” (big belly laughs)
2.    Do you ever get angry? “Oh, yes!”
3.    What do you do in your spare time? Gardening, repairs. “When have time, think – analytical meditation. Then, study, read. The unique thing about Buddhist practice – utilize human interaction to maximize way, more insights, transform emotion. My day starts at 3 o’clock in the morning, four hours meditate, and in the evening one hour again. Then about 6:30 or 7:00, sleep.” He told the story of when he stayed at a Berlin hotel across from a nightclub, and being awakened by the zhunga-zhung zhunga-zhung of the music and bright flashing lights all night. “Nature created day and night. Night means sleep. Or – lay people – sex!” (belly laughs)
4.    Do you still feel there is no need for Westerners to become Buddhists, but instead simply incorporate Buddhist elements? “I respect all different major religions. Westerners should keep their traditional faith. Must respect your own traditional religion. All - same practice of love, forgiveness, tolerance, self discipline, and contentment. Buddhist concept of interdependence – differs from view of creator as an absolute. Buddhism and Hinduism are like tree. Real difference – Buddhism - no soul theory; no independent self. Hinduism, and all other non-Buddhists – independent self and soul.  (It wasn’t until afterwards, in talking to my cookie-coveting friend with the rabbit from the very first post, that I understood what he meant here. She explained to me that it’s said that the Dalai Lama cried when Mao Tse Tung died. Because he’d miss him? I didn’t think he liked the Communist leader. No, he cried because Mao didn’t evolve over the course of his life, and so – he took all of that negative energy with him when he died and returned it to the collective oneness. Ohhh. He really means it when he thinks of everyone as ONE. Reminds me of a photo I saw of starlings flocking together, something called a murmuration. Just Google: murmuration, starlings, Gretna, and you’ll find some amazing pictures and videos.)

5.    What can we do as Americans to help Tibetans realize their justice and freedom? He spoke of the yearning to preserve language, script, and traditions, and culture of peace, non-violence, compassion. “Really worthwhile to preserve.” (applause) “Unusual for a Communist leader to be supportive of importance of Buddhist knowledge and culture. The problem – hard liners. They consider Tibetan culture to be a source of threat of separation Look at India – different languages, different scripts, but not in danger of separation.” “Please, whenever you meet with Chinese scholars, business people, and students, tell them the reality of Buddhist culture and language and environment.”  “Best thing – visit Tibet. It maybe little bit expensive. Borrow some money from friend. When reach Tibet, buy some antiques and then when return, sell at little higher price.” (he chuckles) “Get there, visit, and see. And then tell people what the reality is.” He spoke of his admiration of the European Union and the United States. Those who were traditionally enemies could, “because of new circumstance, new reality, therefore, realize change. So, now today sovereign states, but whole continent depends on each other.” He also spoke of how the future of Africa will also need to be some kind of union. “Small, small states, civil war, fighting each other. Mutual destruction. We should not fight for complete independence. Try to materialize Chinese constitution to give certain rights. What we ask for – consider an ethnic Tibetan area – autonomous. Middle way. Not seeking independence.  Middle way approach. That’s the way to help.”

He had been asked to give a few words in Tibet at the end. “Top secret,” he chuckled, then spoke in Tibet for a few minutes. (Translation currently not available.)

After his talk, Richard Gere surprised the crowd, and said a few words to lift us up, and then we were off to lunch in the North End!

Post Script:
I want to thank the Tibetan Association of Boston for the press pass and the opportunity to partake of this amazing experience. Thank you!

Reading/hearing the Dalai Lama’s talk just on the heels of Black Friday, and as we enter the holiday season, one could ask – if the Dalai Lama came to visit your house, and peeked in your medicine cabinet, what would he find there? Will any of the things you bought on Friday bring you – or others – true happiness? The best thing we can do for each other is to show that we are thinking of them. It’s not the size of the gift, but the thoughtfulness of it. And the greatest gifts we can give are those of our time, literally – our presence!

Of course, a book also makes the perfect holiday gift, and there is still plenty of time to order a copy of Go Forward, Support! The Rugby of Life, available on It is cyber-Monday after all.

So, my “free” press pass wound up costing us just over $200, by the time we paid for a ticket for Susan, parking at TD Garden, and lunch in the North End. We were so close, we just had to, plus we were able to get into La Famiglia Giorgio’s, no line, no wait. On the up side, I gained enough material for two blog posts, which is, of course – priceless!

And, that is my gift to you, dear readers, near and far.

Taylor, Jill Bolte, PhD. 2006. My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey. New York, New York: Viking, The Penguin Group.

Coming Next:
An update on the status of women’s collegiate rugby, from one coach’s perspective.

© 2014 Rosemary A. Schmidt
Rose Schmidt is the author of “Go Forward, Support! The Rugby of Life.” If you would like to request permission to use or reprint any of the content on the site, please contact the author. Use of individual quotes with proper citation and attribution, within the limits of fair use, is permitted.   

Saturday, November 29, 2014

His Holiness the Dalai Lama – Part 1: My First Press Pass

I really wanted to hear the Dalai Lama give his talk earlier this month at the TD Garden, but we are trying to stay in our budget. I realized that the Tibetan Association of Boston was accepting media requests, and so I requested a press pass, and much to my surprise and delight, my request was approved!  
I did not know quite what to expect. I thought the press area might be near the stage, but in the wings, and there would maybe even be a pre-talk meet and greet. With coffee and Danish perhaps. I wanted to share this experience with Susan, so we bought a ticket for her to attend also. I dressed professionally, discreetly, and carried myself as a serious person, with the proper air of dignity befitting the occasion. Cub reporter on assignment!

No One Is Without Controversy.  The first thing we notice as we pull into the parking garage on Causeway Street is a group of about fifty protestors, chanting and holding signs saying things like “Stop Lying!” I am confused and so when I reach the press area (after a lengthy tour through the back workings and TD Garden elevators) I ask my press point of contact about them. To me it seems very surprising. Who would protest the Dalai Lama? The Dalai Lama is an inherently good and benevolent being. It’s like protesting the Tooth Fairy. Haven’t they read his meditation thought of the day calendar? 

The answer is that there are some who claim he is not the real Dalai Lama, and he has advised against some religious practices and this has upset some people. Not the real Dalai Lama? What pops into my mind is the movie, Santa Clause 2, when Santa (played by Tim Allen) leaves a fake robotic Santa Claus in charge of the North Pole, while he goes in search of a Mrs. Claus. Did he mean that kind of not-real Dalai Lama? It is best that I have learned not to say everything that I am thinking.

The bottom line is that no one is above controversy. If you think of the Dalai Lama as not just a kind spiritual leader of the world, but also as a religious and quasi-political leader as well, say comparable to the Pope, it becomes more comprehensible. Would people protest the Pope? Yes. Does the Pope advise Catholics on the practice of their faith? Yes. Does everyone agree with what the Pope says? No, although Pope Francis has certainly changed the tenor of the dialogue with followers, and has done more to engender openness and inclusiveness than any other Pope in recent memory.  But, certainly, he is not beyond controversy.    

The Elevator.  Knowing that everyone scrambling for parking in the bowels of the parking garage at 8:30 AM on a Saturday morning and packing into the crowded elevators is here to attend the Dalai Lama’s talk, one would think that people would be a little bit more personable. We get into the elevator and greet the other occupants with a simple “good morning.” Nothing in reply. Not a one. Not a single acknowledgment of their fellow human beings. No shared human commonality. Awkward.  It’s kind of like when you see people racing on their way to yoga class, or leaving after yoga (or church, for that matter) as fast as they can afterwards. Hearing a message and living a message are two very different things.  

The Ninth Level.  Members of the press are brought to the Ninth Level, which is just about eyeball-level with the jumbotron. Actually, we were so high up we were looking down on the jumbotron. I make small talk with another reporter, then we’re brought down to a lower level for a photo opportunity at the start of the talk. I’m taking photos with my cell phone. If I’d brought more elaborate photo equipment, I would have had to arrive at 5:30 in the morning. I also would have had to have purchased said equipment and learned how to use it.

Children from the local Tibetan school perform a traditional folk dance known as “Shema.” His Holiness the Dalai Lama enters the auditorium, greeting the children, and taking a seat. Senator Elizabeth Warren gives a brief introduction. The remark from her speech that stood out in my mind:

“Compassion is not an option; it is a necessity.”

We are taken back to the ninth level, and I get situated with my notebook, to listen and watch and experience, and take notes. I’m having a hard time hearing, and so I figure I just need to try harder, and maybe get used to his slight dialect, and the acoustics. This approach (“trying harder”) worked equally well for Calculus. I wrote down what I heard, but I knew I was missing big gaps in between.

My best efforts could not overcome the acoustics. Here is a sampling of my notes:

Mental calmness
Bruins cap (applause, laughter)
More compassionate heart
Trust, love, respect, affection, compassion, forgiveness, basic human values.
What need for Happy Life is within us.
20th century violence, 21st century should be peaceful (applause)
Never forget…
Change humanity, change minds, world, must start individually
If sense, try.
If no sense, what did he just say? (big laughs, applause)

After the talk I looked at my notes and realized - How the heck am I going to turn this into a blog? I tried interviewing Susan, and it quickly became clear that I had missed a whole lot.

Recall two things:

There is something to be learned from everything. What I learned is that I can’t count on a press pass to put me in a good position to cover a story, and I need to speak up if I am not getting what I need.

Everything happens for a reason. If I had heard everything perfectly and clearly during the talk, I would never have gone looking for an audio recording, which I found on the Dalai Lama’s facebook page, and can now share with you, too, so you can hear for yourself what he said, in his own words and own voice:

This is the first of my two-part series on His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s public talk given at the TD Garden Saturday Nov. 1st.

I must confess that the extent of my Buddhist study consists of getting the Dalai Lama’s thought-of-the-day Calendar and attending a few yoga and meditation classes. Even these small things can have a profound effect. I even have a meditation downloaded on my phone from one class, so I can meditate almost anywhere.

Almost anywhere. On our first foray into the Seaport District (you know how good I am at navigating), as I was working to get the GPS guidance to come through the Bluetooth in the car, instead out came “…now breathe deeply…”  I love Ben, but at that precise moment, it just shot my stress level right through the roof. As I said, I can now meditate almost anywhere. But, not while driving and fighting with my phone’s GPS.

Coming Next:
Part 2 What His Holiness the Dalai Lama Actually Said. Coming Soon: An update on the status of women’s collegiate rugby, from one coach’s perspective.

© 2014 Rosemary A. Schmidt
Rose Schmidt is the author of “Go Forward, Support! The Rugby of Life.” If you would like to request permission to use or reprint any of the content on the site, please contact the author. Use of individual quotes with proper citation and attribution, within the limits of fair use, is permitted.   

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Nice Gravy Boat!

     “Rosie, can you type a letter?”

     “Sure, Dad. What’s it about this time?” (It’s not the first time; more on that later.)

It turns out there’s a column called “Ask Grandpa” in the local weekly newspaper, The Voice, and “Grandpa” has asked his readers to write in and tell him what they are grateful for, and my Father sees it as his civic duty and obligation to send in his letter. Just in case it doesn’t make it into print there, I’m sharing it here.  I added a letter of my own as well.

Dear Ask Grandpa,

I grew up in the Depression, and I thank my blessings every day for food, clothing, and shelter. I am grateful I have no debt, no mortgage, no visa debt, or car loans. And, for not being a slave to the lender. I am grateful we have:

A street sweeper, instead of pushing a broom by hand.
A lawn mower that’s self propelled, instead of a push mower.
A snow blower, instead of shoveling by hand.
A microwave, a blender, and a crock pot.
A gas stove instead of a wood burning stove.
A washer and dryer instead of a scrub board and drying our clothes on the line outside.
A radio, TV and remote.
Running water instead of a pump.
Inside plumbing instead of an outhouse.*
Wireless phones.
Planes that go over 500 mph with 300 to 400 passengers, anywhere in the world.
Refrigerators instead of underground root cellars.
Electricity instead of lanterns.
Not having to can our own fruits and vegetables.
Coffee makers.
No more ironing or polishing shoes; permanent press instead of ironing by hand.

                                                Peter P. Schmidt

P.S. – I don’t need most of the stuff listed above.

P.P.S. – I don’t need all the Thanksgiving trimmings. All I need is a good Italian Beef sandwich, or a sub sandwich, or a large homemade bowl of soup.

P.P.P.S. – Bring your lunch, and I’ll tell you a story!

Dear Ask Grandpa,

I am grateful for my Dad, my niece and her family, two delightful grandnieces, my loving partner, and all our family, cousins and great friends, both near and far, and all the happy memories we hold of those who have already left us, but live on in our hearts.

And my Dad’s stories!


                                              Rose Schmidt

* One year my Dad got so excited telling us about how grateful he was for modern conveniences, such as indoor plumbing, that he ran downstairs to the basement, and returned with an old chamber pot in hand, to both the shock and amusement of my nieces, as he explained how you either had to use one of these or run out in the cold of night to use the outhouse.

Happy Thanksgiving Day!

     “My, that’s a large gravy boat. Where did you find that? You didn’t bring that up from the basement, did you?!”

Coming Next
Two-part series on the public talk given by His Holiness The Dalai Lama on November 1st at TD Garden, titled “Educating the Heart and Mind.” 

© 2014 Rosemary A. Schmidt
Rose Schmidt is the author of “Go Forward, Support! The Rugby of Life.” If you would like to request permission to use or reprint any of the content on the site, please contact the author. Use of individual quotes with proper citation and attribution, within the limits of fair use, is permitted.   

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Casinos Part 3: Off to the Races!

We are in Florida, staying at the Hampton Inn, it’s morning, and I’m bleary eyed, getting my coffee, when the fellow next to me asks, “Are yah’ in town for the Flahrdah Sahrsraces?”

     “Huh?” He repeats himself.

     “I’m sorry, but can you say that again?” Yet once again the words all run together unintelligibly for me, so that I have to ask a third time.

     “Well, guessing not,” he says, chuckling, given that I can’t even recognize what he’s saying.

     “Yes, true, but now I’m curious. What did you say? I really just want to know.” He repeats it this time, saying each word slowly and distinctly: “The Flo-ri-da Sires Races.”

     “Oh,” I say. “Horse races. No, we’re not, though we did catch one race yesterday at the track across the street.”

Well, we did. We couldn’t hang out at the hospital the entire day, our patient needed to rest, and so we had made our way to the Gulf Stream casino/track/resort across the street, and saw precisely one race. We got there just as the race was about to start, and so didn’t have time to place any bets. I guess it was exciting. It was a photo finish. And, the way I look at it, we came out ahead, since the horses we would have bet on both lost, so we each saved easily ten or twenty dollars each, by not betting at all. I have learned a little bit in my travels.  Of all the gambling options, this was the most lucrative of all for us. No play, no pay. But it was still fun to walk around and take in the sights.

All the same, I felt a little pleased with myself, that we could even be mistaken for horse people, people who follow the parentage and lineage of the various horses, as well as the pedigree of their owners, trainers and riders, and have time to sip mint juleps on a Thursday afternoon when most of the honest working world is doing, well, just that - working.   

As Massachusetts weighs the impending casino vote, it reminds me of a Sunday in August in 2005, the day before Hurricane Katrina was to make landfall. I remember thinking that, at this time tomorrow, there would be lives ruined, lost, torn apart, devastated. It was not a question of whether, but of how many. I’ve had the same thought about the arrival of the casino to the Boston area. If built here, lives will be destroyed by it. The decision will be made by a vote, majority rule, essentially a mob mentality.

I am struck by the two meanings of the word, mob. A large mass of people. And, the mob. It almost sounds like something from days gone by, with old fashioned black and white news reels. Trench coats, fedoras, and machine guns. It almost seems glamorous. Almost. It’s hard to believe it still exists today. I know nothing of it.

I am very torn. It sounds like Wynn is interested in creating a world-class attraction that will create jobs and draw in the big cats, and generate revenue for the Commonwealth. And maybe create a fun place for us locals to visit now and then. I like the idea of most of the revenue coming from out-of-towners. It’s sort of like seeing a State Trooper pull over a car with out-of-state plates. Yay! Thank you for your donation!

I know that if the casinos go ahead, there will be lives torn apart by them, individuals unable to resist their appeal. There is another storm out on the horizon approaching our shores, and I know this, as sure as I am standing here today, that if we welcome it ashore, lives will be changed forever, there will be losses, and some will lose it all. What do we want? The decision lies in our hands. We are not voting on the rightness, the goodness, or the badness of gambling.  We are simply making a choice, a decision – is it for us?

If we bring it here, will we watch out for each other?

Are we wild horses, or part of a herd?

Are we responsible for our fellow humans, the fabric of our community, village, or society as a whole?

Or should we just let the chips fall (literally) as they may?

Tough call. I wouldn’t be surprised if the bookies in Vegas were taking bets on how this all turns out, even as we speak!



This is the last of my three-part series on casinos, completing the trifecta, the hat trick, rounding out trips to Foxwoods, Mohegan Sun, Las Vegas and the Gulf Stream in Florida.

Don’t forget to vote Tuesday!

Coming Next:

Future blogs on His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s public talk given at the TD Garden Saturday November 1st, and an update on the status of women’s collegiate rugby, from one coach’s perspective.


Post Script:

It is with sadness we bid farewell to former Mayor Tom Menino, and share our sympathies with Angela Menino and the entire family. We met Mr. Menino only once, last December, at the ReadBoston event, and it was truly an honor. Susan took the opportunity to shake his hand and thank him for everything he had done for this city. (Because what he did in Boston was felt in all the surrounding communities.)  I asked him if I could give him a copy of my book, and what he did next blew me away – he asked me if I was going to sign it for him. I’m just an unknown author from Watertown. He could have just as easily said “thank you very much,” and passed it along to someone in his entourage. What a big heart he had. Now I only regret that I will never be able to ask him to return the favor, and sign a copy of his book for me. May his memory live on and serve as a model for all. Thank you!

© 2014 Rosemary A. Schmidt
Rose Schmidt is the author of “Go Forward, Support! The Rugby of Life.” If you would like to request permission to use or reprint any of the content on the site, please contact the author. Use of individual quotes with proper citation and attribution, within the limits of fair use, is permitted.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Casinos Part 2: What We Brought Back From Vegas

With all the controversy over the local casino deal, I took it upon myself to go out and do some first-hand “research.” Stop 1 was Foxwoods, Mohegan Sun, and the Sarah McLachlan concert. Stop 2: Las Vegas, the Strip, and the Grand Canyon.

What I brought back: Two geodes, that I’m still waiting to crack open, and a bottle of mesquite honey, purchased at a roadside store on the bus trip to the Grand Canyon that luckily didn’t crack open and survived the trip home in my checked bag. And of course, the experience.

Our traveling companions remarked that on their first trip to Vegas, they came to see two things: Cher and the Grand Canyon, and they were equally impressive. I found this hard to believe, but by the end of the trip, having seen the Grand Canyon from the Sky Walk, looking down 4,000 feet to the canyon floor below, and the Strip lit up at night from a rooftop lounge, I can now say the same thing: both spectacular, one man-made and the other an example of nature showing off what it can do. Water is a powerful agent. If water was added to rock-paper-scissors, it would win every time.

Another study in contrasts, seeing the Canyon, carved into the landscape over the past 6 million or 70 million years (there is some debate on this topic currently), and the city of Las Vegas, founded just over 100 years ago, owing its tenuous existence as a desert oasis to distant snow melt and the ebb and flow of the Colorado River. Right now, it’s mostly ebb, though. After seeing the water level in Lake Mead, 110 feet below its normal level, I expected dire warnings at the hotel about re-using towels and limiting showers. But, there was no mention of it. No worries, they wouldn’t want to bother their paying guests about such a tiny detail such as a fundamental, vital natural resource required to sustain life.  And, while I needed shorts at the Grand Canyon, I was ever so grateful that I packed along fleece and sweaters for my time indoors, where it was kept ridiculously chilly. I went outside a few times just to warm up, but otherwise I could have stayed indoors the entire trip. Similar to Minneapolis-St. Paul, they’ve built skywalks between buildings, making it so that people would never have to go outside. Just the way they like it! The better to keep their audience captive at the slots.

However, on the resort map, they show a jogging path. So, I don my new running shoes and venture out in the morning dry heat, which is only at the blow dryer level; it will reach blow torch by the afternoon. The jogging path turns out to be the concrete walkway circling the complex of pools. There is one other jogger. The same thought bubble is floating above our heads: “They said it was a jogging path!”

We take it all in – the Strip, the casinos, the fountains at the Bellagio. We see Penn and Teller. Magical. Poof! They make some more of my money disappear. Las Vegas is Disney for adults, its variously-themed resorts dwarfing the international pavilions of Epcot. If Times Square and Hollywood had a baby, a love child, it would be Las Vegas, with a dash of Provincetown pageantry and New Orleans carnival thrown in. It’s so over the top, it can’t look down.

I am fascinated by this strange place. I pick up one of the local weeklies, Vegas Seven, and find a column called “Ask a Native,” by James P. Reza, describing the Las Vegas culture as “open and unfettered,” where they “openly accommodate, celebrate and enable human nature in its good and bad forms” and “generally don’t try to legislate or regulate what Ivory Tower East Coasters see as ‘bad behavior.’ Mr. Reza goes on to call Las Vegas “the best city right now, particularly for those who have the desire to carve their own path, to create something from whole cloth, to pursue an idea to its end with very few of the institutional and social roadblocks that plague other more established cities. Nobody here needs permission. We just do.” 

Well, Boston is never going to be Las Vegas. We are probably one of those East Coast Ivory Towers. We are unlikely to allow free range human nature or promote bad behavior. Legalize prostitution? We just got rid of our blue laws. Just for the record, while prostitution is permitted in the state of Nevada, it is specifically prohibited in a few counties, including Clark County, where Las Vegas is located. That didn’t seem to stop the guys handing out calling cards to passersby on the street advertising their “private dancers.”

So, if Boston is not a hotbed of “bad behavior,” we are at least forward thinking in ways that others are not, or not as evolved. The “shot heard round the world” was fired in the suburbs of Concord and/or Lexington (almost as much controversy about that as there is about the age of the Grand Canyon). We were the first state to recognize gay marriage, and recently legalized medical marijuana use. Our revolutions have been those born of social justice.

I wonder - if we can’t be Las Vegas, what can we learn from it?
What are the best ideas we can bring back and apply here?

I got in touch with the columnist, Mr. Reza, to get his thoughts and advice on the concept of a Boston casino. He has been covering the Vegas scene for twenty years. He fills me in on the business model, the role of the high rollers, or “whales” (giving a whole new meaning to the term “whale-watching”), their expectations, and what it takes to draw in this highly coveted audience, in terms of infrastructure, relationships, and amenities. It is all about the experience. The high rollers are an important part of the equation. Does it work without the high rollers? If the customer base is going to be limited to the local populace, then revenues will ebb and flow with local paychecks. Either way, a casino will have an impact on the region, both financially and socially. There is no denying that gambling has a dark side.

At the end of our conversation, I asked him if maybe the best thing we could take away from Las Vegas might be ideological, simply being less risk averse and taking those leaps of faith, and going “all in.” He noted that the city attracts risk takers. As a possible example of this, I pointed out that the band Imagine Dragons started out in Las Vegas. At their concert at the Worcester DCU Center in March, lead singer Dan Reynolds noted that they’d made a conscious decision about five years ago to devote themselves to their music full-time. So, while so many of us hedge our bets, and pride ourselves on our diversified portfolios and prudent risk management, here is a look at what can happen when someone goes “all in.” What we miss risking, we risk missing.

After walking the Strip, I had some ideas of what I would like to see in our Boston casino. As a low roller, a minnow amongst whales, no one is going to cater to my wish list, but here it is:
  • Make it a unique destination that truly transports people. Capitalize on who we are, where we are, and what we want to be.
  • Create a place for art and philanthropy, by building partnerships with local community organizations, and incorporating art, drawing from our vast pool of local talent and their treasures, or borrowing some of the great masterpieces from the local museums.
  • Have a couple of slot machines whose proceeds go to various selected charities.
  • Put in an actual jogging path, with a soft surface. Better yet, make it a miniature replica of the Boston Marathon. 
  • Keep most of the casinos smoke-free. 
  • Offer clams casino. While there were a surprising number of seafood dishes on the menus in Vegas, I never did find clams casino, and even if I had, I’m not sure I’d want those well-traveled clams. We have clams, so why not clams casino!
  • Create a wedding destination for same-sex marriages. Yes, Provincetown is the ideal location, but imagine schlepping your extended family to the outermost tip of the Cape. A Boston-area venue would be just so much more convenient.
After talking to Mr. Reza, from a business standpoint, we have two, maybe three options:
  • If we simply want to maximize revenue, then build a high-end casino resort destination that will attract the high rollers and provide the “experience” they are looking for – a world-class resort with gourmet dining, gambling, nightlife, and other things, some less savory, and turn a blind eye to its darker side.
  • If we can’t draw in the high rollers, then the business model changes dramatically. The high rollers represent an important share of the revenue. Without them, we are back to depending on the local/regional populace for revenue, with profits ebbing and flowing with the local economy and the available disposable income.
  • Take the gambling out of the picture entirely, and build a first-class resort that hosts events, conventions, and shows, and attracts travelers from across the world with world-class shopping, dining, and nightlife. Expect lower revenues, though.
Whether high end or not, a casino will have a major impact on the region. Some lives will be changed dramatically for the worse by the new temptation in their backyard. At least Las Vegas is a six-hour flight away. And what happens in Vegas mostly stays in Vegas. There is no doubt that “if we build it, they will come.” But, who “they” will be, will depend entirely on what we build, and who we build it for. We need to decide: What do we want?

P.S. There’s a rumor that Elton John and Cher are returning to Caesars Palace in 2015. You just might see me back there! 

Next stop: The Races!


It was purely by chance that we wound up going on this whirlwind casino tour in July, as prior to this, I had never even stepped foot in one. Susan had a conference in Vegas, and I decided to tag along, and maybe find a nice quiet place to write. Now, looking for a nice quiet place to write in Vegas is about the same as looking for a little alone time in Times Square on New Year’s Eve! The miracle is that I actually found it in the course of my wanderings at the Four Seasons, which is appended to Mandalay Bay, where we were staying. So, thank you to the kind and gracious staff at the Four Seasons for your patience and hospitality in welcoming in this interloper from the hotel next door. Truly, an oasis of calm!

An update on what we brought back – the mesquite honey is all gone, it was absolutely delicious. For some strange reason, the geodes remain unbroken mysteries. And, I brought back one last thing: the inspiration for my Halloween costume: a Venetian gondolier. I have the blue and white striped sweater already, and now just have to add the paddle, hat, and red neck scarf. O-sole-mio!

Happy Halloween!

Post Script:

Also this week, Imagine Dragons just released the single, “I Bet My Life.” You can find it on iTunes, YouTube, etc. What - or who - would you bet your life on?

© 2014 Rosemary A. Schmidt
Rose Schmidt is the author of “Go Forward, Support! The Rugby of Life.” If you would like to request permission to use or reprint any of the content on the site, please contact the author. Use of individual quotes with proper citation and attribution, within the limits of fair use, is permitted.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Casinos Part 1: Foxwoods, Mohegan Sun, and Sarah

With all the controversy over the local casino deal, I took it upon myself to go out and do some first-hand “research.” Stop 1: Foxwoods, Mohegan Sun, and the Sarah McLachlan concert.

Having never stepped foot in a casino, I attacked the project with complete relish, ignorance and objectivity. And, actually, if not for the extra set of tickets, the discounted room, and it being one of our dearest friend’s birthday, we probably wouldn’t have made the schlep. But, schlep we did, with gusto.

After a lovely lunch at Junior’s at Foxwoods, we move to the casino floor. The environment I find somewhat disturbing: dark, loud, smoky, over stimulating.  With a cacophony of bells, blings, and beeps, a downright sensory overload. And at the same time, completely cut off from the outside world – no windows, clocks, or TVs. Just aisles of people parked in front of their favorite machines, feeding their hard-earned wages and/or savings into the slots. Suze Orman would have a stroke at the sight of it all. It looks like some of them have been there for days. How can they afford to do this?  I’m mystified. I put in a twenty dollar bill, and bling-bling-bling, within a few minutes, it’s gone. As far as I can tell, the only difference between the slots and a paper shredder is that the slots light up and make noise, and jam much less frequently. On the bright side, I have joined my compatriots in partaking of the free drinks offered on the floor, and cradling a nice little free Bloody Mary, spicy with horseradish, just the way I like it. Heck, maybe I’ll take up smoking, too. The problem is that at this rate, I could go through an entire paycheck by sundown, offset only slightly by the number of free drinks I can down.

If I told you there was a terrorist loose in New England, draining our wealth and exposing our populace to noxious gases, you’d be alarmed. And, we want more of these? For the revenue, I hear. But, if revenues are down, I’d say maybe it’s because all the excess disposable income in the region has been siphoned off the local populace, and at best has perhaps reached steady state, where revenue rises and falls in rhythm with pay checks.

I can at least take solace in the fact that the profits from Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods are going to the Native American tribes. The fact that they’re benefiting from this venture is in some ways perfect payback, poetic justice for all the old bad land deals (Manhattan for beads) and all the other past wrongs, indeed atrocities, committed against the Native Americans in the name of progress and manifest destiny. Of course, no sum of money can ever fully right these wrongs, repair the damage done, or eliminate the suffering experienced at the hands of the white man. But, maybe it can help a little.

I live in Watertown, where our town seal captures the famous exchange of bread and fishes on the banks of the Charles River, which was maybe a more fair exchange, representing the best both worlds had to offer, much the way most partnerships are in the beginning, before the irreconcilable differences emerge. American culture is founded on an always forward-looking perspective, in stark contrast to Native American culture which considers the entire fabric of history, and how past events are still rippling and washing up on distant shores. History is a continuum, and we are one thread, a part of it. Western culture is focused longingly on the great horizon, putting all our stock in the hope and possibility of the future. There is double irony then, that this precise forward-leaning optimism is the same drive that motivates the gambler to take that next spin of the wheel. As a culture, we are obsessed with what’s next. This obsession – and the thrill in the chase – is the psychological motivational driver for gambling. And, of course, there is greed, and the desire to get something for nothing.  But, don’t discount the psychological aspect of it. And there is likely a third factor at play: the experience.

While the slots pay off in monetary terms, a trip to the casino also pays out in another currency: experience.  Case in point, after letting the slots shred a couple more twenty dollar bills, our party made its way to Michael Jordan’s steakhouse for a great dinner, and then on to the show, which provided another study in contrasts. While the casino environment by design tries to make people forget the outside world, Sarah McLachlan gently reminded the audience, while introducing the song, “World on Fire,” that we’re “walking a tightrope these days, with all the chaos in the world,” alluding to the unrest in the Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the fighting in Gaza and Israel, beseeching us to “be kind, and be caring.”

This is the Sarah we know and love, the same one who played 20 years ago at a free summer concert at the Hatch Shell in 1994, when she had just broken onto the popular music scene. She was over an hour late, her travel from New York City delayed by weather, but the crowd was shockingly patient, mellow, enjoying their picnic lunches and the perfect summer day. Patience was rewarded by an outstanding performance, with Sarah alternating between playing guitar and piano. Her concert at Mohegan Sun – again, perfect, in terms of both her music and her message, a welcome reminder of the larger world outside and our common humanity.

And it all happened at a casino. So – do we really want more of them? In our back yard? And if so, what would we want our casino to be like? More research is definitely needed.

Next stop: Vegas!


This piece was written this summer after our trip to the local casinos, and seeing Sarah McLachlan in concert there. Thank you, Sarah!

© 2014 Rosemary A. Schmidt
Rose Schmidt is the author of “Go Forward, Support! The Rugby of Life.” If you would like to request permission to use or reprint any of the content on the site, please contact the author. Use of individual quotes with proper citation and attribution, within the limits of fair use, is permitted.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Getting Lost & Getting Found

We are in Florida, as a family member is having surgery, and so we are driving the strange six-lane highway – with stoplights – between the hotel, strip malls and hospital. It’s what Boston would be if it had all the hills removed, like a sheet whipped out flat and tucked in tight at each corner. Straight and streamlined. While I am usually the first to relinquish the wheel and hand over the driving duties to Susan, I realize that in this instance, I am probably best suited for the job. I am used to getting lost. I’ve been doing it now for over twenty years in Boston. It’s not that I actually get lost, as in “I have no idea where I am,” it’s just that I don’t always arrive at my destination on the first try. With the rapid growth and urban sprawl and development back in my home state of Illinois, I can also easily, routinely take a wrong turn there, too. It’s safe to say that I have been lost, or at least circling, at one time or another, practically everywhere I’ve ever been. It’s like I’ve been everywhere twice, where I meant to go, and where I wound up instead.

So, you may ask, how did this make me the best candidate for driving? What are my credentials? I realized that the others are all used to finding their way to their destination the very first time. If they miss it, they get flustered, but for me, it’s old territory. I’m used to getting lost, and getting unlost. It’s not upsetting, it’s just another day. I have great patience. I know it may take me several attempts to reach my destination. I may even need to circle it a bit, before I home in on my target, and ultimately park. I am the Global Positioning Schmidt.

For those who are not used to being lost, it can be a frustrating and upsetting experience. For me – not so much. No sense getting worked up about it. Yes, here we go again, I’m going to have to find a good place to turn around. Never you mind that “Do Not Enter” sign. Treat it like a puzzle. And take in the sights along the way. “Look,” I say to Susan. “Look at those adorable homes. That’s some real authentic local historical architecture there, we would never have seen had we stayed on the main road.” I like to look for possible shortcuts and scenic routes, too.

So used to getting lost around Boston I am, that there are places I recognize only because I’ve been lost there before. To get out, I carefully trace the same convoluted route that also worked (eventually) for me last time. There are places I go, that I can never find my way back out: Charlestown, JP, Davis Square. From a purely safety standpoint, there are times when the best thing you can do is simply follow the car in front of you and hope and assume they know where they are going. It may not be where you want to go, but better than tying up an entire intersection, getting T-boned, or teeing off your fellow drivers.

A lot of my hard-won experience pre-dates having GPS, but even now, there are still places that GPS can’t find quite right. It sends you the wrong way down a one-way street, or circling a strip mall. The very last resort is to call the destination. That is admitting defeat. But that is what we did in our fruitless search for the restaurant within the sprawling zig-zagging strip mall. GPS had gotten us close, but could not take us to the restaurant. We’d been circling the parking lot for about twenty minutes when we finally broke down and called. “Where are you?” “In front of the Winn-Dixie.” “Oh, keep on driving, we’re at the end of the next strip of stores.” Success!

The lessons of getting lost – and getting found – translate equally well to life. Sometimes a human lifeline is just what you need. You may not reach your destination on the first try. It pays to pay attention. Perseverance pays off.

Are you lost? What do you need to do? Sometimes you need just a little course correction, a nudge of the needle, by just a degree, to get back on track. Maybe you have to stop and check a map, or you need to turn, right or left, or completely around, and make a U-turn to re-trace your steps. Sometimes you just have to let a course play out. It’s possible even to go very far, while sitting still in one place. Not all journeys are physical.

Sometimes you will arrive at your destination, and while the coordinates of the dropped pin are absolutely accurate, you wake up one day and realize you have arrived quite precisely at the entirely wrong place. A line from the Avicii song, “Wake Me Up,” struck a chord with me: “All this time I was finding myself and I didn’t know I was lost.” It’s possible to be following a course in life with perfect precision and accuracy, and yet going in the wrong direction entirely. It’s okay – after all, look at Christopher Columbus, who set out to find a shortcut to China, and landed in the New World. That seemed to work out okay. Even the best planned course, laid out like an old fashioned Triple-A TripTik, can benefit from the hand of luck and fate. Serendipity is as good a guide as any some days.

The best thing we can do is simply be open to all the signs and guides along the way, in navigating our course through life. Travel with eyes open, hearts open. Figure out the puzzle of what you were meant to become. Like a seed that contains all the DNA blueprint for generating a new organism, what if there was a similar design within us for what each of us was meant to become?

We are each masters of our own fate, but in some ways we are also like dowsers, following our divining rods, but where to? What are they leading us to? What is calling to you? What does the blueprint for your fully realized life look like?

To add a Biblical verse to things: “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts" (Psalm 95). If today you hear your calling – answer it!

This piece was written after our recent trip to Florida, the Sunshine State, and seemed to follow naturally from the previous post, “The Blind Horse,” in thinking about our guides and all our forms of navigation, literal, metaphorical, and philosophical, following Columbus Day. On the topic of guides – His Holiness the Dalai Lama will be in town later this month - check out ticketmaster for local venues.

Coming Next – a three-part series on the local casino debate and gambling!

© 2014 Rosemary A. Schmidt
Rose Schmidt is the author of “Go Forward, Support! The Rugby of Life.” If you would like to request permission to use or reprint any of the content on the site, please contact the author. Use of individual quotes with proper citation and attribution, within the limits of fair use, is permitted.