CEDAR FALLS --- Betsy Hibbs cooked up a plan for drawing the attention, and perhaps a blessing, from the Dalai Lama. She wore a bright orange dress and was among the first in line with her lifelong friend, Deb Flammang-Roper.
"I've been meditating so he will see me. I would say Dalai Lama orange ... Dalai Lama orange ... Dalai Lama orange," Hibbs said of her preparation for the event.
The two women were among thousands enjoying the sunshine and mild weather as they waited Tuesday morning to hear the Dalai Lama speak at the McLeod Center. The lines moved slowly, as guests were thoroughly searched, including metal detectors.
Hibbs has been studying up on the Dalai Lama and appreciates what he represents.
"I like his compassion toward people. It's not religion, it's how you live your life and how you treat people," she said.
For Hibbs, who lives in Des Moines, but graduated from Cedar Falls High School with Flammang-Roper in 1976, it marked the third time she has seen a major spiritual leader. Each came at a different period in her life. She recalls seeing one when she was in her formative high school years and another at a time when she was drinking too much.
"I've seen Billy Graham and Pope John Paul. Now it's the Dalai Lama and, hopefully, when I die I will see Jesus," Hibbs said. "I'm trying to get some more wisdom before I carry on."
The grassy hill on the south side of the McLeod Center served as gathering place and commercial center for the Dalai Lama visit. Vendors formed a semi-circle around the perimeter, with prayer flags hanging above and jewelry, meditation aids, clothing and sayings from the Dalai Lama below.
Most of the vendors were natives of Tibet who now live in the United States. Rinchen Gelek moved from Tibet for economic opportunity in the United States. He lives in California, where he has a shop that sells handmade Tibetan goods ranging from jewelry and prayer aids to sayings from the Dalai Lama.
A majority of the handmade goods are created by Tibetan refugees living in Nepal. The Tibetan-Americans selling wares at the event said Nepal has become the center of Tibetan culture as clashes with the Chinese has driven many people from their homeland.
Organizers for the Dalai Lama visit expected Chinese protesters to attend and even set up a designated "free speech" area across the street from the venue, but the roped-off area was completely empty all morning and not a protest was heard.
Mike Mooney, of Coralville, came to see the Dalai Lama with a couple friends. They worked at mastering a singing bowl, a metal bowl used for meditation. The user strikes the bowl with a small wooden mallet, then circles the mallet around the outside of the bowl producing a throbbing sound ranging from a low home, to a higher pitched sound, almost a whistle or siren.
The vendor, Tashi Karma, said the singing bowl is used for meditation or yoga, usually in group settings.
"It almost puts you in a trance state," Karma said.
Mooney has been dabbling in the Dalai Lama's teachings and Buddhism, but doesn't claim any particular religion as his own.
"I'm not so much searching, more like happening to find," Mooney said of his spiritual journey. He spent $55 on a singing bowl and plans to use it for his own meditation.
Mooney was excited to hear the Dalai Lama speak after reading up on the leader.
"I'm not particularly religiously affiliated, but this just seems peaceful. It seems right," Mooney said.
Jonella Delimas came to Cedar Falls from Omaha, where she said she has long been struggling to find her balance. She works in corporate America, but is drawn to the teachings of Eastern religions.
"I've been reading his work and listening to his speeches for years. I love his peacefulness. He's taught me a lot about being compassionate," Delimas said.
Delimas had an extra ticket to the morning session, as a friend was unable to come. Standing in a long line to enter the McLeod Center, she held the ticket up. A woman came up and inquired about it and Delimas told her to have it, no charge. The lucky woman had come from Des Moines and gave Delimas a hug, saying "good karma to you."