I sat a mere thirty feet from his Holiness the Dalai Lama yesterday for 90 minutes. The day April 29, 2007 will always be special to me. It was very magical. Not because of what he said, standard but true Buddhism 101 and meditation practice, but rather his character and his energy. There is a magic about this man, who more than anyone else seems to be completely in his own skin, and truly comfortable in that skin. He laughs, and he smiles, and he just seems unflappable. No pretense. When asked about parenting tips to raise a compassionate child, he laughs, and says, “I am monk. What do I know about raising children?” but then he continues, “Maximum care, maximum affection, and more time is the key.”
His basic message was about happiness. Happiness is mental, not based on people’s situations. Does this sound familiar? Basic cognitive therapy 101, happiness depends on how you think about things. Someone poor and homeless could be happier than someone wealthy and accomplished, depending on their respective expectations.
In the Dalai Lama’s view, happiness also comes from good companionship—friends, lovers, children, and a calm mind. Again, the Buddhists knew something 5000 years ago that modern social scientists are merely rediscovering—the critical importance of social support in mental health. For instance, 40 percent of married people describe themselves as “very happy” versus just 24 percent of single people. Those with 5 or more close friends are more likely to describe themselves as happy.
The fascinating thing about seeing the Dalai Lama is that once I settled down into a calm and meditative state listening to him, something transformative happened. I started to write down some ideas for creative projects, and suddenly words were flowing out of my pen. Anything was possible. I found myself having one of those magical moments that scientists describe as “Flow”. My confidence soared, and I had some important insights into life.
One of these insights was about watching television. I realized that watching television is about having nothing better to do at the moment. Even good television pales if there are wonderful social opportunities or creative ones. We watch TV because we are tired and a little bored. (Of course, even the Dalai Lama watches a little TV in the evenings, as he writes in the Art of Happiness—mostly nature documentaries, and not episodes of “24!” )
Another insight was about purpose. What is your purpose on this planet? What is the main thing you want to accomplish? So much of our striving and actions have no central purpose focus. We just sleepwalk through life. We just fill time. Some of us do it with work, some do it with relationships, some do it with reading, some with television, but all addictions have the same basic theme—how do I fill the time between being born and dying? If we know our purpose, then time fills itself.
The day after seeing the Dalai Lama, I awoke to a strange sense of emptiness. I felt like somehow it was gone: that quiet feeling of confidence, of knowing, of lack of worry. Was it all just a contact high? Later that same day, with meditation, contemplation, and writing I felt like I could get some of it back, so I knew then that my afternoon with the Dalai Lama had led to something real.
Copyright 2007 The Psychology Lounge/TPL Productions
Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.