Surprised by the Dalai Lama

Surprised by the Dalai Lama

Never underestimate the value of a positive attitude when seeking consensus or attempting to persuade others. You want to be calm, relaxed, and even joyful.

Awhile back, I began reading and posting about The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Tutu and Douglas Abrams.[i] In finishing the book, I got three surprises.

First surprise: I thought I had finished the book. I assumed the additional pages were references or notes. But they were devoted to specific practices for cultivating joy. The main text made me want to cultivate joy. The final section told me how.

Second Surprise: I had thought meditation meant focusing on something bland—such as deep breathing, watching a candle flame, or walking a labyrinth—to give the brain a break from serious matters. However, in the “Practices” section, the Dalai Lama, describes “analytical meditation.” As I see it, this is sort of a right-brain version of a Cognitive Behavior Therapy (“CBT”) technique in which you list your negative thoughts in one column, then, rebut them with logic in a parallel column.

In analytical meditation, you relax deeply. Pick a particular problem or simply observe the thoughts that pass through your mind till you come to one that concerns you. Then, question yourself: Am I sure this thought is true? How can I check it out? Does holding this thought help the situation? Finally, ask for a better way of viewing the situation and stay relaxed, just wait to see what drifts into your mind.

This has worked beautifully for me in seeking solutions to dilemmas or decisions I want to make. It’s amazing what apt solutions come to me without working at them, but rather, just relaxing and waiting.

I recently received a call for proposals for workshops at a conference. I felt excited about the way my material would mesh with the goals of this non-profit organization, goals I share and want to support. I drafted a proposal for a class on increasing the effectiveness of our efforts to influence those in power, “From Slack-tivism to Impact-ivism.”

But when I considered the practicalities, doubts arose. At a time when I’ve had extra expenses, I would take dozens of hours away from my regular work to prepare the proposed class, for a negligible honorarium. Plus I would have to cover my travel and lodging.

I relaxed and formulated the question, “Should I submit the proposal, or blow it off?” Then I waited, just noticing what drifted into my mind. Eventually an answer clicked with me. With almost no out of pocket expense, I could present the subject matter in other formats or other venues where it would reach at least as many people and maybe more. I could propose it to one or more of our local continuing ed schools, churches or civic organizations. I could expand it into a short book. I hopped out of bed, full of enthusiasm for a solution that felt right.

I love this right-brained way of finding the kind of solutions we seek in interest-driven consensus building. We consider two alternatives, each of which addresses the interests of one party, respectively, but not the other party. So we seek a third alternative that satisfies the interests of both.

In this case, I was both parties. Part of me wanted to share information and skills I knew would make social action more persuasive. Another part of me wanted to make a financially responsible decision. Offering the material in another venue or as a book achieved both those interests.

Third Surprise: The main text of The Book of Joy focused on retaining joy while dealing with personal misfortunes. But my biggest joy challenges involve local, national or world issues that affect many people. The main text offered only one small section on such broad concerns.

Also, I had read that the Dalai Lama spends about four hours per day in meditation. I had envisioned him as a paragon of calm, focusing on his breathing for hours on end. But he writes that he spends most of his meditation time in analytical meditation, apparently focusing on the same type of broad issues that concern me.

So even the Dalai Lama feels troubled by world issues, so much so that he spends most of his meditation time addressing them. And he seems to be one of the most joyful people on earth.

Well, if it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for me. I see a joyful future ahead, a future that makes me even better at the skills I teach.

[i] See my posts: “Right Brain Meets Left in Expanding the Pie,”; “Service, Support and Giving Lead to Joy,”; and “Two More Tips from The Book of Joy.”



  1. Rosemary Poole-Carter

    Thank you, Margaret, for these surprises,”analytical meditation” in particular. Although I live miles away from Houston now and haven’t seen you in so long, I still feel your calm, reasonable/reasoning presence in my life.

  2. This is great. I do know that most people think of meditation the way you said you did, because that’s what’s talked about the most. The Tibetans add other ways (and so do some other Buddhist schools).

    What intrigues me about this is how like a certain kind of prayer it is. Even more, what intrigues me about this is how it is like some Harvard (and other) studies of creativity — a deliberate letting go of executive brain function (roughly the left prefrontal cortex) and opening to a right-brain/left-brain interaction. Some would perceive this as god answering prayer (perfectly okay) and others as just the whole brain doing its natural thing (also perfectly okay…whatever “anchor” works best for one).

    So, glad to have your personal experiment and testimony as well. Thanks.

    • So glad you found it useful. I love it when different people, coming at something from different direction, reach the same conclusion. It lends support to the validity of the practice.

  3. Patricia Behler

    Hello, Margaret I am still interested in your thoughts as well as your blogs and publications. This is widening my responses and reading of our CLF comments. Thank you! Recently I spent a short vacation with my cousin; she mentioned that she was in an airport a while ago and as the Dalai Lama entered the area he took time to shake hands with each person there. A supporting action that coincides with his life work.

    • I am sure that must have been one of the most memorable events of your cousin’s life. I never realized what the Dalai Lama went through after the Chinese takeover and what it took for him to escape till I read this book. Yet, he has remained so positive and a force for much good in this world of ours.

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