Dalai done!

Finally got a wi-fi connection. Better get this posted quickly before I lose it!

Written yesterday evening: I’m pretty tired so I’ll try to make this brief. Today was day 1 of the conference. This morning there were various introductory remarks. Then, just after a vegetarian lunch, I was to be the first speaker. I was to be in the “hot seat,” next to him, for two hours — 1.00 to 3.00 PM — powerpoint presentation on the screen, words stuck in my throat, talking to him. Not to the audience but to him. Gaaaaggghhhhhhh!!!!!

Yes, I was a bit nervous. I had sat in that room for three hours already, with 2-300 other people in seats arranged around our inner sanctum of easy chairs, with his chair (and the hot seat, the one next to it) at the front. About 60 Westerners (some very famous) from the Mind & Life Institute plus donors — the folks who made it all happen. Plus a hundred or so Buddhist monks, plus various people from all over the world who’d managed to get invited for various reasons.

The security was tight. Every person who crossed from “the temple” to “the residence” had to show a passport, a visa, fill out a detailed form, have everything in our pockets checked, and then undergo a full body search. Once you got to the other side, you knew you were some place unique, reserved, protected.

(And by the way, these folks have good reason to be vigilant. The Chinese have not been very friendly toward the Dalai Lama. They seem to hate him, and that plus any whacko who’d like to get famous shooting a good guy…well, that’s why they’re careful.)

But once you enter the conference room, you are in another world. The main thing is the energy. Before His Holiness (HH) arrived, the air was thick with anticipation, hope, affection, excitement, admiration. The Dalai Lama, whatever you might think of him, has a lot of people who love him. He IS special. And when he came out and greeted everyone — and I mean everyone — with waves and nods and hand holding — you got a sense of what was so special about him. He was cheerful, penetrating, personal, warm, sincere, exuding both gravity and humour — if you can imagine all that in one man.

My talk was pretty much what you’ve already heard on this blog. Insert: my talk posted here. Thank you, Shaun! In a nutshell, I did good. I got a lot of hugs and handshakes and big thank-yous from the team and audience members afterword. And a few riveting looks, wry smiles, and some friendly pats from him during the process.

Written this evening: There is a live webcast of the remaining days of the conference, and then the whole thing will be archived on the Mind & Life website, viewable, soon. Sorry, but kentthe wi-fi connection here has been extremely intermittent. Anyway, there are three more days of talks about “desire, craving, and addiction” and I especially urge you to tune into Kent Berridge’s talk. Kent spoke this morning — Day 2 — and I just had dinner with him in some funky Tibetan cafe — lovely guy. I know, he looks about 14 years old. But he’s got an amazing head on his shoulders. INSERT: Here is the link to Kent’s talk. All other sessions can be accessed by going to YouTube and searching for “mind life craving desire addiction”. The full program can be accessed at  http://www.mindandlife.org/dialogues/upcoming-conferences/ml27/ The PDF is towards the bottom of the page, and also creates summaries of the various presentations. (Thanks, Shaun, for this information.)


noraFeeling happy here today, a bit star-struck but holding my own. Nora Volkow just arrived this afternoon. So she’s missed Kent’s talk and mine, which is unfortunate. But it was cool sitting next to her and passing the mike back and forth during the discussion periods. She seemed just like the firebrand I’d expected. A small, lithe woman with a LOT of self-confidence. A great scientist, no doubt, but also someone with strong opinions and no hesitation in expressing them and backing them up with the latest data.  She still sees addiction as “hijacking the brain.” So her basic stance has not changed over the years. I’ll hear her talk tomorrow morning, and you can easily catch it live-streamed at the above links.

richie&HHAnd then there’s Richie Davidson, smiling and schmoozing, moderating and guiding things, being knowledgeable but at the same time rather sweet. And a few other people I’d never heard of before the meeting in June — people I’m really growing fond of.

I’ll tell you more about the viewpoints expressed and debated among Buddhists and Westerners next post. And by the way, I talked about you, my “blog community” quite a bit yesterday. You’re my data base now, my compass — not to mention where I send my letters from overnight camp.



29 thoughts on “Dalai done!

  1. Victor October 29, 2013 at 10:20 am #

    I saw him when he came to Toronto a few years ago at the skydome-dome-dome-dome. It was odd. And it was hard to get that energy from him. There were 10s of 1000s of people in there. I wanted so bad to feel that connection, that warmth. His sense of humour was great.

    Pretty amazing, Marc, that you’re having this experience. Keep us posted.

  2. Jenny Hong October 29, 2013 at 5:25 pm #

    Marc, a question for you. With all your knowledge and experience now, what would you do (or could you do) to prevent your children from using drugs or becoming addicted?

  3. Shaun Shelly October 30, 2013 at 4:06 am #

    Here is the link to Marc’s session:

    • Marc October 30, 2013 at 1:41 pm #

      Thanks, Shaun! I’ve now inserted this into the post.

  4. Shaun Shelly October 30, 2013 at 4:17 am #

    Hey Marc,

    As mentioned I really enjoyed the dialogue that followed from your talk. I appreciated HH’s input about how we tend to view certain words as “negative”, while there is usually a positive side to them that can be embraced. Similar to his point of view regarding the emotion of “shame” – very much seeing the strengths rather than the weaknesses, seeing everything as an opportunity for contemplation and deeper understanding. I see a lot of similarities with some of Frankl’s work.

    Kent’s talk was indeed fascinating, and Thupten Jinpa presented some really interesting ideas which would be very familiar to your regular readers – the concept of cycles, as you pointed out in your talk and the matching with the Buddhist and Indian philosophies. Interesting stuff.

    Enjoy your experience!

  5. mimesis October 30, 2013 at 6:15 am #

    Listening today and looking forward to more updates.

    Not for the place you are in right now, but at some point, this is interesting going back to posts on choice. A non affiliated conservative party (UK) website. The comments and replies to this are really interesting.


    • Shaun Shelly October 30, 2013 at 10:51 am #

      I read this and was amazed at the absolute ignorance and lack of compassion. Of course, Satel is always promoting her right-wing agenda, and has misinterpreted Hart’s data, which, by the way, has not been replicated.

      As Marc will acknowledge, we need to be careful of the “choice” word. Even “choice” is not free choice.

      This article is nothing but right-wing propaganda, but thanks for putting the link here as it shows we need to carefully consider vocabulary.

      • mimesis October 30, 2013 at 1:12 pm #

        I agree with everything that i you say. I thought the replies to the comments were most interesting. The ignorance, confusion, lack of compassion and understanding right now in the UK are fed by the lack of cohesion in policy between different government departments, health care providers etc.

        Two bits stood out – there is a vast discrepancy in the UK in long term recovery rates between those funded by the NHS / local council, and those funded by the GMC. The General Medical Council treats addiction as symptomatic of stress depression [and etc]. This breads a culture in which people can go to the board and say they are are worried, they work with them through the rehab (if necessary). they work with their families, and slowly bring them back into work.

        This I think is the “dignity of choice”. .

      • Julia October 30, 2013 at 3:03 pm #

        Mimesis & Shaun, The articles look to me like a case of cherry-picking Hart’s words in order to make their (Satel’s and Franklin’s) own points.

        I love Marc’s work and perspective and don’t think it is at all at odds with Hart’s. I recently attended a talk by Dr. Hart and even some of the audience there misunderstood his points and larger perspective.

        Not that I’m the expert either but Hart’s main purpose is to use scientific data to counteract the mania about drugs being an evil force that somehow preys upon any and everyone who comes into even casual contact with them.

        He’s not arguing that there aren’t powerful neurological and biological forces involved in habitual drug use. He is saying that people’s life trajectories need to be seen in their larger social context.

        That habitual drug use is not as widespread as the hyperactive media tries to make it and that use and being able to function in life are not synonymous. He’s saying that when people’s lives have meaning and they have a solid support system (as children and youth primarily) they are much, much less likely to be derailed into a life controlled by getting and using.

        He’s saying that “drugs” have been held up as a some kind of independent evil force that’s invading society. He’s saying that drugs don’t cause addiction but that life circumstances make people vulnerable to becoming addicted.

        He’s making the case that all the counter-force in the world (which is pretty much what the drug war is) cannot truly affect the deeper challenges that people are facing in their lives and for which drug use is only one of many escapes and pitfalls they are subject to.

        Hart’s book is more about making a case against the political attitudes which perpetuate (Ronald Reagan’s) War on Drugs and thereby divert funding from social programs that might actually provide solid alternatives to those who have fallen victim. Either way, none of this can be understood in terms of sound-bites or cherry-picked excerpts. But that’s what so often happens and so the debates go on.

        All that said, I can’t wait to get home (where my internet isn’t blocked) so I can watch Marc’s presentation. I look forward to more reports from the “inner sanctum” Julia

        • Shaun Shelly October 31, 2013 at 2:25 am #

          Hi Julia,

          I would agree with this – Satel picks and chooses data from many sources to “prove” her pre-determined agenda, as does the author of the conservative piece cited by mimesis.

          I agree with your summation of Hart’s work. His point, I believe, is mainly that disadvantaged and marginalised communities are much more likely to suffer from substance use disorders. As Gene Heyman points out, and many of the epidemiological surveys confirm, black American males have much longer using careers than more privileged counterparts.

          Hart is essentially saying that substance use is a socio-economic disorder. I would agree with him to a certain extent, but I also feel that this is only one part of the equation.

  6. Yuttadhammo Bhikkhu October 30, 2013 at 8:26 am #

    Thank you for your brilliant work. The world is better for it.

    • Julia October 31, 2013 at 9:06 am #

      Hi Shaun, Thanks for the note. I think we’re both saying that the problem is many faceted and needs to be addressed on many, if not all fronts.

      In fact, maybe that’s the most important point, that no one “fix” can do the trick, which is why we still have a problem! If it were simple or one dimensional, we wouldn’t still be dealing with it.

      Humans are complicated and highly creative and have found all kinds of ways throughout history to make problems for ourselves and for others. The delicate interplay between individual effort and societal forces is impossible to simplify, or at least not in the present. Sometimes we can do so in historical retrospect but even then the debates rage.

      So I applaud Marc’s and your efforts to contribute what you do and your openness to giving credit to the other factors. This website is one of the few that seems able to maintain a respectful and productive dialogue. Maybe that says something about the validity of this approach! 🙂 Julia

      • Shaun Shelly October 31, 2013 at 10:44 am #

        Thanks for your comment. I wholeheartedly agree. It is very interesting for me to see what types of comments are produced on what sites, and Marc has done a fantastic job, as you say, of encouraging responsible, respectful and essential debate around this very complex disorder we call addiction.

        Thanks for being part of that dialog.

  7. Denise October 30, 2013 at 9:09 am #

    Marc, thank you for this. What a privilege… for you and for us. Looking forward to the rest…

    • Janet October 30, 2013 at 11:42 am #

      Yes. Marc, Thank you for capturing this experience for us. Such a privilege. Janet

  8. Lisa K October 30, 2013 at 1:32 pm #

    Bravo!!! However I find it annoying that Dr. Volkow didn’t show up for your talk and Kent’s. Perhaps extreme confidence owes to deliberately ignoring/shutting out alternative and equally data-based viewpoints? Which is fine for an individual but not so much for the insurance-supported, ‘medicalized’ (e.g.., not interested in that ineffable, doesnt-lend-itself-to-control-group-study, emotional/spiritual condition stuff) treatment industry here in the States…

    • Marc October 30, 2013 at 1:46 pm #

      HI Lisa! These thoughts crossed my mind as well, you can be sure. But I think she had a legitimate excuse. She was giving a talk in Vienna the day before she arrived. Scheduled a year before or something like that.

      Check out my session. It’s now posted at the link I’ve inserted above.

      As for Nora, I’m really hoping we’ll have time to talk. She’s a very potent and compelling thinker and scientist.

      More soon…

  9. Cheryl October 30, 2013 at 1:50 pm #

    Beautiful Marc! Thank you so much for sharing!!!

  10. Cheryl October 30, 2013 at 3:12 pm #

    Anyone have a link to Kent Berridge’s session?

  11. mimesis October 30, 2013 at 4:01 pm #

    The talk really touched me, hit a nerve, and made so much SO much sense. Extraordinary and unusual to bring out this understanding.

  12. Jenny Hong October 30, 2013 at 5:53 pm #

    Marc, just want to thank you for your work. Your presention and discussions are interesting. I understand it needs a lot more research on this subject, especially on solutions. Anyway, I greatly appreciate your efforts to help other addicts in the world.

  13. John Becker October 30, 2013 at 10:35 pm #

    This is just very, very excellent. Marc, I am so happy you are doing this, for all of us.


  14. William Abbott November 2, 2013 at 2:38 pm #

    the whole conference is available several places on the internet incl youtube. It is a goldmine of valuable insight and information . Our man Marc seems highly valued for his contributions spanning personal experience and his science. Nice to see.

    And the Dalai Lama is really paying attention

  15. Shaun Shelly November 3, 2013 at 1:28 am #

    If you would like to find all the videos in one place, they can be found here:


  16. Marcus November 3, 2013 at 3:44 pm #

    Its hard for me to believe that Volkow is still standing behind Leshners “hi-jacked brain” nonsense. The science is so stacked against that hypoth that I believe she now can be listed as a liar if not an out right murderer. Addiction is a symptom of a polygenetic (real) brain disease. Same as prader willi, it has behaviors that are present yet not diseases themselves. She knows this. Sickening.

  17. Persephone November 3, 2013 at 6:53 pm #

    This is really wonderful, Marc! Thanks for the reports!

  18. Peter Sheath November 4, 2013 at 9:59 am #

    Hiya Marc
    I’ve just watched the clip of you and the DL and I’m so proud of you. Massive respect and what a wonderful discussion. I loved his explanation of shame as being the driver for remorse and, I think, He’s not wrong. It was kind of beautiful listening to his simplistic perspective on almost everything.
    I loved your presentation, the personal perspective made it authentic and not academic. Well done my friend.

    • Marc November 7, 2013 at 9:07 am #

      Thanks, man. That is so nice to hear. It’s hard NOT to be authentic when sitting next to that man. Although he doesn’t say much, his presence is both penetrating and calming. You can feel that he’s really listening, and open, although he does have strong opinions of his own. And yes, they are often simple: he sees addiction as a means of coping with problems that are built into our society. So he wants to focus on the source: improving society. Simple but absolutely right as far as an overarching perspective.

      I’ll write more about his responses two posts from now.

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