Steps to Dharamsala

stepsuphillI’m still half asleep, and I should do some yoga and I should meditate and I should put something more than coffee down my throat. But I wanted to share my  excitement and anxiety about the steps leading to my October visit with the Dalai Lama. It all starts in a week. I fly to Boston one week from today, then spend five days in New York State at the Mind and Life summer research institute.

Click on that link if you haven’t already. “Research institute” is a bit misleading, because those five days are spent doing meditation and stuff (some of which is guided by pros) as well as listening to scientists present their findings. They even have concerts. I went once, about five years ago, and the last evening was spent listening to a singer who was able to sing harmony with himself. I mean literally. He could produce two or three different pitches at the same time, and they worked together. He even had a backup band of six or seven weird-looking dudes, singing and chanting, one of whom played the didgeridoo. Bizarre and beautiful. Much melting and bonding among the 200 or so people in the audience.

empty buddhaMind and Life  is amazing. They’re  the group that organizes the DL’s interactions with scholars, and especially with scientists, and especially especially neuroscientists. They’ve been doing it for more than 20 years. The DL is particularly interested in linking Buddhism, neuroscience, and social problems — which seems like a pretty ambitious project. They get a lot of donations and they do a lot of very good work. Their projects include these special annual meetings with the DL, like the one I’ll attend in October on “Craving, Desire, and Addiction.”

So I applied to this 5-day New York event so I could get my myself a bit more “cosmic” (as my brother and I used to call it in the 70s) in preparation for a meeting in Boston — the “premeeting” for the meeting with the DL in October. I want to be at my best. And that’s the part I’m nervous about. I guess there’ll be a couple of contemplative/Buddhist types there, but the group includes at least three top neuroscientists, two of whom are stars in the addiction field: Nora Volkow and Kent Berridge. I’ve linked to Berridge quite a few times on this blog. I volkowthink his theory rocks, and he seems like a good guy anyway. But Volkow scares me a bit. She’s a very famous person, head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) for quite a few years, and a crusader for the “disease model” of addiction, which I’ve made it my business to refute. This premeeting goes on for 3-4 days, and we’ll each get up and say whatever it is we think we have to say to the DL. So I’ll no doubt talk about why I think addiction isn’t a disease. And then — will she squish me? Like a bug?

meetingBut it’s not only Nora Volkow. The whole thing makes me nervous as well as excited. These guys are the DL’s Palace Guard, at least in the intellectual world. Everyone’s a pro. So I feel like I should do about two more years of prep — especially reading in neuroscience, and maybe learn something about addictcatBuddhism — before I’m ready to hold forth. Not only that, but I’m the one presenter (out of 8) who’s, um, supposed to represent the “experience” or “phenomenology” of addiction as well as some thoughts about what’s behind it. Translate: I’m the druggie in the bunch. Not sure how to roll with that one.

Anyway, I’ll be back home July 4th. I’m planning a road trip with my daughter between the two meetings. But I’ll try to keep you posted while these events are unfolding. They are the steps to my meeting with you-know-who, and it’s all still like a dream.


60 thoughts on “Steps to Dharamsala

  1. Richard Henry June 7, 2013 at 6:50 am #

    Do your best at turning the tables on this theory that Addiction is a “Disease” I have been fighting this model for a long time now. I hate it when people say “once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic’ I and many I know have proven this wrong. The only way I excepted the “Disease” way of thinking was to think Dis-ease… Where as the mind, while using is not At-ease and doesn’t make healthy choices. With a Disease you have no choice, you have it or don’t have it. In keeping it short, hahaha… Knock-m-out… Marc

    • Marc June 7, 2013 at 9:05 am #

      Thanks, Richard. Great comment. And I agree: dis-ease can mean a lot of different things. The concept can be helpful for some. But it seems to be harmful for others. And I think we can advance further in understanding addiction once we move past it.

    • Cheryl June 9, 2013 at 10:45 pm #

      I agree with the dis-ease end and I agree that we will move ahead when the distortion of addiction being a disease is put to rest.

  2. Jasmine June 7, 2013 at 8:05 am #

    Interesting post 🙂 I think part of what invited such responsiveness into your world is your authenticity. I don’t know of (many) others as accomplished as you that had the courage to document and share what might seem a journey of shame. And, perhaps your “retreat” is more about sharing than trumping knowledge? Regardless, I find your “conclusions” not only credible, but deeply resonant.

    Looking forward to your blog when you return!

    • Janet June 7, 2013 at 12:04 pm #

      Jasmine is right. Be yourself. The student is the wise one. We are all here to learn. Janet

      • marc June 9, 2013 at 3:21 am #

        Who knew you were a bunch of Buddhists in disguise?

    • elese June 7, 2013 at 5:33 pm #

      YES, yes, and double yes. Your authenticity. Just keep with what you keep keeping on. We are here to cheer you on but also to learn from what you are learning. If you can document your trials and triumphs here, we would be most grateful. I for one know you rock my world in the way you see addiction and suffering and redemption. But I would also love to know more about how you are challenged by others and how you are working your way through thinking differently (or being strengthened in your convictions).

      It would be great to have a conversation about the various voices you encounter and how the dissenting voices may challenge us to think… differently or otherwise.

      • Marc June 9, 2013 at 3:26 am #

        Thanks for the encouragement! You, elese, and everyone else. (by the way, did you spell your name differently in previous comments?)

        I really will try to track the dialogue, the different viewpoints, and the ebb and flow in my own opinions. In fact I have to. The organizers asked me to write a book about the meeting, and I agreed to do it as long as I can include plenty of narrative and subjectivity. They like that approach. So it’ll probably happen. Which means I’d better pay close attention to everything that’s going on inside and outside my own head.

    • Marc June 9, 2013 at 3:18 am #

      Thanks, Jasmine, that’s really encouraging. I’ll keep your advice in mind: sharing rather than trumping. Great thought!

  3. Dirk Hanson June 7, 2013 at 11:51 am #

    Wish I could be a fly on the wall, if you are planning to argue the disease model (would a new name help for you? Shall we start calling it a “biochemical disorder?”) with Dr. Volkow. She will mop the floor with you. 😉

    • Marc June 9, 2013 at 3:29 am #

      Hi Dirk. I don’t think a new name would help. But I had a thought, listening to her talk on YouTube. She often seems to consider her love of chocolate an addiction, and she jokes about it. Well and good. But surely that’s a convincing rebuttal of the disease notion right there.

      • Jaliya June 13, 2013 at 1:59 pm #

        Makes me wonder if we’ve become far too trite in our use of words like ‘addiction’ — i.e., “I’m sooo addicted to ice cream! / chocolate! / pizza! / shopping! / shoes!, etc., etc.”

        Yes, we tend to joke about what we’re hooked on … until the hook itself is no longer funny (if it ever was).

        I’m reminded of how the word ‘trauma’ (and the diagnostic acronym of ‘PTSD’) is tossed around. I’ve seen ‘trauma’ applied to a bad hair day, the inability to find a perfect pair of shoes, and a scoop of ice cream falling off a cone. When the last *Harry Potter* book was published, one online writer expounded for several paragraphs about how awful the ‘trauma’ was for children whose favourite book series had ended. The misuse really pissed me off!

        • Marc June 16, 2013 at 6:28 pm #

          I see your point, Jaliya. Even Gabor Mate is guilty: he’s described his compulsion to buy music CD’s an addiction. Could there be such a thing as addiction-envy? That would be a bizarre twist! And what you say about trauma is actually funny. Reminds me somehow of pet psychotherapy.

  4. Jaliya June 7, 2013 at 12:56 pm #

    Yay, you! Yes, just be yourself. 🙂

    Just last night, I was reading Michelle Orange’s *amazing* book of essays, This Is Running For Your Life … One essay focuses on a conference she attended in Hawaii in re: the latest fattening of the DSM (the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual — now in its fifth edition). One presenter, Ken Rosenberg, defined addiction as “a failure to bond.” YES — I think this is pivotal — and I keep recalling your boarding school experience.

    Your story is pivotal — in your transparency of the telling, in the way you weave your experience with universal experience and with all the science we understand so far. Anyone who insists upon only one defining characteristic (in Nora Volkow’s case: the disease model) is missing the whole picture.

    Nobody’s going to squish you 😉

    • Marc June 16, 2013 at 6:36 pm #

      Thanks. I never said my fears are rational. They’re just my fears. It’s just another version of the recurring nightmare I still have about having to teach a new course on a subject I don’t know, without having prepared anything, and with the first class about to begin, students filing into the room, etc, etc.

      But you know that the “chronic disease model” really doesn’t jibe with addiction as self-medication…

      I found out recently that they want me to go first, so the group will have a first-hand glimpse of the experience of addiction. You can see how that might set off your nerves.

      • Jaliya June 16, 2013 at 7:06 pm #

        Marc, I hope that your selection as the event’s first presenter gets under everyone’s skin and stays there. Experiential expertise, framed in a tone of solid science … best combo I know of. There’s nothing like a story that includes *all* the elements …

  5. Jaliya June 7, 2013 at 1:00 pm #

    P.S. There’s no authority like experience. You’re a double whammy — you’ve got experience, and you’ve got science; you complement one with the other. GO FOR IT! 🙂

    • Marc June 12, 2013 at 8:04 pm #

      Thank you so much, Jaliya. It;s true that I’ve got a foot in each of two very different camps. Sometimes when giving a talk I say: it doesn’t FEEL like a disease. And that gives people pause. (Of course, sometimes it DOES feel like a disease — when it keeps coming back and seems to have a life of it’s own.) But if you can say this is how it feels and then back it up with science, you’re definitely a step ahead.

      Luckily for me, the DL and the whole Mind & Life crew place enormous value on subjectivity as a methodology. They think that scientific methods and well-seasoned subjective accounts, by the person having the experience, go hand in hand. That’s been my approach for a while, so maybe that’s what I’ve got going for me.

      • Jaliya June 13, 2013 at 1:50 pm #

        Yes, the combo of experiential and professional expertise is POTENT!

        The feeling of disease (or any state of being) … Yes, it’s feeling deep within and all through a person, much more pervasive than a state of emotion or emoting … I think of Eugene Gendlin’s ‘felt sense’.

        I think of the course of my late brother’s alcohol addiction … I wonder if every ‘entry point’ into addiction is as unique as the person, and each ‘end point’ of addiction, if its course is uninterrupted, is death. A state of disease would indicate chronicity, a disorder of long standing (in my brother’s case, more than 35 years) … damage done to organs and basic functions … Perhaps addiction-as-disease is a consequence of time + constant use without relief …

        I think of TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine); I am not expert in this field, but do recall one guideline that helps practitioners understand the increasing depth of injury/illness in a person over time, that disease shows itself (as does vital health) through the skin, the viscera, systems (i.e., lymphatic, circulatory, nerve conduction, etc. — all the ‘rivers’ in us), and finally through the organs and vital functions. The depth of dysfunction reveals how serious and embedded an illness is. (In my brother’s case, by the end of his life, his heart, liver, and brain were all catastrophically injured.)

        ~ Subjectivity as methodology: YES. I have to giggle; is there, really, any other methodology? We trumpet ‘objectivity’ in our studies … but we can never (?) fully relinquish our own point of view, our own experience … therefore, it is inevitable that our own being is the basis of any hypothesis we suggest, whether we acknowledge this or not … The key is how we apply the principles of scholarship to our own experience … and time is key. Time allows us to ponder, witness, and expand our ‘selfie’ perspective so that eventually, we can present what you’ve called “well-seasoned subjective accounts.” The personal evolves into the universal; one person’s story becomes humanity’s story. You’ve captured and chronicled this evolution so beautifully in your book — that’s the ‘grab’ that has made your story so singular.

        • Marc June 16, 2013 at 6:45 pm #

          Thank you again. I’ve just heard four or five talks on phenomenology, here at day 1 of the Mind and Life conference.

          To cut to the chase, I can’t imagine how changing one’s experience (phenomenology) could put an end to a disease, yet that’s exactly how most addicts recover — through changing the way they look at their addiction.

          I still feel horrified about your brother, but no, I don’t think the natural outcome of addiction is death. For many, it’s growth. But some people hit a brick wall and can’t grow any further, and that’s when tragedy strikes.

  6. John Hill June 7, 2013 at 1:41 pm #

    Dear Marc:

    I hope you have a wonderful visit with His Holiness. Please don’t feel under any pressure to do anything special – you don’t need to meditate or prepare in any special way – just be yourself and I know he will respond to you as you are. He would be very interested in learning of your good works and important insights into some of the great miseries affecting the human species, as such concerns have been a constant focus of his life. Be at ease – he is your friend and colleague! You are most fortunate to have the opportunity of meeting him and I am sure you will gain much from it. I am not a practising Buddhist, but I remain constantly enriched from each meeting I have had with this very kind, brilliant, and totally extraordinary man.

    • Jaliya June 10, 2013 at 12:45 pm #

      I hope that the Dalai Lama giggles when you’re with him, Marc. I’ve seen so many accounts over the years of how delightful his giggle is. I understand that he’s also incessantly curious, like a child, about everything. Somewhere I’ve jotted a quotation from him — he was with some astronauts, and asked them how they poop in zero gravity!

      John, how fortunate that you’ve met His Holiness. I’ve not … but his radiance reaches far and wide. 🙂

      • Marc June 12, 2013 at 8:16 pm #

        So….how do you? Or at least as important, how do you flush?

        • Jaliya June 13, 2013 at 1:24 pm #

          Hee hee! It was an article that I read somewhere quite a while ago (can’t recall if it was in print or online). His Holiness was with a group of astronauts, and he asked them all kinds of questions — he was bubbling over with curiosity, and I recall that there was a lot of laughter. And yes, he asked how astronauts poop in space. I fell over laughing myself! Can’t recall how his question was responded to … I may have written the quote down in one of my notebooks … I’ll dig through ’em for it. It was at least 18-20 years ago, I think …

          As to your questions (hee hee!), perhaps Col. Chris Hadfield has answered them somewhere 🙂 … Wouldn’t it be amazing to witness a conversation beween Chris and His Holiness? 😀

    • Marc June 12, 2013 at 8:14 pm #

      Wow! You’ve met him, John…more than once! Well, I believe you. People say he is a friendly, playful, even impish conversationalist. And he looks pretty cute in some of his pictures. So I think I’ll be relatively at ease with him. My anxiety comes more from the pomp and circumstance, and the almost-legendary status of some of the professionals who will be there too — neuroscientists and high-ranking Buddhists, if one can say such a thing.

      Oh well, thanks for the pep talk. It really does help. And I don’t mind a bit of anxiety. It keeps me awake in conferences.

  7. John Hill June 7, 2013 at 1:55 pm #

    Dear Marc:

    Apologies for writing twice but I just told my wife what I had written to you and she asked me write back suggesting a couple of practical things regarding your meeting with H.H.:

    1. Traditionally Tibetans present a “kata” or white scarf to distinguished people when they meet. It is considered a courtesy and politeness. You will find them easy to buy in Dharamsala. It is customary to present them draped over both your arms while bowing.

    2. If you don’t have accommodation already arranged – we would suggest booking in at the Tibet Hotel (you can do it on line), it is comfortable and clean and reasonably priced and they have a nice dining room with good food as well. All profits go to the Tibetan Government-in-Exile.

    3. May I suggest you leave a signed copy of your book for him with his staff as I feel sure His Holiness would really enjoy reading it?

    Have a truly great time!

    John and Jo.

    • Marc June 12, 2013 at 8:21 pm #

      Thanks you guys! I haven’t got a lot of tips to go on, so this should help. I believe I’ll be staying somewhere in his residence. Maybe there’s a guest wing or something. But the idea of a present is intriguing…

      Please let me/us know at some point what was the nature of your visit.

  8. Chris June 7, 2013 at 3:03 pm #

    Whatever happens it will be great fun. I would find many more intimidating than the Dalai Lama.By all accounts he puts people at their ease quite well. Arguing with a “Disease Model” believer is like arguing with a religious fundamentalist.Don’t let them engage you.All the “it looks like” and “acts like” just don’t make it so.All delusions begin with conviction.Best of luck and enjoy the time there.That’s the meditation.

    • Marc June 16, 2013 at 7:43 pm #

      Thank you my man!

  9. Liz June 7, 2013 at 3:11 pm #

    This is so exciting!!! I know your honestly and openness will be appreciated by all. I have a friend who works with the group at Michigan and he had fantastic things to say about Berridge. He’s truely a nice (and brilliant!) guy who genuinely wants to know what ideas others have and doesn’t act superior, despite his creds.

    • Marc June 16, 2013 at 7:45 pm #

      Thanks. I wasn’t fishing, but you guys make a great support group. That’s good to hear about Kent Berridge. I’ve emailed him a few times and he’s always replied, sometimes in depth, so I already feel warm toward the guy.

  10. Valeria June 8, 2013 at 6:17 am #

    Hi Marc,
    i’m sure everything will go for the best…Just be yourself…
    I’ve read many of the works written by Nora Volkow and listened to some post on you tube. I really apreciate her work, that helped to clarify the mechanisms of drug addiction and to change the public’s view of this problem. She seems to me a very nice person. She is a chocolate addicted, so you could give her a box of chocolates 🙂
    Regarding His Holiness, just by looking into his eyes, you will regain the confidence in yoursef…and I’m sure he’ll appreciate your authenticity.
    Have a great time.

    • Marc June 16, 2013 at 7:47 pm #

      Thanks, Valeria. That’s very kind… And good advice. Nora Volkow is probably just fine. As mentioned above, these are just irrational fears left over from long ago.

  11. John Becker June 8, 2013 at 9:59 am #

    The obvious connection between Buddhist teachings and addictions is desire. The Second Noble Truth states that craving is the cause of suffering. All that the Buddha chose to teach was about suffering and how to make it stop.
    However, allow me to suggest a less-than-obvious connection that might be more useful. The core teachings of Buddhism are emptiness, impermanence and no-self. These are really one teaching which were not so easy to articulate in Sanskrit and Pali because those languages didn’t have the word “process.” Getting up close and personal, Buddhism says that there is no such thing as a permanent and unchanging self; that we, and everything else, too, are empty of fixed essence, in a constant process of change, conditioned by inter-relationships with everything else. In a complex process.
    You can go ahead and score some points explaining the neuroscience of desire, and that does help explain how addictions work. You can speak as the druggie in the group, as I am speaking to all of us here in this blog as one druggie to another, and there will be listeners very glad to not be as bad-ass addicts as us. And likewise aren’t we glad that we survived when our worse druggie friends did not.
    But if you want to talk about recovery, you need to talk about how we create our identities, and our potential to evolve new identities, as individuals, as communities and as a species. It’s a very complex process.
    And another Buddha-type guy with another religion said it, too: “As you sew, so shall you reap.” Sew an act, reap a habit, sew a habit, reap a character, sew a character, reap a destiny. Marc, I still think your model of addictions as something we learn to do is the best way to look at addictions. And like learning to swim, or ride a bicycle; you never forget, but you don’t have to hang out in bike-shops or around the pool for the rest of our life either. In my opinion the best rejoinder to the disease model is the cure model, and that’s cure as in curate (it’s the same word-root). What I’m talking about is showing how we are turning an old-life problem into a new-life art-work. Who the fuck cares if it started as disease, if it ends up making us better!
    Neuroscience is wonderfully useful to a new scientific understanding of how a brain creates the panoply of selves who are called me. I like Damasio’s Self Comes to Mind and also a more recent and more generally accessible book called Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, by David Eagleman.
    Among others.


    • Calista June 8, 2013 at 3:29 pm #

      Dear Marc,
      Good Luck, and have some breakfast. I was wondering for newbies like me, still on the fence, in fear, what is the best meditation to follow to help move things along. There are so many schools of thought and I want to hit it on the head without making too many errors. My psychiatrist told me meditate 2 times a day and i feel over whelmed with all the different possibilities.
      With Regards,

      • John Becker June 12, 2013 at 9:27 am #

        Hello Calista — My suggestion to you for getting started in meditation is
        that is pretty low-risk and that there’s not too much chance of either
        hurting yourself or wasting your time. Whether you start in either of the
        two basic styles — a mindfulness-based practice or focused concentration
        — you will find it useful to have that training and will be able to
        gradually customize your daily sitting using all sorts of these different
        skills. Also, I have always felt that getting socially connected in
        meditation — by taking a course with other students or showing up
        regularly at a reputable organization — is especially beneficial to people
        recovering from addictions, because social connectedness is in general so
        important to recovery. This advice I’m giving you is all pretty much like
        you would get regarding physical exercise. And actually, you can combine
        the two with a yoga class that features a brief meditation, usually at the
        end (I fell asleep in mine today, oh well). Lots of people find it easier
        to get into meditation when the practice features some physical movement.
        I think it kind of just breaks the ice a bit; makes it easier to relax (I
        relaxed too much, I reckon).

        Good luck and don’t worry,


    • Janet June 9, 2013 at 8:51 am #

      Wow and Wow. As I read this I felt my brain expanding. John, you are a terrific, powerful writer with a true gift. You are so direct. You lift boulders. Janet

    • Jaliya June 13, 2013 at 2:04 pm #

      Pema Chödrön: “Impermanence protects us.” ~ These words blew my mind when I read them a few years ago. They still do.

    • Marc June 16, 2013 at 8:17 pm #

      Hi John. I’ve read your comment a couple of times, not sure how to reply. I guess there’s no need to reply in kind. You’ve hit a few nails on the head. But there are two nails I can tap a bit further.

      I’ve thought a fair bit about the Buddhist notion that the self is empty of permanence. I think that taking drugs is the quintessential rebuttal. We put the same thing in our mouth or our arm, day after day, and we know absolutely that the best we can hope for is to get back to a place we’ve already been many times. We take drugs to fill ourselves up because we can’t live with the emptiness. We haven’t been taught how to see it, how to allow it. And so, in the best Buddhist tradition, we create our suffering through the very act of trying to escape it. And the rebuttal fails time and time again.

      The Mind and LIfe organizers asked me to write a piece for their next newsletter, and I think I’ll trim it and post it here, now that I’ve read what you have to say. See next post.

      The other thing you point out is the potential for growth that addiction bestows. Who would have thunk it. As you say so beautifully, neuroscience is a great tool for explaining how we create ourselves, through the natural workings of biological matter responding to its environment. And yes, so many potential selves — and hence the current buzz about neuroplasticity. So I read a neuro article sent to me by Shaun, on this blog, and it shows that cocaine addicts not only regrow synapses after they quit, but they grow those synapses in brain regions that were not initially thinned by the addiction. This is a linear growth function, which passes the level of “naive controls” (non-druggies) at about 6 months of abstention. What a great story that tells about development following drug addiction. If the data are reliable, this indicates “extra” growth in regions responsible for reflection and cognitive supervision(e.g., dorsolateral PFC). Well, those are among the skills that are targeted by mindfulness practice. So abstention seems to utilize the same skills (and underlying neural growth) that mindfulness helps provide. Who’d have thunk it!

  12. Chris June 9, 2013 at 12:04 pm #

    Marc,Here is a report that demonstrates that there are indeed manypaths to recovery.This was done by a well known group of researchers that cannot be dismissed by NIDA.It may be useful to you and can be found at their website.Best of luck!
    “Addiction medicine: Closing the gap between science and practice” released August, 2012, by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA Columbia). The report’s findings are summarized in the press release: “While a wide range of evidence-based screening, intervention, treatment and disease management tools and practices exist, they rarely are employed. The report exposes the fact that most medical professionals who should be providing treatment are not sufficiently trained to diagnose or treat addiction, and most of those providing addiction treatment are not medical professionals and are not equipped with the knowledge, skills or credentials necessary to provide the full range of evidence-based services, including pharmaceutical and psychosocial therapies and other medical care.”

    • Marc June 13, 2013 at 3:39 pm #

      Thanks, Chris. It seems to be accepted that many or most treatment centers or treatment approaches miss the boat, and often this is framed in terms of insufficient expertise and the other gaps you list. But my position doesn’t necessarily gain by this argument. Those who follow the disease model simply say: yeah, you need more medically qualified personnel, not just a bunch of ex-addicts or good talkers, and that explains the low success rates.

      So these arguments have to be disentangled in order to get some mileage in the anti-disease debate. The lack of expertise cuts across many disciplines, and yes, it is rampant in most parts of the U.S. But who’s to say what KIND of expertise we should be stocking up on? More medics, nurses, pharmacists? Or more meditation teachers? Or some of each and a lot more besides?

  13. Denise June 9, 2013 at 1:43 pm #

    Hi Marc, I find it so interesting to read about how you are nervous about sharing the stage with these “authorities” in neuroscience – as if you’re not one of them! I think this feeling is inseparable from the fact that you are the one with the druggie history. I wonder if that feeling of “I’m a fraud, I’m just a drug addict who’s learned a few things and gotten a degree and a job, etc. etc.” ever goes away. I think this is somehow related to your last discussion about trusting oneself, but in this case it’s in comparison to others. I’ve struggled with that for years, i.e., trying to look and feel “normal” while thinking that my colleagues had it so much more together than I did. It was only after years of validation from colleagues, along with getting to know them more personally, that I realized most of them had baggage too. Bottom line: I totally understand where you’re coming from, but believe me, to me and others YOU are what Nora Volkow is to you.

    • Marc June 16, 2013 at 8:26 pm #

      Thank you for this, Denise. I’m here at day 1 of the Mind and Life retreat, and some guy comes up to me and says, hi, you’re Marc Lewis. And I say, how do you know. And he says, I’m in the addiction field and I read your book. Needless to say, things like this bolster my security.

      But anyway, you’ve got me pegged pretty well. Indeed these feelings never go away completely. And they are even more basic than the permanent cloud of shame we develop as addicts. They reflect the shame (at least in my case) that helped us grow into addiction in the first place.

  14. Shaun Shelly June 10, 2013 at 8:13 am #

    Volkow, Berridge and Lewis in the same room – WOW! Pity we couldn’t have Peele there as well 🙂

    C100, M0, Y100, K0 with envy.

    • Marc June 16, 2013 at 8:27 pm #

      Thanks, man.

  15. Margot Tesch June 12, 2013 at 3:42 am #

    I just finished a MOOC with coursera called Neurons, Synapses and The Brain by Idan Segev. It was brilliant. But the last lecture encouraged students to think about whether we have free will or whether the neural networks in our brain dictate our behaviour. This takes “addiction as a disease” to a whole new level.
    I’m confused though … if the brain is so plastic, then it is hard to imagine we don’t have free will or at least the ability to change our way of thinking which in turn dictates our behaviour. It has certainly encouraged a lot of debate in our household.

    • Marc June 13, 2013 at 7:07 pm #

      This is a great topic, Margot. I want to sink my teeth into it in an upcoming post, as I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. I wouldn’t say that this interpretation helps support the disease model. Rather, we don’t need to be “diseased” in order to be stuck in a flow of events, without being able to “choose” our way out of it. Still, one can set up one’s life, one’s environment, so that the flow of events goes differently. I think that is a form of free will, or at least intentional action, that does not violate the neuroscientific evidence: that brains make up their minds “without us”.

      There’s a lot to this, but let’s deal with it in a new post — soon to come.

  16. John Hill June 12, 2013 at 9:29 pm #

    Dear Marc:

    In reply to your letter – my wife and I have had the great good fortune of meeting His Holiness personally several times, both in India and Australia, as well as at a number of public appearances in both countries. We rented a house above McLeod Ganj (Upper Dharamsala – where H.H. and many Tibetan refugees live) for more than two years (1979-81) and have revisited it a few times since.

    The ‘kata’ or Tibetan scarves (usually white) are traditionally given to anyone you are visiting, especially any distinguished person, as a sign of respect. You won’t have any trouble finding them in McCleod Ganj. They are cheap, but do tell the person you are buying it from that you are going to give it to the Dalai Lama and ask for the best one they have. It is very likely that H.H. will bless the kata and present it back to you (which makes a treasured souvenir of your visit).

    You are very fortunate indeed if you have been invited to stay at his residence.

    Hope this answers your questions,

    Do let us know how the visit went when you return.

    All best wishes,



  17. John Hill June 12, 2013 at 9:50 pm #

    I just realised I did not answer your key question – what the nature of our visits with HH were. Sorry – I am a bit prone to ramble on aimlessly. We met His Holiness once by just finding him after he had given a public talk in Sydney, Australia and he recognised from when we were living in Dharamsala, and he greeted us taking us each of us by the hand while we walked around the “quadrangle” at Sydney University, hardly talking, just enjoying being together (what an amazing treat that was!). Another time we were given an extended personal audience at his residence as we had information to share with him, and messages from various Tibetan friends.

    But, please do not worry about pomp and ceremony – the Dalai Lama has a wonderful gift of cutting through all that and I am sure he will put you right at ease. One of my wife’s most treasured memories is being invited to sit in a big armchair next to him when he patted her on the shoulder and asked in the kindest tone: “Comfortable?” He is very human and humble – just relax and be yourself, and know that he has a really deep genuine interest in the mind and what causes suffering and how it can be overcome – and so I feel certain he will be most interested to hear of your experiences.

    You should be aware, though, that security is tight around him these days for obvious reasons, and you will be checked by both Indian and Tibetan security personnel before you meet him.


    • Marc June 13, 2013 at 7:13 pm #

      That sounds like a lot of good advice, John. Thanks so much. You have really answered all my questions (including some I didn’t arrive at consciously quite yet) — except one:

      If I give HH a kata, wouldn’t that make the other people in the group feel a bit out-paced? As in: why didn’t I think of that?! I guess it’s hard to say, but I would hate to be the only one to give an apple to the teacher.

      He sure does sound like a lovely man, though. I appreciate the preview!

  18. kevin cody June 19, 2013 at 7:27 am #

    thanks for this fresh writing perspective on craving, grasping and clinging! I can’t wait for your views on interdependence, delusions and suffering. Our country celebrates Independence Day and I hope someday it will be better known as Interdependence Day and this is particularily appealing to the way HH Dalai lama describes himself as a simple monk, which is a great ego deflator (per your other writing about the young gamer, and simple insightful understanding of the world as it really is. Still i am very envious of all who have met the worlds best known simple monk. More writing please, my addiction craves it. LOL…sorry. I love the idea of bringing him an apple, btw-give him one for all of us, please.

    I feel the trite use, Jaliya, is a sign of acceptance and therefore helpful in turning the corner from shame to acceptance and better understanding of small traumas which compound into larger more complex conditions-snowballing if you will. ut i do agree it used to aggravate me to no end when I attended high bottom AA mtgs in which the topic consisted of something like, “Somebody scratched my BMW hubcap and I think
    I’m gonna drink.” All he while I was sitting there with a blazing craving for another hit.

    Best Regards,

    • kevin cody June 19, 2013 at 7:35 am #

      I would also, like to point my postingmates to a couple of other resources which helped me greatly from a buddhist perspective- pema chodron’s books, and the audio collection (free) at Not getting any kickbacks except through the karma of sharing.

      Also, I apologize for not being a writer, I am a plumbers assistant at this point in my life.

    • Marc June 19, 2013 at 9:21 pm #

      Hi Kevin. That’s a nice idea: to bring him an apple — or something — from all of us. In fact it’s a VERY nice idea, now that I think about it. I keep hearing that the theme of the meeting, addiction, is no accident. This simple monk really does get that it is a major source of anguish. So, why not let him know that this bunch of addicts (do I have to keep saying “recovered, recovering, or whatever”?) thinks very highly of him and is sending me as their delegate. I’m serious!

      Re Jaliya: please reply to her directly by clicking the “reply” button just below her comment.

  19. kevin cody June 19, 2013 at 7:41 am #

    Also, Thich Nhat Hahn all of which has been very helpful to me in getting a handle on not using chemicals in the way to which I had become accustomed.

    And thank to everyone who post here-very helpful. Thank you.

    BTW, Marc the neuroskeptic link has changed to Discover mag site.


    • Marc June 19, 2013 at 9:24 pm #

      Thanks, Kevin. And thanks especially for posting these references. Plumbers’ assistants help things flow….

      • kevin cody June 20, 2013 at 8:23 pm #

        LOl, flow. You know of course feeding a monk is considered a form of honor/donation “dana” is the word I think? as well the monk (begging bowl) is viewed as giving too…as in giving someone the opportunity to give … very interesting tradition really…opposite of the western idea that begging is bad or dishonorable. Bring flowers to the shrine is good form too. Not
        wearing shoes in the place of gatherings and always face the shrine is semi-important…

        I’m not the most educated person in this area, I have attended a few service in a couple of traditions (tibetan and a cambodian shrine) in the cambodian one brings foood to feed the monks first, then everyone else eats…it was awesome…be prepared to have no utensils maybe? but i think the formal mtg of HH is something completely different and can be found in detail on the net. Don’t be nervous, you have just as much to offer as he, in fact that is why you were invited I think.

        And yes he and his tradition has been a very important light, mindfulness in particular, it has shown me as you wrote that maybe addiction is one of the most destructive natural human condition if mindful awareness is not practiced daily.

        I would like to express to him which he has alluded too, that though the have done Chinese (he calls them something like my friend the enemy) have done and do grievous harm to Tibet, they have helped spread this wonderful tradition to all corners of the world through creating a buddhist diaspora for which I am grateful and respectful as I can.

        thanks all

        • kevin cody June 20, 2013 at 8:24 pm #

          diasora-like the wind blowing on a dandelion…

          • Marc June 20, 2013 at 11:03 pm #

            Nice thoughts. I’ve learned more about Buddhism the last five days than in the last 20 years. And I like it. I mean, I generally simply get turned off by religion. But there are currents here that are really attractive. As you say, mindfulness itself is a great concept that seems to spread quite well in the secular world — and you don’t need to wear orange or cross your heart and hope to die. Also, the focus on compassion, service to others, warm-heartedness, mixed with valuing courage and endurance — it’s a pretty nice package.

            But maybe I’m just catching the the fringe element — the progressive, modern Buddhists. I remember when I was in Thailand as a young guy, seeing teams of Buddhist monks who looked as self-absorbed and mindless as anyone else.

            • kevin cody June 21, 2013 at 6:43 am #

              Its good to read that I am not alone in this in so many ways. The comments and blog are of great service to moving forward and not being stuck in the past life. It is not what advertisements and “pop’ular”ly accept…to value things other than the general msg snce the Gilded Age of “accumulate wealth forgetting all but self” ideaology. To value something other than a delusion that money and personal property and man-made laws are paramount and if one does not value these things more than anything else then I am somehow lacking and bad and should be put into jails or on Indian reservations, same thing really, and my stuff /family be taken away then…

              But that is what the buddist tradition has taught me, I have read and tried to practice the Quran and Bibles (tora) and went to places of whorship and it was not at all like what i had read…the buddhist places I have went, though, few were better than what I had read, though there is still some sexism and self-absorption which is the current human condition.

              I can’t say within my experience buddhism, is not a religion, it is more of a philosophy and guidebook…no wrongs or right though some buddhist like HH say wrong/right-some wancient writings say more skillful and less skillful..and that is what I try to stay to…it is hard though when everyone around is judging. It’s like always being at the dope house in your book and in my past mind. the old AA axiom/thoughtstoper, goes something lke if you hang out in the tatoo parlor too long you’ll end up with a tatoo, use the term barber-but one sometimes needs a haircut whereas one may never need a tatoo. lol

              But the buddha last taught, is old, about being a lamp to oneself, and that he has/had taught about only a few leaves on a great tree…and that we should now burned his teaching once we have learned what he has taught and find our our truths, also that if you see the buddha, he advises, one should kill him because i translate we are all of the buddha nature and we must destory/destroy the delusion the buddha/the way is represented anywhere else.

              After all nirvana, what we seek, has been always been with us, no need for teachers, salvation or deit(ies) or the promise of salvation after death and we simply (not so simple for me!) have to quit grasping and clinging to delusion to clearly realize what we have had all along.

              Just what i think I have read and learned, i could be wrong…err more/less skillful i imagine.
              peace, my listmates.

            • kevin cody June 21, 2013 at 6:53 am #

              BTW, too, I very much find great value in your many addendum’s to your book, they are great additions and reminders…though your publishers might wish you’d stop and make them and yourself more money…as some great aboriginal american said, “the yellow metal which drive white men crazy.”

              I do not have a lot of monetary wealth so … i do see what you may, and some tohers might be thinking you are sacrificing. your skillful service is appreciated, and for me I have always learned just as much if not more from trying to teach.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.