The real Dalai Lama








100_0314That Christmas, when they were seven and eight, I had sent the children to the other side of the world to see their father and grand-parents. Instead of cancelling their daily treat of chocolate milk, I gave it to the children who lived around the corner with their single mother and cat called Mehitabel.

I lived in a big old white verandahed house next door to a park, and sometimes when I looked out of the window I would see them trailing dispiritedly past in single file, mother in front, and three small scruffy children aged seven downwards, straggling behind her, followed closely by the cat.

One warm summer night, the eldest, my son’s friend, with the unfortunate name of Ezekiel, came rushing into my flat, and said: “Mum says ring for the ambulance!” I did, and a few minutes later he was back, saying: “Mum says cancel the ambulance. The police might come too. She wants you to come. “

As we ran I tried to find out what had happened. His father was a drug addict, who had recently, according to my horrified son, “stomped” his mother in law when he was high. As we hurried towards the house, I worried that I might get stomped too. When I got there, Melanie was waiting. At the door-step I had to step over the cat Mehitabel who’d been speyed that day and was mewling in pain, while at the same time her kittens were clamouring for milk. Not a good start. My heart sank. The smells and the squalor turned my stomach.

Melanie whispered to me in terror that the ex-husband had taken an overdose, and because he was on a methadone recovery programme was furious when he realised she’d ordered an ambulance, as it could get him into trouble with the police and wreck his programme.“He’s just coming to now,” she agonised, “and I don’t know what to do.”Neither did I.

I could hear heavy dragging footsteps moving across the uncarpeted wooden floor overhead. All the family cowered, and I stood in the hall facing the stairway with them behind me, as a tall heavy man lurched round the bend in the wooden stairs. To my astonishment, as though I was at an English garden party, I smiled, stepped towards him, stuck out my hand to shake his, and heard myself say: “How d’you do, we haven’t met, I’m Valerie …”

His blank blue eyes focussed, he took my hand, returned the greetings, and a sigh seemed to emanate from the three small children and his wife holding their breath. We discussed the cats, let a few other polite nothings pass between us, and with everything seeming to be quiet and normal, I left.  And shortly after, he did. In the years that have passed I’ve often thought about this unconscious knee-jerk conditioning which was so banal and mundane that it lowered the temperature immediately. Would I do it differently now that I’m older and more conscious?

Ten years later when I was doing hard labour on a consciousness – raising  course in Australia – with nearly a hundred others – one of the charges laid against me by the course leader was that I was gracious! He said it stopped me being real, and was a defence mechanism that didn’t serve me. I didn’t get it then, and neither did some others who came up to me afterwards, and told me they liked me the way I was. But as time went by, I did get to see what he meant about avoidance and being real, and also to understand at a deep level, the truth of these well-known, lovely lines from Margery Williams’ classic, ‘The Velveteen Rabbit.’

“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you ….
‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.
‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’
‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

Being real to me, is about having the courage to be honest, never hiding who we are, never being ashamed of anything we are, accepting who we are  – and most important of all – being vulnerable. When we’re vulnerable we don’t fear being hurt, but know that great gifts can come out of risking ourselves. And somehow when we are real and therefore honest about our feelings, others can respond at that level of vulnerability and truth.

Being vulnerable is about having an open heart, and being available to both spontaneous joy and un-regretted sorrow. There’s a freedom when we start being real, we dare to be adventurous in spirit, and calm and confident in adversity. We don’t have regrets, because we know that there are no wrong paths. “Paths are made by walking,” as the Spanish poet Antonio Machado wrote.

One of the most real stories I’ve heard is about the Dalai Lama, who has never been anything but authentic, honest, wise, and now – I realise – vulnerable, spontaneous and real! A friend had spent the weekend with him (and a thousand others), studying Tibetan scriptures. The Dalai Lama read them aloud in Tibetan, and then someone else translated them into English, and he discussed them.

At the end of the second day, when they had reached the end of the programme, he held up the book, and said to his hearers something like: if you found this useful or enlightening, then you can read it every day.

“If not,” he twinkled, with his wide wise smile, “Fuck it,” and threw the book over his shoulder! There was a moment of disbelieving silence, and then everyone roared with delighted laughter.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

I’ve been battling with the damage the dentist inadvertently did to two good teeth some weeks ago, and am now about to have two root canals, so I’m eating ‘soft’ food. Yesterday I remembered a dish we used to call: ‘convent eggs.’ It’s comfort food – creamy mashed potatoes, and hard- boiled eggs covered with cheese sauce – simple, cheap and easy. When mashing the potatoes I pour cream or milk into the pan with drained potatoes, and as soon as it bubbles I take it off the heat, and mash with lots of butter, salt and pepper. At the end I quickly beat the potatoes with a wooden spoon to make them fluffy. Put the potatoes on a warmed plate, cut the hard -boiled eggs in half and press into the potatoes, then pour the cheese sauce over. That’s the quickest way. But the same layers placed in an ovenproof dish, and grilled until brown adds a dimension of crunch and taste.

Food for Thought

Absurdity is a very powerful tool for waking up. A good situation comedy is a wonderful Buddhist teaching, because it’s a parody of suffering. The cause of suffering is attachment to outcome, attachment to income, attachment to the world being a certain way.

Steve Bhaerman – Swami Beyondanandal – the Cosmic Comic


Filed under addictions, cookery/recipes, great days, human potential, life/style, philosophy, spiritual, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized

81 responses to “The real Dalai Lama

  1. What courage and poise! (relating to the first part of your post) I don’t think I would’ve dared or had the presence of mind…
    Beautiful post as always 🙂


    • Thank you ! I never thought of it like that – I just felt it was rather ridiculous in the circumstances!!!
      And I’m glad you enjoyed the post – always such a validation ….


      • There’s no such thing as ridiculous in a dire situation one usually goes by instinct and your proved it was the right reaction as it took him off guard and in that way you protected his family.
        I see it as a grand gesture of courage and generosity but we usually tend to undermine ourselves by scrutinizing our behavior too harshly.
        You have my full respect 🙂


      • Thank you…
        for your lovely words…


  2. talesfromthelou

    Oh Valerie, I agree with what’s his name, you are gracious.


  3. haehan

    Hard to argue against authenticity, yet would it have worked better if you’d said, “I’m terrified of you and I don’t know what to do and your house is disgusting and squalid and I worry about your wife and children and even the kittens? I think there are times we do need to keep a bit of a front up.


    • You may be right…who knows – but I was trying to avoid being stomped, which was a distinct possibility, I felt at the time, and confrontation could have achieved that !!!
      The fact is I wasn’t thinking… it was just a knee jerk re-action…


  4. Juliet

    I think you did exactly the right thing because you acted without fear, and showed great courage. I’m reminded of a story told by a Jewish friend about when the Russian soldiers invaded Berlin, doing terrible destruction, looting and raping. They burst into the house of a famous pianist. He greeted them, sat at the piano and began to play the most wonderful music. The Russian soldiers sat down, listened, and began to cry. They left the pianist and his family safe and unharmed.


  5. LadyBlueRose's Thoughts Into Words

    do you ever wish for a word that wasn’t ever heard before
    but was a deep..profound meaning of awesome? just more refined and eloquent ?
    there’s not one! so I will just say …I read from top to bottom and then again
    you are a Bard you know..a true Bard that speaks in song where if one is pulled in by the fire of your passion in living….
    Thank you…food for thought(s)! and I know that recipe!
    I hope you feel better with the dentist soon, but I don’t think dentist and feel good are even in the same realm….
    Take Care…You Matter…


    • What a wonderful comment good friend, thank you so much… yes, story-telling is something that we bloggers all love to do and to read , I think… I really appreciate your generous words…. Yes, dentist is a temporary (though painful blip) – back to normality now…thank you….


      • LadyBlueRose's Thoughts Into Words

        this was such a wonderful easy flow….
        I really like wandering in …
        Thank you again…( I decided I would have your easy recipe for tomorrow’s dinner, its been a long time since I have had it, again…Thank you for sharing)
        Take Care…


  6. I had forgotten about Convent eggs; is the baked version done with mashed potatoes too? I think there is graciousness that is real, utterly real, and when one meets it, it stops one in one’s tracks.


    • Convent eggs – yes, mashed potatoes in both versions.

      Graciousness… I haven’t really thought about it. It’s one of those words that people don’t seem to use very much in NZ, like charm, or charming…


      • Thank you. Tomorrow evening I will be dining on convent eggs. Tonight we have leftovers; a little crossover dish combining Hungarian meatballs with a stroganoff sauce! A friend has come by with a delicious ginger bread which will be so good with cream or icecream or on its own. Luxury 🙂


  7. Why do people take offence with the f-word? Hilarious anecdote about the Dalai Lama! 😆


  8. Wow, such wisdom in this post. I really needed to hear this today… Being real is tough. Is it possible – even advisable – to be real 100% of the time? At least, I think your defence mechanism graciousness served you well in that tricky situation….


    • Hello Alarna… thank you… lots of thoughts in your comments…I think being real isn’t something one is or does consciously… it’s like the skin horse said ! Sounds as though things are challenging for you at the moment… remember there’s no wrong path…


  9. Anonymous

    As to the first part of your story: I remember coming to a very Anglo-Saxon Australia way back when and after all the mayhem of post-war Europe wondering how on earth, on hearing someone was dead or the roof had fallen in, could say ‘we better have a cup of tea, wouldn’t that be nice’ !!! It takes awhile to accept that as normality . . .


  10. You are wonderful! I so enjoyed reading this. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


  11. Oh, I do love your posts! I looked up the definition of graciousness –

    * Courteous, kind, and pleasant, esp. toward someone of lower social status.
    * Of a merciful or compassionate nature.
    * Characterized by kindness and warm courtesy.

    Then I looked up “real”

    * Genuine and authentic; not artificial or spurious:
    * Being no less than what is stated; worthy of the name
    * Free of pretense, falsehood, or affectation.

    Seems to me you fit in both categories. I consider you a real and compassionate friend, who is free of pretense and embraces mercy and kindness as a way of life.



    • Oh Rebecca, what lovely definitions.. but I can’t claim them as mine in this case…in the context I was writing about, the course leader felt- and on reflection over the months, I felt he was right – that I used what he called graciousness to dodge unpleasantness, and defend myself from facing facts – so when he told me some home truths about myself, instead of shattering to pieces, which was what he wanted, so I could as it were, re-integrate at a higher level, I held myself and my dignity together and thanked him for his observations – which was not the point of the course!!!.

      I love it that you consider me a friend, and I think you also fit into the categories you list… I think mercy and kindness are two of the most beautiful words in the language..


  12. Excellent. This is one of your very best! Love it!
    So sorry to hear about your teeth. Been through that one last year. It was not as painful as I expected.


  13. It seems like graciousness, even if it is a defence mechanism, is what was required to diffuse the situation, so well done and what a brilliant resource it is to have in one’s tool-kit. I wonder if the message might be that we shouldn’t use it as a refuge and through self-awareness we can learn to recognise that. It is an important tool, one of survival even.

    The Dalai Lama is such a wonderful teacher, especially when he goes off piste like that. I had to laugh because a yoga teacher I know, who told me she delayed even becoming a yoga teacher because she thought she wasn’t “spiritual” enough, but who now offers a form of yoga totally unique, because she is being more “real” to who she is and perhaps vulnerable in accepting that it won’t be everyone’s thing, but will attract those who need what she offers. I mention her because she is now embracing a philosophical concept that John C Parkin has even written a book about, whose title is very close to those words uttered by the Dalai Lama – and it is amazing how liberating they can be for a vast number of people searching for something at a higher level, that can be found by uttering those two simple words and just getting on with it.


  14. I love your graciousness, especially when you spontaneously and strategically use it to disarm a potential explosive person.
    I love the Dalai Lama for his wit. Who doesn’t? 🙂


  15. What a great story. Sounds like something the Dalai Lama would have done himself. An unconscious act of pure sanity. Good luck with the teeth. I don’t envy you that!


    • Good to hear from you Lynne, thank you for your comments…love your phrase pure sanity ! That’s a great thought, wondering what the Dalai Lama would have done… probably beamed his wide smile at him and surrounded him with love !
      thank you – I’m over the worst now, and in recovery !!!!


  16. I have found that the unexpected can always stop people in their “mental” and “physical” tracks. It is very powerful indeed. Thanks Valerie


  17. I confess that sometimes I do the banal courtesies when I am confronted with a situation that I don’t immediately know how to react. It usually gives me enough time to figure things out. I always think that it’s the real me being polite.


  18. Luanne

    Valerie, my goodness. This post takes some twists and turns, and I am going to be thinking about it all day. I’m still back with the image of the mother and her children and the cat all following single file. And Valerie sticking her hand out. And the delightful Dalai Lama.
    How absolutely chewy and lovely!
    Then there is that dish which sounds so unlike anything I’ve ever heard of eating–so much so that now I’ll have to try it, especially since it sounds so easy.


  19. Amy

    He probably was hungry to be treated like a real person… but, it was your courage that made a difference. The Dalai Lama’s story was hilarious 🙂
    Sorry to hear that the dental damage made the dentist 😕
    Hope the pain will be over soon for you. Take car, Valerie.


    • What a perceptive comment Amy… the more I think about it the more profound it is… it must be that way with so many people coping with feeling different in some way…
      So glad you enjoyed the Dalai Lama !
      THank you so much – dentist done and dusted now…


      • As someone who is an atriboon provider, I have to disagree with you. It’s every OB/GYN’s choice whether or not to provide termination services (or any procedure) and how many weeks they are willing to terminate until. I do, however, think that we should be up front and tell patients at first visits what services we can’t provide.


  20. I find I am grateful I type by touch, hopefully there are no errors in this. My tears have blurred my sight as I read this and I am awash. Vulnerability, yes that is it; exactly that. You are indeed gracious, I love this very thing about you it is why I return time and again because you are gracious and kind and I can smooth my rough edges.

    I am, I am told, all too real all to often. I am told others would like me better if I would be a bit less real and a bit more gracious. I keep thinking if I bask in your light it might rub off, then you tell me even the Dali Lama had wonderful real moments.

    Thank you.


    • Dear Val, thank you for your very moving message. What an achievement to be so real – it’s my life’s work – because you see, what the teacher was telling me was that my knee jerk conditioning was preventing me from being real, .
      I used it as a barrier to being real… it was my protection. So I’ve had to learn to try to be real..
      Sounds to me as though you’ve already got there !!..


  21. Anonymous

    Wonderful post Valerie. Being real is sometime difficult , one has to do it with humour, sensitivity and awareness. Valerie, you sound as if you have all three and more. It is time for you to celebrate those wonderful qualities of yours. Thank you and take great care of yourself. Véronique x


  22. Dear Valerie,

    A Bible verse comes to mind. “A soft answer turns away wrath.” I’d say you were the embodiment of it in a moment that could very well have ended in tragedy.
    You’ve brought me to tears today. I’ve had one of those days when I’ve been honest and vulnerable. I can only hope that at some point this will turn out to be a positive move in the situation, although at the moment it doesn’t feel that way.
    I’ve had a couple of root canals. Not fun. I hope all goes well and smoothly with yours.




    • Dear Rochelle, I love hearing from you. Thank you. Oh I so know how you’re feeling… it feels as though the risk may not work… I’m at the same point myself… all we can do is remember that by being honest and vulnerable, we’ve been true to ourselves, and how others respond to it, is not our business… and it hurts when we don’t know the outcome of taking that risk. … and I try to remember that all things come together for those that love Good/God. Go well, sweet friend… PS dentist done and dusted !!!!


  23. Lovely post – as always. Thank you!


  24. Just for fun I want to tell you that I made convent eggs tonight for dinner, as planned. Quite the best meal I have made for weeks. Feeling well satisfied.


  25. Dear Valerie,

    Checking in, saying hello. I loved this post and was delighted to read about the real Dalai Lama. Have found that though I am ‘following’ your blog, the gods of technology have conspired to keep me out of the loop. No notice of new posts ever reaches my e-mail in box. Have resorted to placing your blog on my bookmarks bar (speed dial) and will check it every day.

    I hope all is well with you and that your dentist comes back as a toad.

    Kia ora,



    • Dear Doug, lovely to hear from you…
      the gods of technology are indeed inscrutable and also de-stabilising. Someone has just written a comment in Italian, and now everything on my blog is in Italian.. so this reply is now called ‘responder’
      I’m seriously worried about what other damage has been done that I will have no idea how to correct !!!
      If it’s any help to you I usually post a blog every four or five days.
      So glad you enjoyed the Dalai Lama … NZers have saying “isn’t he a dag” it took me a while to work out that this was an admiring comment, a cross between what a character and what a hoot he is… so I think the Dalai Lama is a dag !

      Thank you, all is well, but Doug – I LIke toads – the worst I could wish on anyone would be to come back as a woman in a Taliban state…and not even the dentist deserves that…love, Valerie.


  26. You write so beautifully. When will it all come together in a new book? Pat


  27. I am so very humble to call you friend! You have my highest respect! (Also, me thinks you need a different dentist!)



    • Dear Linda…
      You are right about the dentist!
      I meant to reply to your last comment, and it applies to this one too – you are perfect as you are…and have no reason to feel less that that !


      • Linda, I don’t know whether you received what I was writing to you… this blog has gone into breakdown mode since someone ‘liked’ in italian, and now everything is in Italian, including this comment which is called ‘responder al comentario.. oh dear…


  28. What a great post about the importance of authenticity. I’m always complimented on my sense of calm, but that calm is often a defence mechanism to hide what I’m really feeling, so I can relate to the comments that were made to you about your graciousness – but as you demonstrated, sometimes those learned instincts can be a helpful behaviour…


  29. I think your reaction went beyond graciousness and was real indeed – it seems that your gesture drew out his humanity or soul rather than the drug depravation.

    and I love that story about the Dalai Lama!


  30. elisaruland

    I don’t know, Valerie. I think stepping into a charged situation and diffusing it using whatever means you have about you, whether it be graciousness or otherwise, is very REAL!! I’m certain that you’re thought of as a hero by that family. And why can’t I get the image of that poor cat out of my head?


    • Elisa, I what how you mean about the cat… it’s stayed with me all these years !!
      No The family continued to stagger on from crisis to crisis and I don’t think they ever thought of it again! BUt it always stuck in my mind…


  31. Michele Seminara

    Your posts are always straight from the heart (via a very wise head) and as such, straight into mine. None more so than this one. Your response to that gentleman was perfect – you related to the civil human being buried inside him, and as a result, he acted like one!. I know of one Buddhist monk whom I greatly admire being held at knife point at a train station, and basically asked, ‘Tell me why I shouldn’t hurt you?’ His response? ‘Because you have a good heart.’ That worked a treat too! Take care Valerie.


  32. I love this post–it’s one of my favorite kinds–on a theme, but with room to meander, tell a number of stories, make a number of related points. Thinking back to the experience with the belligerent husband, being real might not have worked for you that day. As it was, you disarmed him with your politeness and forced him to rise to that level and reciprocate with politeness himself. But I know what you mean about “graciousness” becoming an impediment. I was taking a course about liberating your true voice for public speaking (and other things) and one of the first exercises asked us to choose an animal that was characteristic of our public behavior and circulate around the group in character. I find myself choosing a hyena, because I realized that I’m always compelled to smile maniacally, no matter how much I may be seething or suffering on the inside.
    Hope your root canals go smoothly and thank you for the convent eggs. They sound delicious–my mother had a toothache the other week and I wish I’d had that recipe then. Will save it for future such emergencies and general comfort.


  33. Thank you Josna, I loved your thoughtful comments, and so glad you enjoyed the blog…
    I’ve been thinking about what animal I’d be ever since I read it… fascinating, and very revealing !
    Dentist under my belt now, thank you… glad you think the recipe might useful !!! Definitely comfort food !!


  34. Pingback: Feasting | silkannthreades

  35. gosh.

    an astonishing piece of writing.

    silkannthreades suggested we visit.

    so glad we did.



    _teamgloria x


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