To blog or not to blog: the meditator’s dilemma



I am just back from a wonderful holiday on Italy’s Amalfi coast.  Which gives me a great excuse to share some holiday snaps on this blog!  Apart from enjoying the mesmerising views from Villa Cimbrone’s famous Infinity Terrace in Ravello (“the most beautiful place in the world” according to Gore Vidal), absorbing the unique beauty of the mountainside town of Positano, and generally enjoying the lush, established gardens, stunning architecture and delicious food and wine, there was something else I couldn’t help but notice:  the number of tourists stuck to their smart phones.

I’m not talking here about using phones to take photos.  I’m talking about people in some of the most spectacularly beautiful locations in the world, staring down at their phones and texting messages, while ignoring the view which they’ve travelled so far, and spent so much money, to see.

I have nothing against social media.  Nor against updating Facebook with the latest travel pics.  But there’s a time and place.  And looking around at all the bent heads and twitching thumbs, it was hard to avoid the conclusion that I was looking at a tribe of social media victims.  People who are way beyond the point of using technology as a convenience, or even for entertainment, but who are gripped by a compulsion so strong that they can’t be free of it, even in the face of the most transcendental beauty, amid scenes that have inspired artists, writers and leaders since the time of Roman emperor Tiberius.

Heavy social media use is eroding many people’s ability to abide in the here and now.  And it goes way beyond the ability to take pleasure in a wonderful view.  A Stanford University study from 2009 provided definitive evidence that heavy media multi-taskers were more distracted by irrelevant details, had poorer memory recall and were slower to switch from one activity to another.  In short, not only are heavy social media users less able to enjoy the world around them, they are also less effective operating in it.

All of which presents meditators with a dilemma: how consistent is it to use social media – which in itself seems to promote mental agitation – to advocate peace of mind?  Isn’t this rather like going to war to promote peace?  Will I be contributing to the sum of human happiness  if I tweet about peace of mind at least five times a day, as recommended by the experts?  Update Facebook pages twice a day?  Publish blogs several times a week?

Of course there are arguments in favour of using social media.  The first being, if you don’t advocate mindfulness in the marketplace of ideas, who will?  It may also be argued that not all social media users are hopeless addicts.  ‘The only difference between poison and medicine is the dosage,’ runs an old adage.  Maybe social media in itself, isn’t the problem.  It’s the degree to which it is used. 

All the same, I can’t help wondering … would the world be a better place if I blogged more regularly?  Or would everyone be better off if we all spent more time on our meditation cushions?

What do you think?

(Both images on this blog are of Villa Cimbrone, Ravello) 



10 FREE copies of The Dalai Lama’s Cat in Goodreads Giveaway – plus a tasty morsel to sample

I am thrilled to let you know that Goodreads are giving away 10 copies of my book – entry details at the bottom of the page.

In the meantime for those of you who haven’t yet read the book (do such people really exist?!) a small sample.  This is the section where Mrs Trinci, the Dalai Lama’s VIP chef, begins a journey of personal transformation …


“Merda!” Mrs. Trinci slammed a drawer she had open back into its cabinet, unleashing a jangle of cutlery before storming upstairs. “Watch the vegetables under the grill!”

No one in the kitchen could avoid the heavy footfall on the staircase, or the staccato of her heels as she strode across the staff kitchen, or her howl of exasperation as she confirmed the terrible truth for herself.

“What’s happened?” she demanded on her return. Face flushed to puce and eyes blazing, she poured the collective frustrations of the past week into this particular moment, a sabotage so shocking she was still reeling from disbelief.

“They were there last night. I made sure. Now, nulla, niente—nothing! Where are they?”

“I’m sorry”—Chogyal shook his head—“I have no idea.”

His relaxed shrug did nothing to placate her.

“You work up there. You must know.”

“The staff kitchen—”

“I had strict instructions: they mustn’t be touched. They can’t be replaced. I ordered them especially from Delhi. Not like that, stupido!” Mrs. Trinci pushed Chogyal away from the grill, where he was turning the zucchini too slowly for her liking, and grabbed the tongs from his hand. “I don’t have all day!”

She seized each vegetable, flipping it over and slapping it on the grill. “What must I do? Send out the monks of Namgyal to look for raspberries?”

Chogyal wisely decided to keep quiet.

“Phone every restaurant in town?” she continued, fury building. “Ask our VIP guest to buy some on his way through Delhi?”

Finished at the grill, Mrs. Trinci turned. “I am asking”—she brandished the tongs threateningly in Chogyal’s face—“what am I to do?”

Chogyal knew that whatever he said would be wrong. Cornered and compliant, he opted for the obvious: “Not worry about the raspberry sorbet.”

“Not worry?!” It was as though he had thrown high-octane fuel on a barely contained fire. “Incredibele! Whenever I try to do something really special, something above the mediocre, you people sabotage it.”

Her back to the door, Mrs. Trinci couldn’t see what caused Chogyal sudden concern. Far greater concern than the missing raspberries. “Mrs. Trinci—” he tried to interject.

But she was in full, Wagnerian flow. “First, it’s the unreliable facilities—the fridge. Then it’s the gas supply. How am I supposed to cook without a stove? Now, porca miseria—damn it—I have people stealing my ingredients!”

“Mrs. Trinci, please!” Chogyal pleaded, a half smile accompanied by an anxious frown. “Harsh speech!”

“Don’t you ‘harsh speech’ me!” The ride of the Valkyries was nothing compared to Mrs. Trinci in full flight. “What kind of idiot would use the only bag of raspberries in the whole of Jokhang the day before a VIP lunch?” White flecks appeared at the sides of her mouth. “What selfish fool, what imbecile would do such a thing?!”

Venting her fury on the unfortunate Chogyal, she didn’t expect an answer. But through the maelstrom, a reply came nevertheless.

“It was me,” a voice said softly behind her.

Mrs. Trinci wheeled around to find the Dalai Lama looking at her with an expression of immense compassion.


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Why The Dalai Lama’s Cat is a BIG fan of Portia de Rossi

It should go without saying that when you are the constant companion of someone like His Holiness, you don’t write a blog every time he meets a celebrity. He meets so many that my claws would be worn to the quick by now.

But there are some people who stand out in my mind. Discretion being my middle name, I can’t possibly comment on whether the Hollywood actress mentioned on page 166 of my book is, or is not, Portia de Rossi.   That is a subject that will have to remain veiled in mystery.  At least for the moment.

But I can tell you this: I am a BIG fan of Portia’s. Not because of her amazing acting career or stunning good looks, but because she is a patron of Alley Cat Allies (

Readers of The Dalai Lama’s Cat will know that my earliest days weren’t easy. If it wasn’t for the Dalai Lama’s ‘coincidental’ drive by, I would almost certainly be dead. Alley Cat Allies is a great organisation, dedicated to helping cats in difficult circumstances like mine. And Portia lends her high public profile to help them. How many celebrities do you know who do that?

Portia’s great compassion reminds me of a verse from Shakespeare which Tenzin, His Holiness’s Executive Assistant, sometimes quotes:

The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.

Who said these famous words, dear reader? As it happens, they come from a play called The Merchant of Venice and are spoken by none other than Portia …

Write to tell me about your favourite cat charities!

( )~ Prrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr


What is it like being the companion of a global celebrity?

Is it easy living as the anonymous companion to a global celebrity? Some people believe that the unknown companions of very famous individuals must feel constantly overlooked and undervalued, like the drab hens to glorious roosters. When the rooster gets all the attention with his lustrous plumage and magnificent dawn arpeggios, wouldn’t it be understandable if the hen sometimes yearned for her own time in the spotlight, too?

In the case of this particular hen, no.

Within my own small world of Jokhang, I am already as well known as it’s possible to be. At Café Franc I am venerated as a rinpoche! And while His Holiness may appear frequently on TV, he also has to go through life being photographed and having microphones thrust in his face morning, noon, and night. He must answer the relentless questions of journalists asking him to explain elementary Buddhism—much like a professor of applied physics being asked incessantly to recite the seven-times table. That the Dalai Lama manages to do this with genuine warmth and a sense of humor reveals something not only about his personal qualities but also about the value of Buddhist practices—most notably, the perfection of patience!

The reason I’m so categorical—if you’ll excuse the pun—about not wanting to be famous is that I’ve been on the receiving end of a great deal of media attention. This fact may surprise you. Why, you may wonder, have you not already come across the Dalai Lama’s cat in the pages of Vanity Fair, photographed perhaps by the great Patrick Demarchelier? Or preening her whiskers and folding her long, grey boots with studied insouciance, having invited Hello! magazine to survey the delights of her sumptuous Himalayan boudoir? It pains me to admit that the media attention I received wasn’t of the glossy magazine variety. Photographed? Yes. Celebrity pages? Alas, no.

Now, dear reader, if you like the little excerpt above, isn’t it time you ordered yourself a copy of my intriguing memoirs?  I suggest you click without delay on: :

And tell me, how does your feline companion feel about sharing their life with you?


Does the Dalai Lama really have a cat?

This is a question that has come up a lot recently.  Can you believe the cheek of it?!  People will study the sumptuous elegance of my delightfully fluffy coat, admire my thousand whiskers and gaze directly into the oceanic blueness of my eyes.  And even though they immediately recognise me as the author of the most intriguing volume of memoirs to hit the bookstores this Fall – well, someone had to say it – they still ask: “Yes, but does the Dalai Lama really have a cat?”

Puh-lease!  It’s enough to make you want to sink your fangs very deeply into a tender part of their anatomy.  So, I want to put this matter to rest, once and for all.

I, His Holiness’s Cat – otherwise known as HHC, the Snow Lion, Rinpoche, and more names than I could possibly list here – am all too real.  I even have a Facebook page ( and Twitter account ( to my name.  Is more proof of a being’s existence even possible?

Being a consummate professional, I never intrude into His Holiness’s audiences, even though I follow them closely from the window sill or my favourite wingback chair.  You will not see me photographed with The Dalai Lama and his great variety of visitors – because I am usually watching the photograph being taken.  That’s if I’m not enjoying a nap.

What I can provide is Exhibit A, above, a photograph of His Holiness with a cat.  Not me of course, but a cat he met somewhere along the way.  Look how carefully he is holding the lucky puss, making sure she feels comfortable, that her feet have a safe place to rest.  What more powerful evidence could there be that the Dalai Lama is a Cat Lover?  I will tell you, dear reader: none!

So as far as I’m concerned, the case is closed.  You have photographic evidence that the Dalai Lama is a Cat Lover.  I, HHC, have an online pawprint that grows by the day.  The matter of my existence is therefore beyond dispute.

It’s alright, my dear, you don’t need to start bowing or offering me white scarves, as Tibetan tradition dictates.  But I suggest you make up for your existential doubts by visiting Amazon, and quick about it, to order your copy of the aforementioned intriguing memoirs:

And alright, since you insist, I wouldn’t say no to a dish of diced chicken liver with some thick whipped cream to follow ….

By the way, is your cat quite as delightful as me?  Does she give you such precious opportunities to practice generosity and patience?  I think I deserve to be told!

(  )~  Prrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

First Pawprints in Cyberspace

Yes I know this is not ‘my’ blog.  Technically speaking.  But ask any cat lover and you’ll soon discover that what you believe is ‘your’ sofa, bed or lap actually belong to the cat – unless she feels inclined to move.

And right now, I don’t.  I’m still having a good look around cyberspace to see why humans get so excited about it.

I should point out that this particular blog would never have been my first choice.  As His Holiness’s Cat – or HHC as I’m known for short around the Dalai Lama’s residence – my first paw prints should really have appeared on The Dalai Lama’s blog.  Only he doesn’t have one

Reminds me of the time a couple of months ago when a team of people from the US State Department came visiting His Holiness here in Dharamsala.  Yes, dear reader, one of the perks of being HHC is the amazing variety of laps I get to sit on.  We’re talking Hollywood movie stars, self help gurus, philanthropists – not to mention my favourite, the most accomplished meditation masters on this earth.

But I digress.

In came this group of people from the State Department. They had been preceded by a security detachment to make sure there were no dogs or other unpleasantness lurking in the corridors, so I knew that a VIP was about to arrive.

A group of serious looking men duly presented white scarves to His Holiness, the usual form of greeting in these parts.  But it was the lady of the group who interested me.  I couldn’t possibly tell you who she was.  A cat in my position has to be discrete.  If I told you the names of all the people who come seeking advice from His Holiness, believe me, you’d be astounded.

Let’s just say that this particular lady had short, blonde hair.  Middle aged. Minimal make up.  There now – that’s as far as I’m prepared to go without an offering of smoked salmon or similar inducement.

As soon as the lady sat down and spotted me in my usual position on the window sill, our eyes met – and I knew that all important fact: that I was looking into the eyes of a Cat Lover.

(Was it my imagination, or did the word ‘Socks’ pass her lips?)

I didn’t jump off the sill immediately and make my way to her – that’s just not my style.  One likes to create a bit of suspense with humans.  Keep them waiting.  Not hand them everything on a plate.  Even though she had the most comfortable looking lap, I decided to bide my time.

Unfortunately, on that occasion I missed out.  When I did finally sashay over, she had a file of important documents on her knees.  Instead I had to make do with the bony legs of one of her advisers who didn’t seem best pleased to see me, but could hardly chase me off without creating a Diplomatic Incident.

All very much like this blog, dear reader.  It may not be the best lap in blogosphere, but it is a lap.  And until I decide to move, David Michie will just have to put up with me.  So, now that we’re nicely settled and getting to know each other, if you’d like to lean closer and hear some of my stories, may I suggest you reach your hand out and – no I don’t want to be tickled!

I was going to suggest you click on the following link and pre-order my no holes barred, trash-to-temple tale so that you’ll be one of the first humans to get it, when it’s released on 1 October 2012.

Tell you more about it?  I’d be delighted to.  But not right now … I feel a nap coming on.

Until next time.

(  )~


Cutting off thoughts versus suppressing them: what’s the difference?

Our first experiences of a mind free of all agitation or dullness are usually all too brief.  A fleeting glimpse, like catching sight of a rare fish beneath the surface of a river – unmistakeable but elusive.  For a few precious moments we may enjoy the peaceful spaciousness of mind, perhaps begin to settle into the profound well-being that comes from being unburdened of conceptuality.  Then the next thought arises and – yadda, yadda, yadda – the pristine nature of mind is once again obscured.

As much as we might wish to return to that state of pure presence, to lengthen and deepen our experience of it, our problem is the constant current of inner chatter.  We just can’t seem to stop ourselves: speculating, projecting, planning, fantasising, remembering – enough already!

So, how do we deal with the challenge of too much thinking?  The time honoured method is to apply the twin tools of mindfulness – constantly remembering the object of meditation – and awareness – being alert to what our mind is actually doing.  When we catch the mind going anywhere apart from where it is supposed to be, we gently return to the object of meditation.  Simple – yes.  Easy – probably the least easy thing we ever attempt.

But over time we do get better at it.  Just as a baby will spend a long time crawling before she can even start to take her first few faltering steps, just as she will fall over countless times before developing a sense of balance, we are all meditation crawlers for a very long time.

And with practice, it’s possible to develop the skill of cutting off thoughts as they arise.  We can learn to recognise the subtle movement of mind before that movement develops into a full blown thought.  With mindfulness we can ensure our focus remains on the object of meditation.

Having been born and brought up in Zimbabwe, Africa (accompanying photos from a recent visit home), I sometimes think of the analogy of a game ranger in the bush.  Knowing the terrain, a ranger can detect subtle clues and, if necessary, take action.  Walking through the bush, he will be aware of the fresh spoor of a leopard and avoid an unwanted encounter.  A tourist in the same situation may, on the other hand, be completely unaware of any nearby predator until he’s being dragged up a nearby tree trunk by the neck to become that night’s leopard family dinner.

‘Isn’t it bad to suppress your thoughts?’ is the question that sometimes arises when talking about cutting off thoughts.  Agreed, suppressing thoughts is not to be recommended.  But that’s not what’s being described here.  ‘I just want to experience some peace and quiet, but along come these thoughts.  They frustrate me!’ is a mild expression of the impulse to put the lid on, bottle up, or otherwise suppress thoughts.

The problem with this approach is that is just doesn’t work.  It is emotionally-driven and not very skilful.  When we react emotionally in other situations – whether it’s the bitter email, the despairing phone call, the angry tirade or the cocky Facebook update – we live to regret it.  Sometimes very deeply.  Had our emotions not got the better of us, we would have behaved very differently.  For the same reason, trying to suppress thoughts is ineffective.

The avoidance action taken by a game ranger walking through the bush at twilight is automatic, skilful and based on having experienced much the same situation many times in the past.  In the same way, as meditators, taking action to cut off thoughts before they develop is experience-based.

I hope this helps explain the difference between cutting off thoughts versus suppressing them.  Good luck on your travels as a skilful mind ranger!



Why meditation ‘retreats’ should be banned


View from the bottom of the path

I have recently returned from a two week meditation retreat at the Tibetan Buddhist Society here in Perth, Australia, where it’s my privilege to have been a member for the past fourteen years.  While I was up the hill, I heard a story which made me think of ‘retreats’ in a completely different way.

One of my fellow retreatants had been explaining to her elderly father that he wouldn’t see her for two weeks because she was going away.  I have never met her father, but in my mind’s eye he is very much of the old school – tough and conservative.  When she told him where she was going his reaction was emphatic:  ‘Retreat?  I would never retreat!’

Strangely, up until I heard that story, I had never thought about ‘retreating’ as the opposite of ‘advancing.’   But that seemed to be the old boy’s meaning.  And once it was out there, it made me think.

Why do we withdraw to our centre for two weeks, forsaking all our normal activities, phone calls and Facebook updates, and focus instead for seven hours a day on meditating, if not to improve our concentration?  To deepen our understanding of ideas, so that we understand not only the meaning of concepts, but experience their meaning?  To attempt, step by step, to realize our own Buddha nature, ideally not just for our own sake, but for the sake of all living beings?

Even if our progress towards these lofty goals is modest, it is still progress.  Still an advance.  Which is why, from now on, I suggest that meditation ‘retreats’ should be banned.  Let’s have meditation ‘advances’ instead!

From the path

be better

Every day when I go online I find myself facing a barrage of emails, Facebook messages and blogs, with many of them urging me to do something.

No doubt you have the same experience.  Whether it’s Amazon prompting you to buy a new book, a thought leadership coach urging you to monetize your ideas, or an investment adviser telling you its time to get into a particular asset class, the messages are all variations on the same implicit theme: do something and you will be happier.

The overwhelming weight of messages pumped out daily are about changing our world.  I’d rather focus on how we can change our experience of the world.

Our happiness is, at most, indirectly linked to external circumstances.  No amount of outer success, wealth or status is of any value if we lack inner peace.

So, rather than add to the relentless tide of suggestions about doing, the focus of this blog is on being better.

For this moment, here and now, is all that there is.  The possibilities in the way we experience it is infinite.  And as the more enlightened among us have shown since time immemorial, the experience of perfect happiness is a matter of inner development much more than most people would dare believe.