The Day I Met The Dalai Lama
Updated: Aug 19
Five years ago I was invited to speak on stage at an event with His Holiness The Dalai Lama. It was to be the pinnacle of my teaching career until an event five days later superseded it. Action For Happiness I have been a member and supporter of Action for Happiness since their launch in 2011. The charity’s aim is a simple yet profound one – to encourage its members to bring about more happiness and less unhappiness in the world. What’s not to like about that? I’ve worked closely with the charity over the years and my previous school became a champion of their ‘Schools for Wellbeing’ scheme, and they helped me host a film screening event of the documentary ‘Happy’ to celebrate our partnership. So, when Mark Williamson, director of Action for Happiness, asked me to speak at their Creating a Happier World event on September 21st 2015 on stage with their patron, the Dalai Lama, I jumped at the chance! New school, new baby There was just one slight problem. My wife and I were expecting our first baby, due to be born on 11th September, just 10 days before the event! Add in to the mix that I’d be starting a new job, in a new school on the 1st September, it was a perfect cocktail of anxiety! I actually didn’t know what to be nervous about first. My mind kept flitting between freaking out about fatherhood, running catastrophic scenarios of my new class running rings around me, and forgetting my talk on stage! Luckily, I had an established mindfulness practice and every morning I continued to meditate. I observed my (sometimes crazy!) thoughts and let them come and go like clouds in a bright blue sky. This kept me grounded despite feelings of uncertainty. My wife, Samantha, was also amazing at this time and her support helped keep my anxieties in check and not lose my sense of perspective. Headbutts and Eamon Holmes So, first of the terrifying events arrives – starting work at my new school. It went well at the beginning of the day. My new class seemed lovely, enthusiastic and engaged. Although the afternoon took a turn for the worse when a boy with behavioural difficulties in my class tried to headbutt me. He took objection to me telling him he was out of the ‘getting to know you’ game we were playing due to him messing around. Well, the game served its purpose and I got to know him very well indeed! As I got used to the routines of the school, I began to feel a bit more settled. Still no sign of our baby and the day of my talk edged ever closer. And then I got an e-mail from Mark Williamson asking if I’d be happy to go live on Sky TV to be interviewed by Eamon Holmes and his panel on the morning of the Dalai Lama event. “Errr, yes,” I replied. Our baby was now 10 days overdue and the panic really started to kick in! Live on Sky The day had arrived. I was going to meet the Dalai Lama! But first I had to get through a live TV interview with Eamon Holmes. I hardly slept the night before. Not only did my wife think she was going into labour (she wasn’t but we didn’t know that at the time!) but I kept rehearsing my talk in my head. Over and over and over again. It was about 6am and I was in a taxi on my way to Sky’s studios and my negative self-chatter went into over-drive! Why had I agreed to do this interview? What if they ask me awkward questions? What if they’re cynical about teaching happiness and the panel gang up on me? I was really wishing I’d said no to the interview and I could feel my heart racing, stomach churning and my mouth going drying. It felt like I was going to the gallows. But then I heard something on the radio in my taxi. It was a report about a boat full of refugees sinking on its way to Europe. I felt a pang of sadness and then embarrassment that I was being so melodramatic about what I was about to do. Some people’s day-to-day existence is actually a matter of life and death, I thought to myself. I was simply going to talk about happiness on live TV. With a renewed sense of humility and perspective I arrived at Sky’s studios. Due to traffic, I was running late and so a producer whisked me off to make-up (they basically powdered my recently shaved head so the lights didn’t reflect off my bald scalp!) before mic-ing me up and getting me sat down next to the panellists. I felt a sense of calm as the other guests smiled at me and Eammon Holmes gave me a wink that let me know, they would be nice! The interview was a success – I relaxed into it, smiled and even led the panel through a guided meditation. On live TV! Once the interview was over, I was back in a taxi and heading over to the Lyceum theatre for the Dalai Lama event. His Holiness I arrived nice and early and headed to the empty green room. This was great as it meant I could rehearse my talk several times out loud. I was confident I knew it by heart and I started to relax and soak up what was about to happen. Later on, my former Headteacher, Sue Harte, and three former pupils turned up.
They were due to appear on stage with me at the end of my talk. Seeing Sue and the kids
made me so happy. We were led onto the main stage (the same stage where the Lion King is performed daily!) and walked through how our various parts would run. Afterwards, my pupils and I did a meditation together to help us cope with our nerves. Before we knew it, the theatre’s 2,500 seats were full and we were in the wings waiting to go on. His holiness the Dalai Lama came on stage with Lord Richard Layard to rapturous applause. It is an amazing thing to see a hero of yours so close in the flesh. Mark Williamson introduced the event and invited the first speaker, Jasmine Hodge-Lake on to the stage. I was on after Jasmine and, before I knew it, her talk was over. More applause but, this time, laughter at the Dalai Lama came and shook Jasmine’s hands and then made a joke about her braided hair. Now it was my turn. I took a deep breath and began my talk. And do you want to know the best bit? It wasn’t my talk, or meeting the Dalai Lama, it was seeing three of my former pupils confidently speaking on stage in front of thousands of people (see pic above). I was beaming with pride and that’s what I remember most from this day. Becoming a dad There was no doubt that the event was amazing but surreal. The Dalai Lama was very normal and down to earth – just like someone’s lovely grandad. It was a real honour to meet and share a stage with him but five days after the event, something far bigger and more profound was to take place – I became a dad.
Our son, Elijah, was born 16 days overdue! My wife was amazing, the NHS staff were brilliant and my new son was indescribable. I became overwhelmed with a love and awe I haven’t experienced before, as I held this little miracle blinking back at me. Becoming a dad has been the best thing that has ever happened to me. It has shifted my perspective about what really matters and given me a humbling appreciation of the fragility of life. It was certainly a September I will never forget.
So, yeah, the day I met the Dalai Lama was cool but it was nothing compared to the day I met my son.
Adrian Bethune Adrian is a primary school teacher and author of Wellbeing in the Primary Classroom – A Practical Guide to Teaching Happiness.