17/06/2015 13:21 BST | Updated 17/06/2016 06:59 BST

Me and the Dalai Lama (I've Never Said That Before...)


So, I went to Australia to meet the Dalai Lama, as you do. I was asked to speak at a conference called, "Happiness And Its Causes", like I know? I told them this was not my specialty as I am a cynic but they held out the Dalai Lama as bait, and I bit. I get to the 'happiness' conference and really most of these are not my people. I do not respond well when someone comes up to me who I've never met and hugs me. There were numerous pickle-faced, 'un-dyed hair' women who wore Uggs; Uggs to me are something you wear when you've given up completely on the attractiveness front and let the bulbous mummeries hit the floor, willy-nilly. If you get your fashion sense from an Eskimo you really don't care anymore.

But then there was the Dalai Lama so all this faded away to insignificance. It's a funny thing, entering a happiness conference and being frisked from top to tail like you're smuggling drugs and then fighting your way through a forest of 'men in black' bodyguards aggressively checking your I.D card every inch of the way to the auditorium holding 17,000 happy people. I thought for a moment it wasn't going to happen and then someone pointed to me in the throng and surreptitiously signalled me to follow them down endless corridors, up and down stairwells and doors marked 'do not enter' past guys in shades on walkie-talkies informing someone of my whereabouts. Not since I was a young girl about to get an autograph from a pop star have I gone breathless and giddy with excitement. I was now.

And then there he was, just a man and yet such a miracle that this kind of being still exists; chosen from hundreds of thousands of babies because some holy men proclaimed that the last Dalai Lama who died was reincarnated into this child. I overcame the nerves quickly so I ran over and interrupted a conversation he was having with the Indian Ambassador to blurb out my question; what he would have wanted to do for a living if he wasn't the Dalai Lama? He looked straight into both my eyes and 'yup', he delivered. Everything in my body calmed down because this man is in the present and presence is catching so it felt like like time was slowing down and the gabbling in my head quieted down. There's no question, all that discipline and a lifetime of meditation pays off. So he answers me, with a glint of humour, that because of where he was born he would probably be a farmer but if he had more opportunity he would drive a bulldozer (imagine my surprise). And if he really did well in life, he would have liked to have been a scientist. Then I was told to hold a piece of cloth so he could bless it but it got tangled with the cup of tea I was holding and there was a bit of a mish mash so I asked if he could bless my teacup. He said if he did that he'd have to... (he made a gesture of spitting into imaginary tea). I laughed like a hyena thinking he made a joke but it turns out when monks bless water they sort of blow into it. Then the bodyguards started to walk him toward the stage and off he went. Now here's a moment to remember for the rest of my life, he had moved off but then stopped, turned around to get me and walked holding my hand to the stage. It was a heady experience to walk holding hands as a sea of security guards parted in our path.

I wanted to meet him not because he's like the Pope of Buddhism but it's because for years he's brought together the world's best neuroscientists to discuss the workings of the mind and exchange knowledge. He permitted some of his monks who had meditated more than 10,000 hours to have their brain's scanned (it was forbidden otherwise.) It's the results of those scans that showed empirical evidence that meditation perceptibly strengthens the immune system thereby providing resistance to heart disease, certain cancers, obesity, infertility, dementia and of course my favourite; mental illness. Because of him we know that, thanks to neuroplasticity, we can change our brains and give ourselves a better and longer life. I was happy and he was the cause, so it was worth the Ugg boot element.