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Sleeping with the Dalai Lama

by Mara Shapshay

I adore my father. He is a doctor and an intellectual. He tells the best jokes, he listens to you and he is a great teacher. He is known for his calm demeanor and immense empathy.

My father is fantastic at his job and has so many devotees that he spent more time in the office than at home, so when the rare occasion came up to spend time with him at one of his ear, nose and throat conferences, I jumped at the chance. Not only would there be quality time with my dad, but also, there was great food, nasal spray samples and free pens.

At the age of 15, no one was inviting me to doctor’s conferences or anywhere actually. After I was a victim of a brutal violent crime, I became a drug addict to cope. I was always angry and self-pitying, a real joy to be around. Sylvia Plath had nothing on me.

When I was at NYU, my parade of bad choices started. Many of them involved men. Boy, did I love the ex-cons. Also, did I mention, I was in a sex-less, love-less marriage, in which I consumed more pills than 20 senators’ wives combined.

All of this time I was poisoning myself, I was estranged from my family. Then, one day, it just hit me. I couldn’t live like this anymore, and I had to get help so I checked myself into rehab. About six months later, I left my marriage, got fired from my job and found myself homeless.

For the next eight years, I struggled and built my life back up from the ruins. I’ve had to look at myself, make amends and rebuild the trust of my family. My father was at the top of my list.

One of the gifts of recovery from my addictions was that my relationship with my father has been healed. He even called me recently to join him at one of his conferences. Even though it was a 200-mile drive, the distance was nothing compared to the emotional miles that came between us when I was drinking and using. I would have driven any distance to arrive back to where we once were.


Dr. Stan Shapshay and Mara Shapshay
Photo via Mara Shapshay

My dad was going to see me perform stand-up at The Comedy Store in La Jolla. Selfishly, I thought the trip was going to be about impressing him with my comedy skills and getting some free Flonase but that is not at all what happened.

When I arrived at the hotel, I was told that the Dalai Lama was in town. So exciting! I study Buddhism. Then I was told that the Dalai Lama was staying at our very hotel.

When my father and I went up to our room, there he was, the Dalai Lama on our floor. Not only was he on our floor, but also they took out his bed and he was literally sleeping on the floor . . . in the room next to ours!

For me, when I’m a hotel guest, it’s a thrill to be near the ice machine so you can imagine how I felt to be staying just feet away from His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. I will take sleeping next to the spiritual leader of Tibet who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 over close proximity to a cold Fresca any day.

We shared a wall and my bed was up against that shared wall. My father and I were the only ones on the floor not wearing maroon robes or with the Dalai Lama’s security. The magnitude of this strange occurrence weighed heavily on my father and me. Was it a mistake? No, I believe everything happens for a reason.

We went for lunch one day and I told him how sorry I was for my behavior while using and that he was last person I wanted to hurt, ever. For a week I meditated next to our shared wall. And for a week I slept next to the Dalai Lama. He radiated this light and pure happiness and so did my father.

The lessons of compassion and forgiveness were abundantly clear for me after this visit. That trip with my father and sleeping with the Dalai Lama have transformed me. I believe that if one can transform him or herself than they can transform the world. Although, what sucks now is that when I travel, having a hotel room near the ice machine is just not enough.

Mara Shapshay

About Mara Shapshay

Mara Shapshay is a writer/comedian/performer who has a BFA from NYU Film and an MFA from the American Film Institute. She is a stand-up comic who performs regularly at The Comedy Store, Improv, Laugh Factory, and many other venues. Mara is currently writing her memoir, Sleeping With The Dalai Lama. In addition, Mara writes for The Huffington Post, Thefix.com and Glamour Magazine. She can be seen in an episode of season 6’s Kathy Griffin’s Life On The D-List. Follow her on Twitter @marashapshay

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