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Lions Roar : November 2014
despair verging on humor that i now know can be read in a Buddhist way. When i first read Buddhist texts, and met Joseph and Sharon, i knew that here was something i’d been longing for that i couldn’t have named. Dan Harris: Sharon, you’ve written two bestselling books on happiness. So what is real happiness? Sharon Salzberg: i define happiness as a kind of resourcefulness. it’s a sense of resiliency and the ability to meet things without being defined by them. it’s a source of profound strength inside our- selves, which we don’t always realize we have. also, happiness is our connection to one another, so we don’t feel so cut off and alone. Joseph Goldstein: the Buddha said that the highest happiness is peace. Different things may make us happy at different times in our lives. But in the long haul, the things Sharon talked about actually manifest when the mind is peaceful. the feeling, the taste of peace, is very sweet. Dan Harris: People say, “i know medita- tion is probably good for me, but my mind is too crazy. i could never do it.” How do you respond to that? Sharon Salzberg: those are my people, the ones who say they can’t do it. or, people who say “i tried it once, but failed.” i really love those people, because you can’t fail at it. meditation isn’t about what’s happening; it’s about how you relate to what’s happening. you can have a torrent of thoughts and difficult emo- tions, but that’s okay. you can be with them not only with mindfulness, but with compassion. usually when people start sitting, we say that five minutes is enough. you don’t have to think, “i’ve got to sit here for six hours.” you don’t have to get into some pretzel-like posture and suffer! Just choose an object of awareness—maybe the breath—and rest your mind there. you know that it’s not going to be 9,000 breaths before your mind wanders. it’ll likely be one. maybe three, maybe just a half a breath! the most important moment in the whole process is the moment after you’ve been distracted, after you’ve been lost or fallen asleep or whatever. that’s when you have the chance to be truly different. instead of judging and berat- ing yourself, you can practice letting go and beginning again. that’s the core teaching. Mark Epstein: if meditation is hard, you’re probably doing it right. Joseph Goldstein: one of the things we learn in meditation is how untrained our minds are. to me, one of the great beauties of the practice is to see the commonality of the experience. While the content, the stories may be a little different, the way we get caught up in our minds—and the way we let go—is exactly the same. So the more we under- stand ourselves, the more we understand each other. When i started meditating, i didn’t have some amazing degree of concentra- tion or anything. my mind just thought all the time, and it was fun! i was enter- taining myself with thinking. So if i could come to some understanding of my mind and taste a little bit of peace, anybody can. and the more you practice the better you get at it. Mark Epstein: one of the things that i’m grateful for is getting to know my teach- ers as friends. i have no illusions about their meditation practice or who they were. i can see that they were just like me, and that is so encouraging. Harris: What’s your advice for getting started? Joseph Goldstein: Something quite extraordinary can happen in even five minutes. the first time i sat, i was in the Peace Corps in thailand and going to these Buddhist discussion groups. i was the guy who was asking a million questions and wouldn’t shut up. People literally stopped attending because i was there. [Laughter.] Finally, one of the monks said, “Why don’t you try meditating?” So i got all my paraphernalia and i set my alarm clock so i wouldn’t over- sit. even though it was just five minutes, something extraordinary happened. it’s not that i achieved any great state, but i discovered that there was a way to look into the mind as well as look out through it. it was a revelation to see that there was a methodology for looking inward, regardless of what one found. up until that point i’d always been looking out- ward. it set me on the path. Sharon Salzberg: Practicing medita- tion is a powerful tool. But that doesn’t mean you’re going to go from sweet- ness to delight to joy to bliss to ecstasy to peace in a straight shot. it’s not like that. i’m somewhat famous for having marched up to my first meditation teacher, looking him in the eye, and say- ing, “i never used to be an angry person before i started meditating” [laughter]. i was laying the blame exactly where i felt it belonged—on him! of course, i’d been hugely angry before, but i hadn’t really paid much attention to it. So it’s perfectly natural when you start meditating to see a huge array of thoughts and feelings you may have been ignoring. this is one of the reasons why it’s very reassuring to work with a teacher or have a class, a guide, or a community. they can remind you that it’s about being aware of what’s going on, not trying to fight it. Not get- ting caught up in it. Being able to move your attention somewhere else so you get SHAMBHALA SUN NoveMBer 2014 36