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Lions Roar : March 2016
The Insight Meditation Society (IMS) was established on Feb. 14, 1976—St. Valentine’s Day. There was no model for what they were doing. “It was the first time there was a cen- ter, as far as I know, that was founded and run by Western- ers without that singular Asian figure either here or back in Asia,” Salzberg says. It was a time of excitement—and debate. Even the word “metta,” which adorns the doorway at IMS, was a source of controversy. Some people thought they should use an English word, like loving-kindness. “In the end, it just stayed,” says Salzberg, and today metta is a recognized term in the West- ern spiritual vocabulary. What surprised its founders was the hunger for com- munity they found in those who came to practice at IMS. “Community was something we took for granted, because we had had it. I know I didn’t stop to think about what it was like to be meditating in the morning and then selling insurance or something the rest of the day, where you felt like nobody shared your values,” says Salzberg. “It took a while to realize that people felt really alone in this society.” THERE WAS NO PROGRAMMING scheduled for the first month of IMS’s existence, so Salzberg decided to immerse herself in metta practice, something she had only done before as a ceremonial ending to retreats. “I did metta practice for an entire week and just kept repeating these phrases, and I felt absolutely nothing,” she says. “Then one day, I dropped this big glass jar and it shattered and stuff went everywhere. I noticed that the first thought that came up in my mind was, ‘You are really a klutz. But I love you.’ I thought, ‘Look at that!’ Something was happening.” Salzberg says this is a lesson she’s witnessed over and over again: “People expect a rush of feeling, like a breakthrough—‘I finally loved myself,” or ‘I finally forgave that jerk.’ First of all, I don’t think things are final, and, more often, it’s a gradual but very, very deep process. Very profound changes happen within you, but they are much subtler.” Metta and mindfulness became the main focuses of Salz- berg’s teaching and practice. “I thought of metta as uncon- ditional love. I had learned the word ‘loving-kindness’ as the standard translation of metta, but when I’m teaching now I usually say ‘connection’—a profound sense of connection. It’s knowing somebody counts, that everybody wants to be happy, and that our lives have something to do with one another.” As IMS’s reputation flourished, so did Salzberg’s reputa- tion as a teacher. Her own growth was kick-started once again by Burmese teacher Sayadaw U Pandita in the late 1980s. By this time, Salzberg had been meditating for almost two dec- ades. She felt free from much of her childhood grief, ➢ Real Stories of Real Love Do you have a story about love? Sharon Salzberg wants to hear it. LOVE IS A COMPLICATED subject, one that Sharon Salzberg is examining in her next book, Real Love. Due out in January 2017, Real Love will have four sections: love for yourself, love for another, love for all beings, and love for life itself. Salzberg says she has learned a lot about love in the twenty years since her book Lovingkindness was published. “Most of the gnarly questions are about love,” she says. “Love—and self-love—is as powerful a subject as it ever was, because it’s so hard and tremendously complicated.” As difficult as it is to offer love, she says, it can be just as hard to receive it. Salzberg wants your stories for Real Love, especially about love for another. “I’m seeking stories where you found a quality of love that didn’t deny love for yourself at the same time,” she says. “Maybe times when you were caught up in assumptions about certain kinds of people, then you met one of those very people, and you saw that your assumptions were just a construct.” Send your story about love to