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Lions Roar : May 2017
In 2014, you received a lot of attention for a lovely little book based on a middle school graduation speech you gave that extolled the virtues of kindness. If you were to give a speech about kindness now, would it be different? I think I would expand it into a kind of a more muscu- lar form of kindness. What is kindness? Let’s say that it means being maximally beneficial to anyone we can help. That doesn’t necessarily mean idiot compassion. It might mean having a stout spine—pushing back, protecting people. Kindness has a large component of awareness, a large component of compassion, and also a large compo- nent of fearlessness. Sometimes I default to niceness because it’s easier. In my life, kindness can sometimes be a get-out-of-jail-free card. You see somebody who is abusive or aggressive and you think, well, if I just smile at them, that’s enough. I don’t think that’s true and I don’t think the Buddhist teachings say that. There are many examples of great Buddhist teachers who have been quite ornery and unafraid of confrontation. At the same time, one thing that spiritual practice and writing have in common is the desire to suspend the moment of judgment. Keep the lens open as long as you can. Wait to act as long as you possibly can and get as much uninflected data as you can. And maybe even as much love as you can. Then, when you really have to act, you’ll be acting from a much solider place. It’s quite a powerful thing to do—to be confident enough to let all the data come in before acting. You have said that kindness or compassion toward your characters is an integral part of your writing process. In early drafts you can paint a cartoonish or condescend- ing picture of a certain type of a person. When you do revisions, that offends you on a language basis, so you tighten it up. And in tightening the language up, you improve your vision of that person. In the same way, compassion might just be that act of reconsidering somebody with you concepts turned way down. For me as a writer, that is a language-based thing, but I sometimes feel it bleeding over in to my real life. I’ll have a quick idea of who somebody is and a quick projection will arise, a dismissive or negative thing. Then I can check that in a real-life revision process and note that that is projective, vague, unspecific. That’s a real gift. Writing helps slow reality down so you can enact that process a little more deliberately in life. It’s like training wheels for compassion. ♦ Where Did Little Willie Lincoln Go When He Died from Typhoid Fever? or What’s a Bardo? BARDO IS THE TIBETAN TERM for the intermediate state or gap we experience between death and our next rebirth. The Tibetan title of the fourteenth-century text published in 1927 as The Tibetan Book of the Dead is Bardo Tödöl, mean- ing “Liberation in the Intermediate State Through Hearing.” More generally, the word bardo refers to the gap or space we experience between any two states. The lesser-known bardos described in the traditional texts include the bardo of dreaming, the bardo of meditating, and even the bardo of this life—which is, after all, the intermediate state between birth and death. We actually experience bardos throughout our day. When you finish reading this article and look up, there will be a moment of bardo, a tiny gap following the end of one activity and preceding the start of another. If you notice them, these bardos of everyday life are places of potential transformation. As it says in the London subway, “Mind the gap.” In med- itation practice, you can notice the simple, nonconceptual awareness in the gap between thoughts. The bardo between death and rebirth is considered a particularly good opportu- nity for enlightenment. Bardos are spaces of potential creativity and innovation, because they create breaks in our familiar routines and pat- terns. In that momentary space of freedom, the fresh percep- tion of something new and awake may suddenly arise. ♦ Detail from “Peaceful & Wrathful Deities of the Bardo”; Tibet, 19th century RUBINMUSEUMOFART,GIFTOFSHELLEYANDDONALDRUBINC2006.66.539(HAR1015) LION’S ROAR | MAY 2017 45