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Lions Roar : September 2010
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2010 29 “Many people,” says psychologist Mary Pipher, “wish they could be as unlucky as I was.” Pipher is the author of eight books, including the New York Times bestseller Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls, and she has lectured at conferences across the globe. But as a homebody from a sleepy town in the Midwest, she was worn down by whirlwind success and in 2002 she experienced a meltdown. Her latest book, Seeking Peace: Chronicles of the Worst Buddhist in the World, is her story of unraveling, and, finally, coming back together again. Mary Pipher and I talked about crisis, mindfulness, and good-looking birds. — AndreA MIller Why do you call yourself “the worst Buddhist in the world?” It came from a remark my husband made to me. One day, after meditating for forty-five minutes, I started listening to NPR. I was also dialing United Airlines to make some changes to an itinerary and stir-frying some onions for a stew and, at the same time, while I was on hold, I asked my husband if he’d done the two or three things I’d asked him to do that day. He was reading the paper, trying to relax, and he said, “You’re the world’s worst Buddhist.” It hurt my feelings and I was like, How dare you say that? You don’t know anything about Buddhism. But then I real- ized he was right. I’d jumped up from meditation and im- mediately become a whirling dervish. I also realized that we’re all the worst Buddhists in the world. People come up to me wherever I go and say, “You can’t be the worst Buddhist in the world. I’m the worst.” It’s common for people to think that somehow all the rest of the meditators out there are good Buddhists, and that they alone aren’t doing things properly or don’t have the right kind of mind. You say that you don’t want Seeking Peace to get spun as an oh- success-is-so -terrible story? I’ve been very lucky, so talking about my success being re- lated to despair is a delicate issue. It has to be handled prop- erly or it seems like I’m bragging or complaining, neither of which is my intent. What I want to stress is that I wrote this book not because I thought anybody would be particularly interested in my story but because I realized that my story is like everybody’s story. We all have times when we don’t have the resources to cope with the external stresses in our lives, and I had that experience because of being on the road too much and having too many demands on me. By being honest about what a nut job I am, I wanted to say that it’s okay to be a nut job. Your life is okay as it is. It’s okay to be neurotic and impatient. These are things we humans are. If I can tell the truth about my life and accept myself, maybe you can do the same. With this book, I wanted to say, “I’m a human being and this is what a human being looks like when they’re being honest.” Why, for you personally, was success so difficult? I was inadequate for life in the fast lane. I’d always lived in small towns, surrounded by a big family. That made me feel safe and loved, and because of my childhood and some time when I was separated from my mother, feeling safe and loved is very important to me. The other thing is, life on the road is difficult, as anybody who has done it for long knows. It’s disorienting to move back and forth across time zones and eat airport food and not get enough sleep and face large crowds. Every time you have a cold and need a cup of tea you’ve got to find somebody who’ll sell you one for four dollars. Also, I had so much guilt over the fact that I couldn’t meet the needs of all the people who wanted something from me, whether it was to read their manuscript or blurb their book or talk to their daughter who had threatened suicide that semester. I was constantly saying no to people who in my Q&A Is This the World’s Worst Buddhist? mary pipher PHOTOBYANGElAZEGERS