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Lions Roar : November 2014
Dan Harris: But if one becomes as peaceful as a Joseph Goldstein, is one going to become ineffective in the world? [Laughter.] Sharon Salzberg: of course Joseph is quite effective in the world. But it’s true that being ineffective is what people fear about mindfulness. We tell them, “you’re going to learn how to accept things the way that they are,” and “you’re going to be with things without reacting.” Well, that sounds dull and moronic! i remem- ber starting a sitting once by asking peo- ple to listen to the sounds in the room. Somebody raised their hand right away and said, “Well, if it’s the sound of the smoke alarm, should i sit here mindfully knowing that the smoke alarm is going off or should i get up?” i said, “Well, I ’d get up.” But the words can make it sound like you’re just going to be inert and not care. the truth is that if you’re drinking a cup of tea and you’re really feeling the warmth of the cup and really smelling and tasting the tea, it will be a much better cup of tea. But that is second- ary to insight—to understanding your life, to understanding the nature of the world. We realize that we are actually all connected, that we should help one another. it’s a completely different way to live. that’s what mindfulness is actu- ally for. Joseph Goldstein: Just look at the Dalai Lama or aung San Suu Kyi. they’re people who are dealing with complexity and a tremendous amount of suffer- ing, and you can see how the practice of mindfulness and compassion empowers everything they do. you can’t meet the Dalai Lama and think that he’s flat. He’s so engaged and full of life! these people are models for us. Sharon Salzberg: Dan, i’m interested in your relationship to loving-kindness meditation. you’ve used the word i’d either clam up and not know what to say, or i’d get overly emphatic and give long lectures about the benefits of meditation. Neither was a successful strategy. Finally, one day i was talking to a close friend of mine at work. She asked me about the ten-day retreat, and i said, “Well, i’m doing this because it makes me about 10% happier.” When the look on her face went from scorn to interest, i knew i had my angle! the people i talk to now range from apathetic to mildly interested! [Laughter.] i’m not a meditation teacher, but i do like my role as cheerleader. i’m still doing my job the way i’ve always done it. there’s not some huge change where i’m now handing out flowers or meditation tracts around the office. i still swear a lot and my wife Bianca can give you the “90% still a moron” speech. [Laughter] Wait, she has a mike? oh, this will be great. Bianca, are you meditating? Bianca Harris: i do not meditate but i certainly support it. it’s on my list of things to do. it has certainly changed Dan in ways that are not entirely measureable but i think we’re much more peaceful than we were, both individually and as a couple. Harris: Well said. i gave her those lines! [Laughter.] Bianca: He hasn’t changed that much. Mark Epstein: at the beginning of your book, Dan, you talk a lot about Peter Jennings. is there some relationship between the way Peter Jennings influ- enced you to perfect your journalistic work, and your relationship with your Buddhist teachers? Dan Harris: What’s different dealing with Joseph and Sharon as teachers, as opposed to dealing with Peter, is that i’m not deathly afraid of them. it’s surreal “annoying” to describe it. Dan Harris: i stand by that. it’s really annoying. Basically, the shtick is that you picture a series of people and sys- tematically send them good vibes like, May you be happy, May you live with ease, May you be safe and protected. it’s like a Hallmark card with a machete to your throat. it’s tough stuff, especially when it’s first proposed to you. What i find revo- lutionary about meditation—straight up mindfulness meditation—is that we assume, consciously or subconsciously, that our happiness is contingent upon external factors: the circumstance of our birth, the quality of our marriage, the quality of our career; whether we’ve hit the lottery, and so on. What has allowed a skeptic like me to embrace meditation is that it’s a skill you can develop. you can practice it just like you can practice building your bicep in a gym. and i find that really exciting. Compassion is a skill we can learn too. as corny as loving-kindness meditation may seem, it’s not going to make you become some dopey, endlessly, mind- lessly loving person in the world. it’s that not seeing everything through a veil of suspicion and hatred actually improves your life. it can make you more popular and is a great manipulation tool around the office. [Laughter.] question from the audience: Dan, has there been a change since you “came out” as a mindfulness practitioner at work? Has there been any impact in your rela- tions with folks at aBC? Dan Harris: i came out—to use your phrase—in 2010 after i used my summer vacation to go on a ten-day meditation death march with Goldstein. [Laughter.] People kept asking, “Why would you do that?” that’s how i eventually came up with this whole “10% happier” thing. at first, SHAMBHALA SUN NoveMBer 2014 38