Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation

A Tricycle Book Club Discussion with Sharon Salzberg

From the introduction of Real Happiness:

For thirty-six years, I’ve taught meditation to thousands of people, at the Insight Meditation Society retreat center in Barre, Massachusetts, which I cofounded in 1975, and at schools, corporations, government agencies, and community centers all over the world. I’ve introduced the techniques you’re about to encounter to groups of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, schoolteachers, police officers, athletes, teenagers, army chaplains and medics, doctors, nurses, burn patients, prisoners, frontline workers in domestic violence shelters, new moms and dads. My students come from every walk of life, ethnic background, and belief tradition.

And they’re part of a national trend: A 2007 survey (the most recent data available) by the National Center for Health Statistics showed that more than twenty million Americans had practiced meditation in the previous twelve months. They did so, they told researchers, to improve their overall wellness; for help with stress, anxiety, pain, depression, or insomnia; and
to deal with the symptoms and emotional strain of chronic illness such as heart disease and cancer.

People also turn to meditation, I’ve found, because they want to make good decisions, break bad habits, and bounce back better from disappointments. They want to feel closer to their families and friends; more at home and at ease in their own bodies and minds; or part of something larger than themselves. They turn to meditation because human lives are full of real, potential, and imagined hazards, and they want to feel safer, more confident, calmer, wiser. Beneath these varied motivations lie the essential truths that we’re all alike in wanting to be happy and in our vulnerability to pain and unpredictable, continual change.

Again and again I’ve seen novice meditators begin to transform their lives—even if they were initially resistant or skeptical. As I’ve learned through my own experience, meditation helps us to find greater tranquility, connect to our feelings, find a sense of wholeness, strengthen our relationships, and face our fears. That’s what happened to me.

Because of meditation, I’ve undergone profound and subtle shifts in the way I think and how I see myself in the world. I’ve learned that I don’t have to be limited to who I thought I was when I was a child or what I thought I was capable of yesterday, or even an hour ago. My meditation practice has freed me from the old, conditioned definition of myself as someone unworthy of love. Despite my initial fantasies whenI began meditating as a college student, I haven’t entered a steady state of glorious bliss. Meditation has made me happy, loving, and peaceful—but not every single moment of the day. I still have good times and bad, joy and sorrow. Now I can accept setbacks more easily, with less sense of disappointment and personal failure, because meditation has taught me how to cope with the profound truth that everything changes all the time.


Sharon Salzberg cofounded the Insight Meditation Society with Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein. She has played a crucial role in bringing Asian meditation practices to the West. The ancient Buddhist practices of vipassana (mindfulness) and metta (lovingkindness) are the foundations of her work. Sharon is blogging throughout the 28-day challenge at her website—here. Many others are blogging on her site along with her!

Share with a Friend

Email to a Friend

Already a member? Log in to share this content.

You must be a Tricycle Community member to use this feature.

1. Join as a Basic Member

Signing up to Tricycle newsletters will enroll you as a free Tricycle Basic Member.You can opt out of our emails at any time from your account screen.

2. Enter Your Message Details

Enter multiple email addresses on separate lines or separate them with commas.
LindaG's picture

Much thanks!

lotusrainfive's picture

Who`s ready for week 2, I am,lol. I know from past experiences that mindfullness in every day activities developes such a peacefull feeling. hope everybody has a wonderfull day.

mirrordrum's picture

me three. :) i'm seeing if i can practice mindfulness more often throughout the day. had a mindful shower this morning. lovely.

may you be happy and at ease.
may you be healthy.
may you be free from enmity and delusion.
may you be at peace.

ellie

lotusrainfive's picture

I had a very cool mindful lunch, never noticed how really good those little fruit snacks tasted,lol

mirrordrum's picture

how wonderful to find this post. do the fruit snacks go *wow!* in your mouth? i had a fresh, organic apple slice yesterday that was truly amazing. all fruit astounds me.

Monty McKeever's picture

me too lotusrainfive!

jhanley's picture

Am now six for six days...and am enjoying the continuity...this is the most I've practiced in over six months...it feels so good...

mirrordrum's picture

first of all, thanks to everyone who's posting. what a gift! i can't get out to a sangha and what lo! a sangha has opened up here. :)

have meditated 20 minutes formally for each of the 4 days since i committed to the retreat. huzzah!

day 3 was strange. i wasn't able to connect the brain to the breath. happens sometimes. neurological overstim thing. haven't decided the most skillful way to be with that b/c my consciousness alters somewhat, i.e., i have trouble getting mind and body together and don't think well. neurons go crackerdog.

struggled for a while trying to force a connection betw mind and abdomen. could feel the breath but it was as if i were sort of severed right about the throat chakra. tinnitus and buzzing in brain, general weird stuff that's familiar but makes focusing quite a challenge. i'm thinking now that when this happens--it's not uncommon--maybe it would be helpful to explore the space between head and lower body? stay w/in the brain? the breath goes on and i know it but. . .well, i can't explain. it's almost inaccessible. it just happens but i can't attend closely.

do i watch the spinning in the brain? attend to the ringing in the ears? watch mind bounce around? any suggestions welcome. it's an uncomfortable space. if i'm standing and moving, i have poor balance and disorientation.and try to fight through it to keep going. sitting with it is, well, a little scary. i think w/ great compassion of people w/ autism or soldiers who've had brain injuries w/ dizziness. this is so minor and yet it can be consuming. so, when i sit, frustration, fear, stubbornness are there. sit in my head w/ them and let the breath go on? i dunno.

last night was the first night i didn't want to meditate. took me two hrs to get my derriere in the chair. ;)

sitting was quite fragmented but i don't really get upset about that anymore. Sharon and Myoshin Kelley, my 2nd long-distance teacher from IMS, both stress so often that it's all practice that i'm usually pretty matter-of-fact about it and just touch distraction lightly with the mind and keep coming back to the breath. over and over and over. beginning is practice. i grin at myself a lot too. do manage not to spin off into storytelling most of the time.

i don't feel any sense of compassion toward myself. the most compassion i've ever felt for myself was during a recent echo cardiogram. the tech let me watch the monitor and i was overwhelmed with love for my heart as i watched it beating and felt it at the same time. what a miracle. i loved 'it'--not myself but the heart--so much. i try sometimes during practice to recapture that feeling and extend it to my whole being. there's simply a disconnect. i think the one thing i would like from practice is to truly feel compassion and love for this 'self,' whatever it is, that goes through the world. it has never happened. i hope one day it will. i can feel compassion for others who do things that seem horrid to me because i know i have done harmful things. as with so many westerners, i can't turn it toward my own being.

well, enough rambling. i'll try to be briefer but this is, i confess, an unaccustomed luxury to be able to share with others some experiences i usually keep to myself. that's why it makes me so joyful to read others' experiences as well. it's a rare treat.

may all in this sangha be healthy
may all be happy and at ease
may all be free of delusion
may all know peace and joy

ellie

SharonSalzberg's picture

One possibility is to gently bring your energy down, lower in your body. These things always need to be done gently, so you don't feel as though you are in a battle with your own experience. Remember the most important things are the awareness and compassion you can bring to watching any experience. Having established some of that spirit, even with such an uncomfortable experience, you can work with different kinds of methods to see if a better balance (not literally, but metaphorically) is accessible. It's what I think you are getting at when you say, "explore the space between the head and the lower body." Some of my teachers in Burma would say, "Put your hand on your abdomen so you can feel the movement of the abdomen more clearly with the breath." Others would say, "Put your attention on your hands and feet (maybe lie down to do this, but not necessarily) and feel the energy discharge." Another teacher suggested the image of those coffee makers, where you slowly press (no force) the top part down, and the coffee settles on the bottom...in that way you can slowly and gently bring all that whirling energy down and collect it below your navel. You can try several of these to see if they have an effect, but the most important thing is the deepening of awareness and compassion dealing with this experience.

mirrordrum's picture

thanks, sharon. very helpful suggestions as this is an ongoing issue--an inconvenience, let us say--that offers many possibilities for exploration, gentleness, curiosity. it really is helpful to know, too, that this is sufficiently common experience to have multiple suggestions for skillful practice with it.

glad to see you're still navigating in Barre.

LindaG's picture

So, I'm 6-for-6. Made it through the first weekend, which I expected to be a challenge. Now, what I'm noticing is a sense of pride. And, a shadow of "I can do this for 28 days!" Kinda like a diet that you keep to until the diet is up then go back, and gain back.

I remind myself that showing up is not "good" and missing is not "bad". That I am not doing this to achieve some sort of "special status". That I am just practicing. And, to focus not on that I'm doing it on the weekend, but what is is that I'm doing. Concentrating on sitting with the states that show up, rather than following some impulse. And that if I can do that in formal meditation, I may have some luck in doing that when feeling "charged" in an interpersonal situation.

That I may be able to do this for 28 days is no big deal. That I can bring this into daily life, is.

mirrordrum's picture

wow. i think it's a big deal for 28 days and i know what you mean about bringing it into daily life. thanks for the reminder, Linda.

themikebrindley's picture

@ mirrordrum thanks so much for the support. As with someone else's post thank you for sharing your experience. Its brilliant that you're back to sitting. I hope that your partner and the other survivors of that event are as well as they can be. Great to electronically meet you!
@ Monty - thanks. Need to remember that nicotine addiction is an entirely self constructed prison cell, and that I am free to choose the combination on the lock!
@ Sharon thanks for your comments, and I totally agree the hardest part for me (and I'm sure for everyone else too) is to be gentle / kind with myself. Your responses have been really insightful, look forward to reading the book soon. This forum alone has given me a profound sense of connection - I'd been feeling a little isolated until now. Thanks for the tip on Gaia house. Its a bit of a trek but we sometimes go camping in the west country in summer, will check it out. I think I'm pretty local to Cittaviveka Chithurst monastery, founded by Arjhan Chah - so I should take a trip there too.

Coming back to regular meditation after a bit of a break - I had that typical 'wonderful to be back' first meditation. Day two my wife had a big work related crisis, between that and our one and three year old, I missed my session. Day three (sat) was a morning meditation, which could have been better had my three year old not interrupted twice times. Although I found focusing hard, there was plenty of stuff to work with / realise - ego voice berating me for thinking about the day, another voice urging me to lighten up, then telling me to stop talking to myself and that the idea was not to think, then back to the breath.

Day 4 the best opportunity to meditate was lying horizontal in a sauna. Not done much in the way of horizontal meditation, but I found folding the hands over the dan tien / just below the navel was a useful tool for feeling the breath through physical movement.

I think it was a Charlotte Yoko Beck book mentioning the difficulty of the early stages of meditation practice. She said something along the lines that whilst we imagine an and want an immediate improvement, we actually find a quite disorientating view of the interminable wanderings and ravings of the mind - i.e. we wake up to just how nuts our everyday thoughts can be. I felt that again today, but with the knowledge that this is part of a very healthy process.

annE's picture

The weekends are hard to manage for me. Then I usually seem to get out of the habit again. Thanks for the challenge. Didn't make Saturday at all, but am hopeful for today.

LindaG's picture

Me too, annE!. My routine is so different, especially in the morning, that I find the day slips by without formal meditation.
With this commitment, I have found that if I look at how the day is laid out early-ish in the morning, and select a window of time, I will make it happen. Meditated each day this weekend. I'm 6 for 6.

That brings up another contemplation which I will share as general post

SharonSalzberg's picture

I just got back to my house from the Insight Meditation Society building. Barre is like an ice floe now...my colleagues and I had to put lots of thought and energy into how we'd all get back to where we are each staying, was it safe to walk? at all safe to drive? The interesting thing about watching my mind was knowing there had to be a return trip in the morning, and though that needed to be taken into account, there was no knowing what conditions would be like then. it was tempting to try to resolve tomorrow today, but when those thoughts would come, because of all these years of meditation training, i could see them pretty quickly, and put them aside. Tomorrow will be another drama about how to get back there, but it's not today. And it's not resolvable today. I felt the gift of meditation training quite strongly.

earthmother49's picture

good morning, Sharon and all...
Yesterday reminded me of how often weather and monkey mind join together to do a winter's dance within me. Whoa! I spent close to an hour doing shoveling in front of my building, with special focus on making sure my car could get out from its ideal parking space. Lesson one: as I experience fatigue in my body, I reminded myself that I was doing this work for the benefit of others, as well as for myself - for all those who walk down my street (human and canine!), my letter carrier, delivery persons, snow-loving children. "Pssst." my monkey mind said,l "when you go out this afternoon and come back home, someone else will have taken this spot. Where will you park?" With gratitude toward my practice, I smiled, and acknowledged that this, indeed, would be true, but I was doing the work for the benefit of others. Body fatigue really begins to set in, close to the time I gave myself to this challenge. As I hit that moment when lifting the shovel seemed nearly impossible, a young man across the street (whom I don't know) called over and asked if he could help. Another bodhisattva in my life! I smiled and thanked him, but knew I could make it through. At that moment, my upstairs neighbors came out to take over - a whole family of bodhisattvas - whoa!

May you, Sharon, all of your colleagues, and all beings in the world touch happiness and the roots of happiness today, in this moment. Namaste.

SharonSalzberg's picture

What a nice sense of community. We really do live in an interdependent universe -- it's great when it is service and generosity that are being mirrored. This has been a tough winter..as I said in an earlier comment I'm in Barre right now, and it is snowing. After the recent ice storm. Which came after the snowstorm of a few days ago. Someone lent me these ice grippers you put on your boots, sort of like studded snow tires, so i could walk on the icy paths. Someone drives to pick me up so I can go next door and teach. I think of the people i count on, and I know there are hordes more who are fairly invisible to me, who help keep me going. As it is for all of us.

Marys's picture

Yesterday's sit was challenging...some big issues with my teenage son going on. So, at first it went something like this; breath in - one, I wonder where he's sleeping -out one- right, again, in, one, out, did he go back to his Dad's? In, one, out, one, is his cell phone still working? Did he take his charger? Well this interplay with my mind and my son and his Dad (in my mind) went on for a couple of minutes then I just decided, clearly...these thoughts are going to keep coming at a steady pace so, instead of trying to push them away I invited my son and his Dad to sit with me, with the stipulation they had to remain off to the side and quiet. The rest of the meditation went fairly well and I felt much calmer about the situation once I got off the cushion. Today's sit was full of thoughts as well but I just didn't seem to mind or find them distracting in the least. Really, I have to say, I am so grateful to be meditating again and the richness that I am deriving from it. What a gift I'm giving to myself. This couldn't have come at a more perfect time!

Odsal's picture

My spouse and I have been sitting every day, finding a time that suits us both without any hitches. This afternoon our small dogs did their best to distract us. They had awaken from their nap as well, but ready to frolick. We saw the humor in their antics as we continued to sit and to respond with amusement.
For me, there was no aversion to their "acting up." They were part of the flow of energy.

msriatw's picture

So grateful to have a place to share insights and challenges. I have not participated in such a manner before. So a new beginning all around. Knowing so many others are in there with me is encouraging!
This 28 Day Challenge in the month of February is perfect. February tends to be a challenging month for me: weather, cold/flu, busy month at work. So if I can meet the challenge in February, I think I can create a real practice. I have found that 20 minutes a day is really not hard to find. It's amazing really how fast that 20 minutes flies by. I think most of all for me, it is the mindfulness of each moment that challenges me. It is one thing to keep coming back to the breath...which I do alot! But to be mindful of my practice beyond the cushion is the bigger challenge. I am trusting that I will get better at that as my practice deepens.

I have found that if I sit first thing in the morning..even before that first cup of tea...it is easier that finding my back to the cushion...I tend to get distracted by all sorts of tasks. I am also keeping a journal of each day. Hoping to add at least 20 minutes in the evening to let go of the day's frustrations.

Missed yesterday due to a nasty cold...but I am back! Next time I will muddle through!

LindaG's picture

Choosing a time each morning to fit 20 minutes of sitting in, so far has supported my commitment to the 28 day challenge. Different times of day bring different matters up. Today I practiced the "hearing sound" meditation. I found it a bit easier to concentrate on what I was hearing, when feeling sleepy, then when I focus on breathing.

The weekend will pose some interesting challeges for me

rosewoman57's picture

I have joined your 28 day challenge as an opportunity to widen my sense of sangha and to help me find my way back to the cushion. It is allowing me to develop a light touch with my pratice. I have noticed my starting to let go of a deep sadness and an opening up. Thank you for the opporunity.

randyhofer's picture

Still at it. I really liked the idea of mini-meditations during the day, sort of a "mindfullness at the microwave minute".

mirrordrum's picture

*chuckle* i love that.

mirrordrum's picture

last night, my 2nd, intense, unwanted sensations made breathing painful. labeled for a while as 'distractions.' just touched them, and returned to the breath. kept bouncing off into discomfort and worry about people in the middle east. touching it, back to breath. still very tense.

finally realized i was trying to push away intense sensations. surprise, surprise, surprise. decided to make the pain my focus of meditation. well that snapped me into the present moment. focused on being relaxed and curious, mindful of sensations and judgments, exploring, open, soft. could i experience this inconvenience without running? basho42's post was very helpful here.

i did not try to alter the experience but to explore it 'deeply,' as Thay would say, without stories or attachment. oddly enough, it was the best part of the session. focus increased, pain escalated wildly but eventually decreased as i kept attention on experience. 20 minutes passed so quickly that i wasn't ready to get up. returned to the breath with remarkable ease for perhaps another 5 minutes.

mind was chattering away a bit about the experience, but that was okay. kept 'putting the puppy back on the paper.' cute puppy. very wriggly and eager to please. softened my heart. one day, my heart will soften toward me like that.

may all dhamma farers in this retreat be healthy
may they be happy
may they be free from enmity and danger
may they know peace

lleach's picture

Hi, Folks

Well I am just a little unhappy right now. Everything I do to try and find the alleged downlods does not seem to work for me.

The link given in the book does not seem to provide any downloads.

If the links given above to Sharon's blog get you there somehow I cannot find out how.

Please help!

Regards,
Larry

LindaG's picture

Don't know if you have a Kindle, but if so, takes only a few seconds to download. Good luck.

lleach's picture

Joy!

Thank you so much.

BTW, I have the ZEN timer on my itouch. I set it for ten minutes. I was startled when the bell went off! Lot's of gentle nudges back to the breath along the way.

Larry

mirrordrum's picture

i use the mindfulness bell on my desktop for periodic reminders to stop and take breaths, stretch, whatever.

earthmother49's picture

Sitting has always been my challenge, and therefore my friend. It's finding the time, which, I know, is there ;) Thank you, Sharon and friends, for bringing me to the cushion. My sanghas are diverse: a formal group, about an hour away, which I usually join, physically, for retreats - but many of them are in my heart daily; a tiny love-centered group (the other 3 many miles away) whom I see once a year; a Christian-based community, who embrace compassion and lovingkindness, and welcome all practitioners of all spiritual practices.

So, when I awaken in the morning, these days, I center my thoughts of all those in these groups, and walk to the cushion. There are many particulars which arise: messages I've received from those who are suffering, images of those who love me unconditionally. I place all of this within me, and begin to breathe. I watch the movie trailer of all my thoughts and feelings, most of which revolve around what I need to do that day, what I'm sure to forget, and how I can remember. Everyday occurrences. I smile. Then I breathe. This afternoon, though, sudden tsunami-filled emotions washed over me, seemingly from out of nowhere. Don't search for answers, I told myself, just sit. Breathe. Yes.

So, there is a balance, I find, between intentional sitting and those times when I am called. Lots of curiosity with both. Lots of breathing. Lots of calm. And oh so much happiness. Thank you, all, for being together with me. Namaste.

SharonSalzberg's picture

Welcome everyone. I'm so glad you are taking part in the challenge. I will be traveling a lot this month, so many of my replies and postings will come at odd hours, especially late at night when I am often awake whatever time zone I'm in. So please forgive any gaps in response, and know I am very tuned into this site and accompanying you on this journey. Here at the beginning, I'd be especially interested in hearing how you are making the time to practice, if that in itself is a challenge; and also what your experience is, both in general and particularly with the moment that you realize you've been distracted. I clearly consider that a critical moment in the practice: are we very self-critical just then, or can we generate more kindness and compassion for ourselves, and begin again?

mirrordrum's picture

deleted inexplicable duplicate post. ???

jhanley's picture

Very glad to be a part of this challenge...an opportunity to refocus my practice after letting it slide for several months...

I prefer sitting when I wake up each morning, but have not been successful doing that recently...the snooze button seems to have me trapped! So for this challenge, I'm experimenting with a late evening practice, just to see how that goes. At this point I'm aiming for practicing every day, without fail. And to make the time I'm spending less time in front of my PC.

For the first two days of the challenge my reaction to distractions has been soft, almost muted. Just a very quiet "uh-oh" and back to the breath...it would be fine with me if that continued... :-) No compassion particularly, but no criticism either...just recognition that I want to be doing something else with my mind...

LindaG's picture

I generally meditate in the morning during the work week. I haven't yet been able to even get close to including weekends, so it will be interesting to see how I do. Also, I will be going on a Valentine Day weekend getaway, another way a change in routine usually finds my meditation practice collapse.
HOWEVER, the way I've been finding the time with this 28 day challenge is that the first thing I do in the morining (after I pour my coffee) is look at my daytimer and find the opening (there is always and opening) and schedule it. It's day three and I'm 3-for-3 ;)

bblueskye's picture

I'm just starting to meditate again. Day 2 was a lot of fun, and I'm noticing I have a hard time making it through 20 minutes, but I'm finding the benefit to be well worth it and I find myself becoming more calm and centered.

Jaye Ayres's picture

Getting a late start... but we all know how that saying goes. Sat for the first time yesterday evening. Yesterday morning, I stumbled across the Trycycle home page and saw the challenge. I have been practicing hatha yoga for three years, but have not really focused on the meditation. But when I saw the group, I became a member, am joining a discussion (something I have never done before) and am now looking forward to the challenge. Namaste and thank you.

randyhofer's picture

Enjoying the book. I really like the thinking about things as skilled/unskilled versus good/bad. Getting ready to start day 3

Marys's picture

What perfect timing. I happened on the Tricycle home page, saw Sharon's new book and the 28 day challenge. I had been thinking about getting back to a formal practice again; realizing (and remembering) the wealth of inner cache created from designating a quiet boundary for myself everyday. I went out and bought the book and had my first sit yesterday morning. I found myself doing all the usual mind stuff, making me smile while gently bringing myself back to the breath (I am the puppy). I am grateful to have a warm home to practice in. Today it's 10 below here in Santa Fe, NM and after letting my car warm up, sitting with my hands on the wheel, allowing myself to be present with the cold, feeling the nose hairs freeze....no point running away from the feelings of discomfort...the freezing air makes everything sharp and poingent and once again, grateful for a working car! I feel like I've come home again. Thanks Sharon for inspiring this global project!

mirrordrum's picture

kewl post. made me laugh remembering the first time 35 years ago that i felt the hairs in my nose freeze in 10 degree weather. instant mindfulness then, brings a smile now.

welcome home. me too home.

may you be healthy
may you be happy
may you be free from enmity and danger
may you know peace
may you know puppy joy

personatlarge's picture

Unless I'm missing something, there's no center to this event. There are various bloggers making disconnected blog posts, but no central discussion to follow. There's no discussion with Sharon that I can see. I guess the idea is to read the book on your own and follow the suggested course there. It would be more helpful to have a centralised course, one daily discussion with Sharon, to feel we're doing this together. If I'm wrong, please point me to the right place.

Sam Mowe's picture

Hi pacificpsych,

You're in the right place! Sharon is taking part in the book club discussion here (she's just responded to two participants), and you will find a conglomerate of blog posts related to Real Happiness on Sharon's site here. People are also discussing the book on Twitter using the hashtag #realhappiness. I understand what you mean, though, I was just commenting to a coworker that the event feels like a houseparty, where we're walking from room to room mingling with all of our virtual buddies talking about how the challenge is going... but, really, it's just here and at Sharon's site.

Speaking of the challenge, we're about to sit for Day 3 momentarily! Be back soon.

Sam

Monty McKeever's picture

Good luck to you as well Mike!

I just quit smoking last year after eleven years of smoking pretty heavily, so difficult! but mindfulness practice does help

themikebrindley's picture

Namaste, Good luck everyone! I'm a little late joining. Became interested in meditation and dharma practice 18months or so ago through Kung Fu / Tai Chi Chuan practice which led me to reading into the Ch'an Buddhist philosophy that underpinned its history. So far I have fallen into the typical Westerner pitfall- too much reading and intellectualising, and not enough regular focused practice! Have yet to connect with a sangha here (South coast of England nr Portsmouth) so looking forward to reading your experiences and sharing my own with you all.

Love Jack Kornfield's audiobooks - his voice, tone and nature seem to embody the gentle, kind humility of the teachings themselves. Haven't read / listened to Sharon Salzberg or Joseph Goldstein so this page has already given me a steer on what books to buy next :)

Took my last drink (far too much of it) last night. Smoked my last cigarette a 7am (I had quit for 5 years before falling into that 'one with a glass of wine won't hurt' trap). Began meditation with the 5 precepts. Then sat for 15 mins this morning prior to a commute. Felt really positive and awake for the meditation. Also felt a pretty overwhelming sense of wellbeing driving to work - grateful to be alive, and for a fresh start!
Thanks to all!

mirrordrum's picture

sending metta to you across the pond. i rejoice that you haven't had a drink or a cigarette today.

wishing you very well on your extraordinary retreat. :)

may you be healthy
may you be happy
may you be free from enmity and danger
may you know peace

ellie

SharonSalzberg's picture

You're really taking this on as though it was an intensive retreat! I think that's great. Giving up smoking is a tough thing to do. I don't know your patterns of drinking, but sometimes that can be a tough thing to do too. I do think (and emphasize, as you'd see in all my books and tapes etc) that beginning again is the essence of practice, and therefore transformation. When we feel stuck, and solidify our present situation as though it was inevitably our future, we're lost. When we remember the truth of constant change, and put that into practice by remembering we can begin again, we can transform. In meditation it might manifest as simply as having our attention stray from the breath, and instead of berating ourselves or judging ourselves harshly, we let go with kindness towards ourselves, and begin again. This translates into life: when we stray from our chosen course, or make a mistake, or lose sight of our aspiration, we can so much more easily begin again. And, after all, this is why we meditate -- not to become a great or even a better meditator, but to have a better (or even great) life.

Since giving up smoking (as you clearly know) often has so many ups and downs, and sometimes giving up drinking does too, I hope you'll practice lots of compassion towards yourself. I don't know how far away you are from Devon, but Gaia house is there, and there might well be a sangha near you.

mirrordrum's picture

i was delighted to find the invitation and news of Sharon's book in my inbox today. Sharon was my teacher when i started vipassana practice some years ago when the first audiotape course came out w/ Sharon and Joseph Goldstein. i was a steady practitioner until about 2-1/2 years ago. one day someone came into the Unitarian church to which my partner and i belong and started firing a shotgun during a church service where children were performing a musical.

i wasn't there but my partner was. i didn't know for hours if she were alright as she was busy caring for wounded and helping with the kids.

because i can't drive and can't get out of the house, i felt trapped and helpless. i couldn't help, i hadn't been able to go to church that day, and i was really hit hard by the event in which one man was killed and a number were wounded, several critically.

i completely stopped formal practice because every time i sat, i felt panicked and trapped and couldn't, or didn't, make myself sit with it. i've watched my behaviors become much less skillful over time and my level of compassion drop. i'm home-bound due to impairments and it all became such a marvelous excuse to get sloppy and stop practicing metta as well.

so this seems like the perfect opportunity to challenge myself again; to give myself back the gift of practice that i let slip away.

"over and over and over, we begin again."

i am beginning again tonight. i shall start with 20 minutes and see how it goes. :)

thank you, Sharon. thank you, trike. thank you, brother and sister travelers in the dhamma.

SharonSalzberg's picture

What a terrible event. I remember when it happened. It always strikes me as such a huge violation when violence happens in the very places we choose for closeness and safety -- a relationship, a church. It seems almost inevitable that after a trauma, when one gets quiet, powerful and painful emotions and memories (as well as body memories) will surface. One of the skills of meditation practice, as you allude to, is learning how to be with them in a healthy way, so we don't panic at their appearance, and also don't get submerged in them. This is true, of course, for far more than traumatic responses. One of the keys is knowing we can titrate the experience...we can feel empowered to move our attention to something easier to be with, like listening to sounds, or a relaxed, easy place in the body. Or opening our eyes. Or lovingkindness for ourselves. It's an experiment. We're looking for a sense of balance in relationship to our experience, not for a breakthrough. Of course we'd all love a breakthrough, to be able to say "At noon i finally loved myself completely," or "This afternoon I vanquished that pattern of fear." But the reality of our work is that it is based on the idea that healing comes from balance, insight comes from balance. So even as you are resuming a meditation practice, know that within any one session, it is fine (and indeed appropriate) to keep remembering balance - to feel free to shift your focus, to be kind to yourself.

mirrordrum's picture

hello, Sharon. you wrote, "We're looking for a sense of balance in relationship to our experience, not for a breakthrough. Of course we'd all love a breakthrough, to be able to say "At noon i finally loved myself completely," or "This afternoon I vanquished that pattern of fear." But the reality of our work is that it is based on the idea that healing comes from balance, insight comes from balance."

as usual, i laughed with delight at your response. thank you. i'm grateful to be reminded it's about the practice, about balance and about beginning again at every moment and not about some penultimate experience. wonderful to grin and say, 'yep, that's what i do.' wonderful to know i can start again.

'titrate the experience.' excellent teaching. like the term 'dosing' in grief work.

thank you again. looking forward to your book.

may all beings be healthy
may they be happy
may they be free from enmity and danger
may they know peace

ellie