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!

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Monty McKeever's picture

wow mirrordrum, thank you for sharing. That's a very intense and sad story. Your partner sounds quite brave! The feelings of helplessness and claustrophobia you describe sound challenging.

I'm glad you are reconnecting with your practice! Sharon certainly is great...

mirrordrum's picture

thanks, Monty. yeah, she's a gamer. i kept thinking while i was waiting for her call about all those who wait: those whose loved ones are in harm's way, those who waited for news after 9/11, after the tsunami, after the earthquake in Haiti. i had forgotten until just now that i **was** sitting in front of my statue of the Buddha practicing breathing and metta and tonglen while i was waiting scared.

i forget who said 'suffering makes no sense, it makes compassion.'

thanks for your kind wishes. i wish you a wonderful retreat.

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

ellie

smo404's picture

Day 2 - I sat tonight with my sitting group for 30 minutes. I returned my attention back to my breath numerous times during my sitting. Remembering how powerful this is helps me to be gentle with myself when I realize my mind has wandered.

LindaG's picture

Day 2 I did a 20 minute sit in a cold/flu fog. I found it quite difficult to find breath when sleepiness called loudly. I did discover that noise distractions served to help me find my breath. Very soothing, today.

Monty McKeever's picture

Sitting while sick can be rough huh?

Yet somehow, I found that when I really push through and stick to the form, despite the physical difficulties, that sometimes it can be all the more rewarding (healing even!)

fortunasandwiches's picture

Would like to also join the ranks for the challenge :) Have my first upcoming sesshin mid Feb, after finding a sanga and starting loose practice in March of last year. That and some other things starting to come together to help me get serious at deepening my practice. Found a great article at Shambala Sun couple weeks ago that encouraged me to start a two week challenge, which I began this week, but as Week one in the book (which it is very helpful to have the Kindle ebook bonus download!) states, great chance to start over :) Had a fairly restless sit mid morning today but I had slept in until the kids were both up and home for a snow day, so my thoughts kept drifting to them, which is ok. However I think a more "skillful" approach it to return to me 6am early morning wake up sit. Looking forward to the discussion and best of luck to you all on this adventure!

1BiblioTech's picture

I am joining the 28 day sit to try and kick start my lapsed practice. I am happy that two of my colleagues from work, both first time meditators, are joining me in reading the book and sitting.

I had a good first sit, a bit of monkey mind, but Sharon's instructions to view every breath as an opportunity to begin again liberating! I am looking forward to the rest of the sit.

Caramel Bella's picture

I am excited to join the 28 day challenge. I think this challenge is exactly what I need in my life right now. I am working on getting the book as we speak. I'm wondering if the Kindle version includes the audio meditations? I'm excited to join you all.

mindfullygrieving's picture

If the meditations are written in the book, you can use the experimental setting and listen to it. I also have the kindle version..

Just me's picture

The Kindle doesn't support the audio files but it directs you where to go online so that you can listen to them.

lleach's picture

I have had no success with the link given in the Kindle edition. The link to "workman.com/realhappinessbook" returns an error.

I can find the book, but not the downloads.

I found a couple of short audio files but not the "tracks 1, 2, and 3" noted at the start of the chapter THE CORE MEDITATION: BREATHING.

I like the book, though.

Can anyone help?

Larry

rebscar's picture

I am glad to join the 28 day challenge. I originally started at Trike with the 90 day "Commit to Sit" and I am amazed at how consistently I've meditated all this time. I've never gone more than one day without getting back to the sit. Glad to feel in good company.

Monty McKeever's picture

It's great to see a "Commit to Sit" participant return! It' hard to believe it's already been 4 years...

smo404's picture

Started the 28 program today with a 30 minute meditation following my breath. I like many of you simply and gently returned my attention to my breath, over and over again. Happy to be here and happy to have this program and book to encourage me to keep returning to the cushion again and again!

steven220's picture

I was lucky enough to pick the book up at Borders today and began my meditation this evening. My distracted mind was hard at work, but I appreciated the advice to simply "begin again."

Kevin S's picture

Just downloaded the book and I am ready to start, though late in the day. This is my first involvement in the Tricycle community since being given the membership for my birthday. Unfortunately, I am having problems with the authors webpage though... lots of "page not found" mesages.

Monty McKeever's picture

Hi kschum,

We're glad you're taking part!

Regarding site difficulties, please see my response to LindaG above.

best,
Monty McKeever
Tricycle

Kevin S's picture

Site looks great... Thanks!

avalmez's picture

the book is also available to those with a sony reader though in e-book format only, of course.

LindaG's picture

Something doesn't seem to be working right. This 28 day practice is supposed to be run by Sharon. Per the instructions I link onto her site and click on her first post welcoming all to the first day - and get NOTHING. Same with all the other blog links for this 28 day challenge. Anyone else having success??

-Linda G

Monty McKeever's picture

Hi LindaG,

I believe Sharon's site went through a round or two tech difficulties in the last days but everything seems to be working fine now.

http://www.sharonsalzberg.com/realhappiness/blog

best,
Monty

janeworthy's picture

Day one, around 5am, 20 minutes. Beautiful.Used a meditation timer from a Zencast podcast.

lotusrainfive's picture

Awesome start to day one :-)

LindaG's picture

What made it an awesome start?

I did sit - 20 minutes. Surprised how fast it went. Noticed mind wandering and how easy it was to return to breath.

lotusrainfive's picture

Hi lindaG, i meditate twice a day, have been on and off for about 2 years now, just recently ( the past month everyday) what made it an awesome start is i set my timer at 30 minutes this morning, and just had a really fantastic meditation, i believe i reached the second jhana this morning, have only achieved this once before, so it was awesome!
I also take part in a meditation group every wednesday night, and frequent a theravada temple near my home when i can.

LindaG's picture

I'm in! Downloaded the book on my Kindle and am ready for the 28 day challenge.

Caramel Bella's picture

Hi Linda, if you download the book on your Kindle, do you still get the audio meditations?

merialiss's picture

I was afraid that I wouldn't so I bought the discounted hard copy through Tricycle and the e-book was the Kindle version and inside it, lo and behold, were links to the audio files on the internet! Just FYI :D

jblaauwhara's picture

I'm joining too!

lotusrainfive's picture

I also plan on joining in the 28 days, any idea of what the cost of the hardback book will be?

brian.rogers36's picture

Cost me $11.96 plus free shipping, from here. Found out about the free e-book download just a few seconds ago. Oh, well, I'll dig into that now....

ceciliasstuff's picture

So, Brian, did your digging turn up anything? As members (free level) we can download the e-book for free?

That's quite generous.

lotusrainfive's picture

Just reserved my hardback copy at Barnes and noble, going to pick it up soon, if anybody else is interested they seem to have lots of em, at least where i am :-)

Danzen's picture

I am new to meditation and plan to participate in the 28 days of meditation.Also plan to go to her book signing in Baltimore,Maryland.Can`t wait to meet her.I am also interested in Buddhism if anyone out there knows of any teachers in the Baltimore, Md. area that might help me on this journey I would be truly grateful.

hennessey98's picture

good luck

sertso's picture

The Baltimore Shambhala Center is where I began and continue on my journey. It is a wonderful, warm environment for practice and study. It is located on University and Saint Paul (enter on University Ave side). Hope to see you there.
http://www.baltimore.shambhala.org/

Danzen's picture

Sertso,Thank you very much for the info about Shambhala Center in Baltimore. Plan to get in touch and start my journey. Much metta for the info..Dan

ocanada73's picture

I intend to participate in the 28 days - I need a jump-start to consistency in my practice, and I find Sharon's approach very skillful. Even though the Challenge is being led on her website, will this book club discussion be a place where we can comment as we move through the month?

Sam Mowe's picture

Yes! This discussion page will definitely be a place to comment as you move through the 28 days. The entire Tricycle staff will be taking part in the challenge and we will be posting comments here as well as on our blog. Looking forward to hearing about your experiences!