Last night I had the great pleasure of attending a meditation class by Sharon Salzberg. She's on tour with her new book, "Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation." I was especially excited to kick off my 28-day meditation challenge with her guidance.
Like many life-long meditators, Salzberg radiates a sense of calm and compassion, that makes you want to immediately be just like her. Raised in New York City, she also has an appealing common sense quality. Best off all her soothing voice always hinted at forgiveness. As she guided us through a simple breath awareness meditation, I felt hugged every time my mind wandered off.
And, man, was my mind all over the place. I haven't meditated with such a large group in a long time, and I haven't had much practice with it in the first place. Add to that a bit of adrenaline for the whole event, and my mind was buzzing a thousand miles a minute. Salzberg reminded us that recovering the mind after it has wandered off is the most critical moment, when we practice letting go and forgive ourselves. We practice starting over.
This is an important point because it often feels like our winner-take-all culture pushes the notion that you only get one chance with your life. We often treat each other as if everyone else is an obstacle to that only chance. But when we delve deep into our self, we realize there is another chance with every breath. And as Salzberg reminded us, we deserve it. We deserve to be happy, and not feel ashamed to want happiness.
In her talk after the meditation, Salzberg described two facets of meditation: mindfulness and compassion. Where practicing mindfulness develops the ability to see our experiences as separate from our reaction to them, practicing compassion helps to change our default reaction.
She also described compassion as seeing a story of connection, or recognizing that we exist in a kind of living network. To illustrate this point, Salzberg invited us to consider the person or persons in the room that were instrumental in bringing us to the event. I immediately thought of my friend that sent around an email about the class. Salzberg urged us to go further back into our lives, to anyone who was instrumental in guiding us to this moment including those difficult people that brought so far to the edge that we made big changes in our lives to survive. It doesn't take long to realize that our lives are an intricate web of connections overlapping with more connections.
Cultivating the ability to see things for what they are and reacting to them in a way that suggests we remember what we really care about is why we meditate. Salzberg implored us to practice every day "for 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 20 minutes, just something to make it real."