1. What important lesson came out of your childhood?
Maybe most strikingly, the impermanence and uncertainty of life. As a child I had no ability to extract the sweet from the bitter of this truth. Now, as an adult with a long background in meditation, I feel the poignancy of impermanence, and also its injunction to live this moment fully, right now, because it will surely pass.
2. What do you struggle with most and what do you do with your struggle?
Having time just to relax, go on retreat, not to be writing or teaching or speaking. I sit every day, and do go on retreat each year, but I am finding a longing for more. It’s hard, since I also get inspired by teaching and the people I meet when teaching, but I’m trying to carve out more time just for quiet.
3. When is the last time you were deeply moved and why?
I am deeply moved by my students, and I feel incredibly lucky in that I tend to meet a lot of good-hearted people. I have a friend who has suffered from strong bouts of depression. She told me recently that one of the most healing activities she has undertaken is volunteering at a kitchen that serves homebound ill people. Her hands shook too badly (as a side effect of medication) for her to cut sandwiches, her original assignment. Now she wraps the sandwiches, and it makes her very happy to be of service to others.
4. What has surprised you most in your life?
The resiliency of the human spirit. I think of my teacher, Dipa Ma, who came to meditation practice after the death of two children and then her husband. She turned the grief and pain into tremendous compassion for all.
5. What is your favorite teaching or practice?
My favorite passage from the Buddha is called the Kusala Sutta:
“Abandon what is unskillful . . . One can abandon the unskillful. If it were not possible, I would not ask you to do so. If this abandoning of the unskillful would bring harm and suffering, I would not ask you to abandon it. But as the abandoning of the unskillful brings benefit and happiness, Therefore, I say, ‘Abandon what is unskillful!’
“Cultivate that which is skillful. One can cultivate the skillful. If it were not possible, I would not ask you to do it. If this cultivation of the skillful would bring harm and suffering, I would not ask you to cultivate it. But as the cultivation of the skillful brings benefit and happiness, Therefore, I say, ‘Cultivate that which is skillful!’”
I like that passage because of the sense of confidence it instills in me: This is possible. I can do this. You too can do this. If it were not possible, the Buddha would not ask us to do it.
A meditation teacher for more than 35 years and the cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society, bestselling author Sharon Salzberg’s latest book is Real Happiness at Work: Meditations for Accomplishment, Achievement, and Peace.