“I love mystery stories and so, decades ago, I wrote one. My agent told me that the book would make rich if only I changed a little bit. … So I rewrote it. And rewrote it. And still I try occasionally to make that story work. Reading a great mystery can make it seem so easy to write one, and the process of writing can be a fine adventure. But the only thing that’s easy is getting lost—and the lack of resolution remains frustrating.”
I love mystery stories and so, decades ago, I wrote one. My agent told me that the book would make rich if only I changed a little bit. … So I rewrote it. And rewrote it. And still I try occasionally to make that story work. Reading a great mystery can make it seem so easy to write one, and the process of writing can be a fine adventure. But the only thing that’s easy is getting lost—and the lack of resolution remains frustrating.
Investigative journalism can be like living a mystery, and I once got to solve a thrilling one for Sports Illustrated. It was about the pilot who flew an unmarked airplane through the controlled airspace around La Guardia Airport to drop a parachutist with a Go Mets! banner into Shea Stadium during the sixth game of 1986 World Series. Both the New York police and the FAA failed to identify the pilot, and I had to jump of an airplane, outdrink a man through six bars, and get punched in the face before I was given the final clue that snapped the story into shape. When it was printed, my entire world felt more secure.
When interviewing a spiritual teacher, however, the last thing I want is a mystery or an adventure in investigative journalism. Over the decades at S&H, I’ve had plenty of opportunities for such adventures and those teachers typically connect to the same source as the famed Oracle of Delphi, which we now know was acetylene gas seeping out through a fault in the cave below the temple. Teachers who speak in vague riddles are typically stoned or lost or selling you something. What I look for in a spiritual teacher is someone who can say clearly where they are coming from—often a clear spark of awakening that begins the search from which the teachings unfold.
For example, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tara Brach, PhD, about her new book Radical Compassion for the March issue of S&H, and I immediately asked what sparked her own spiritual seeking. She replied:
“My first taste of freedom…came when I was in nature in my late teens. I was hiking and paused and… Oh my gosh! I had a sense of pure beauty. Something beyond this driven world I lived in.”
That experience of pure beauty in nature led her to yoga, to meditation, to a doctorate in psychology, to bestselling books, and to international acclaim as a Zen teacher. In fact, pretty much everything you need to know about the teachings of Tara Brach stem from that statement. Her books and videos and workshops are all about that pause and a simple practice called RAIN. If you have the good fortune of speaking with her, she’ll take you to experience the pause and RAIN for yourself and you can feel it work for yourself.
Now here’s a real mystery:
I’ll bet that if you are reading this, you’ve had a similar experience in nature or elsewhere, and you may already know pretty much everything Tara Brach writes in Radical Compassion. So, what’s radical? Why?
I think the answer is contained in the all-too-radical act of actually creating the pause and doing the RAIN practice, again, and again, and again—which Tara Brach has done for herself for a very long time. If you do, too, I can’t begin to tell you how that mystery will unfold, and nobody else can either. But I do know that with a clear teacher like Tara Brach essentially holding your hand, you can do is go much deeper into a regret-free life without the sense of being lost or frustrated.
Read Stephen’s interview with Tara Brach in our March/April 2020 issue. (Subscription required.)