Book Review: Real Life

by Sharon SalzbergFLATIRON BOOKS
reviewed by Rochelle Bourgault

Real Life is the latest in a series of books on everyday wisdom (Real Love and Real Change are two others) by Sharon Salzberg, eminent meditation teacher and champion of loving-kindness.

“Real Life,” in Salzberg’s introduction, is “about what happens when we fully engage with our everyday lives, whatever shape our lives take, whatever challenges and obstacles that life may bring.” It is a deceptively simple mandate. Even if we marshal our resources for this trek, the terrain may still be jagged with anger and sodden with self-doubt. How do we prepare for Real Life?

The mindfulness tools and practices in this book will feel familiar to some readers: adopting a growth mindset, cultivating kindness, centering attention, developing clear sight, shedding delusion, and remembering we’re never alone. But just as we nourish the body with healing foods, recalibrating our moral compass is never a wasted effort. Salzberg has assembled teachings and practical instructions (gathered in the appendix for easy reference), so this journey feels a lot less treacherous.

One of the most striking things in Real Life is Salzberg’s generosity: She accommodates the wisdom and teachings of so many others in her work. We find bon mots such as “Forgiveness is not amnesia” (Sylvia Boorstein); a parable by Anne Lamott; teachings from Tsoknyi Rinpoche; and many conversations with friends. In a world awash with unsolicited opinions, Salzberg’s voice is a familiar balm.

Salzberg, gifted teacher and voice of her generation, holds space for anyone to see the contours of their life and habits anew. Her steady voice feels crucial in this era of uncertainty: “Life is short and life is sacred” is a principle we could all hold dear.

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