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How to Ease the Voice of the Inner Critic

How to ease the voice of the inner critic, and draw on your innate capacity for courage, resilience, compassion and kindness when times get tough.

Sharon Salzberg is a world renowned meditation teacher. She's also a New York Times bestselling author and a co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts. She's been teaching meditation retreats since 1974 and has truly been a pioneer in bringing Eastern wisdom to the Western world. She's also, perhaps the world's leading authority on a particular kind of meditation practice called Metta practice or loving kindness meditation. As well as learning about real happiness and how to cultivate it from the inside out, in this masterclass, you'll also hear about how to ease the voice of the inner critic and how to draw on our innate capacities for courage, resilience, compassion, and kindness when times get really tough.

In other words, when we need it the most. Enjoy this masterclass with Sharon Salzberg. May it nourish and support you on your journey into mindful living. So Sharon, thank you so much for your, for giving your time and your presence to, be with us today, the Summit, the mindfulness summit community and myself. I really, really appreciate you giving the time.

I know you're a busy lady. Well, thank you. It's delightful to see you and to be here. So if it's okay with you, I am just going to dive right in. And there, in your book, A Heart As Wide As The World, there's an excerpt that you wrote that I'd like to read.

It says, "From my earliest days of Buddhist practice, I felt powerfully drawn to the possibility of finding a way of life that was characterized by peacefulness and authenticity. My own life at that time was characterized largely by fear and confusion. I felt separate from other people and from the world around me and even oddly disconnected from my own experience." When I read that, I can resonate with that. And I think a lot of other people will too. So I'm curious if you could tell us a little bit about how your journey's unfolded since that time of fear and confusion.

Well, it's funny. Anytime somebody reads something out loud that I've written, I don't remember any of it, you know? And I'm like, wow, look at that, it's interesting. But I would say yes, when I started my meditation practice, which was in 1971, if I was going to choose one word to describe myself, it would probably be fragmented. I was quite fragmented. I didn't really have a sense of who I was and what would make me happy.

I had like a little instinct and that was enough because that's what brought me to India and, you know, had me find a teacher and find a method of practice. So that was enough. But once I began practice, then of course there've been layers and layers and layers of changes. And I was 18 when I went to India and I wouldn't say that I had really done a real introspection before then. So everything was kind of shocking.

SN Goenk, who was my first teacher and somewhat famous amongst the group of people, many of whom I'm still very close to that I met in my first retreat. For once, having marched up to him and looking him in the eye and saying I never used to be an angry person before I started meditating. That was exactly how I felt and I just wanted supported, which was clearly on him. But certainly I'd been hugely angry and I hadn't known it and as I began to go within all of this came up. And so I would say that a huge part of my transformation has been to allow my experience more in the spirit of compassion than judgment.

You know? So, everybody goes through difficult times and delightful times. It's just the nature of life. But how we hold it and how we are with it is the whole point of the practice anyway. And so as soon as I traced my sense of progress from that time that writing described to onwards would be moving from incredible self-judgment to a kind of rueful amusement like, oh, you're back. Okay.

Right. That sounds, even as you're saying that I could, I can sense a kind of easefulness in that. I mean, that might sound like a small thing, but that's a huge thing. That's kind of the whole tone of your inner world going through kind of a seismic shift. Yeah.

And that's something that continues to develop over time. Oh, I think certainly, you know, and hopefully. And sometimes people. Express dismay, you know, about their own experience or someone else's experience, but more in the light of, I don't see why this is still coming up. I shouldn't still be having these thoughts.

I shouldn't be having these feelings. But at this point, you know, I feel so much more knowledgeable and capable of meeting, not every moment, cause I'm not perfect, but, meeting many, many wide varieties of experience with that that same kind of awareness and kindness. And so I just finished reading your book, Real Happiness, which I was magnetically attracted to actually because of the title. And the reason I was magnetically attracted to it was because in my own life, in my own childhood, what I noticed, at a very young age, for whatever reason, I realized that yes, there, we had a lot in, I mean, I didn't grow up in a wealthy family or anything. In fact, in Australia, probably we would call that a poor upbringing, but it's a Western upbringing, so we didn't want for anything really.

And so there was a lot of cause for what we assume would give us happiness. But what I noticed was is that, I would probably change the language here a little bit and I would say, I was going to say, there weren't many people that I could see that had found happiness. And that was really frightening to me. I thought actually that when you're a child, you're okay. But I thought that there's some kind of insanity that starts to creep in as people get older and I was very vigilant.

I was like, okay, I have to watch out for this. Cause when you get older, you become different. So I'll have to be vigilant. But what I noticed was if I could, you know, sum it up, was that nobody I knew and nobody I could really see as a model around me had found what I would call a lasting fulfillment or a sense of wholeness. They seemed restless, discontented, and that kind of thing.

So I'm curious to what would you say, what would you define now as real happiness? The kind of real happiness that you're talking about in your book and what has mindfulness got to do with finding it? Well, thank you for liking the title. I didn't choose the title, but the publisher chose the title. It worked for me. But so did I. I had a little bit of mixed feelings about it, just in that so many people define happiness as something superficial, and this is seeking pleasure or, which we do anyway, or being kind of happy go lucky and conflict avoidant and refusing to see pain or suffering.

And so I was concerned about that. And sure enough, when I went on the tour for the book, many people would say that to me, like, you know, How can you want to be happy all the time? It's stupid. You know, or something like that. But I was defining happiness, I would continue to define happiness, as a sense of inner resource. And that's where the real comes into.

It's not that other forms of happiness are unreal, but they're unstable. Right? And so like the first interview I had after the book came out, the interviewer said to me, are you trying to say that the kind of happiness I feel when I have a lovely dinner with my wife isn't real? And I said, of course, I think it's real. But if that's your deepest sense of happiness, you're in trouble because it comes and it goes, it's impermanent. And what about, what I said to him was, what about the night you don't like your dinner all that much? Right? Right. And I didn't say, but of course it could mean you may not like your wife all that much.

Right? I mean, life is so changeable. It's so mutable. And so I think if anything, we should enjoy those moments more. If we're more present, more appreciative, more grateful, it would be wonderful, but it's not the deepest happiness we can know. It's just too unstable.

And so I think about that night, you don't like anything very much including yourself, but you can reach a kind of inner resource that is there for you. Perspective, peace, presence kindness, things like that. And those really do become like resources. So that in wonderful times, you know, when great, great things happen, we don't have to hold on to them so fiercely, thinking, I can't let this go by because I'll never be happy again. And when painful things happen, we can find that kind of strength to relate differently.

So it's a powerful, powerful message to think about where does our deepest happiness actually abide? Yeah. And this is what I find a bit strange, I guess, in a ways that we never questioned this from a young age. We're never taught to. I mean, it's like it's kind of irrelevant. In schooling, it's all about how can you be the most productive citizen possible.

And I think that actually really aggravates the, you know, how we can really go on this endless, in Buddhism there is that term, endless wandering. Isn't there? It's just this endless wandering, trying to find pleasure, trying to find pleasure. And we can busy ourselves with these, with constant self-pleasuring. And it's so easy not to see the fact that underneath it, there's a lack of just a simple feeling of easefulness in our being, a kind of wholeness in our being. We were not really taught to even question where happiness really comes from, what it really is.

But what is your direct experience? We can talk about your own personal experience here. I mean, I have my own descriptive words for what I'm talking about. I often just say wholeness instead of... Wholeness or easefulness. But what is your direct experience over time of finding some kind of lasting background of peace? How has that unfolded for you? And what does it look like on a daily basis? Like, is it, you don't feel heartache anymore, you don't feel anger anymore, you don't feel, or is there something that carries through? What does that look like on a daily basis for you now? That was a very long-winded question.

That's okay. I would hesitate to ever describe some state where something is no longer ever arising and I think that's unrealistic. And also I think defies reality, you know, the, which is always changing. And so many times people will say things at the end of the retreat, for example like, how can I stay as concentrated as I am here at the retreat? And I say, it's not going to happen. Or how can I keep mindfulness all day long? I said, that's not going to happen either.

You know, so words like maintain, keep and stay, I think, I use them too, you know? But I think it's more that we renew and can remember how to access different parts of ourselves, you know, different layers or different levels. And so, it's through mindfulness actually that it happens because. Or maybe you have a disappointment. Something didn't go right. And, you know, your first impulse is to pile on.

I never do anything right. It's all my fault. Anyone else in this position would have been just fine. You know. It's only me and this is going to last the rest of my life.

And we need some mindfulness to be able to say, okay, this is what actually happened. This happens in life, right? We don't always get what we want. Things are disappointing or we disappoint ourselves. But all that other stuff, it's just like a story that we're adding onto it and, and it makes us miserable. We take things personally.

There's another example that it's just the unfolding of life. Like I was just in Ireland. I just got back from Ireland three days ago. And last year when I taught in Ireland and this man told me at the end of the course, he told this fantastic story about traveling in the States and some incredible airport delay and he ended up landing at a New York city airport after midnight, and his luggage had been lost. He and his friends missed their connection.

And this woman came out from some door to help them. And he said she looked worse than we did. You know, like it's after midnight, everyone's miserable and angry. And he said she said if he happened to have a traveling banjo with him. And he saw her name tag said, Irene.

So he said she looked like she hadn't been serenaded in a while. So he started serenading her and singing Good Night, Irene, Good Night. All these people started coming out of doors and singing along and then at the end the woman said, I am the best person in this company at finding luggage. I am going to find your luggage. I'm going to get you a great connection.

You know. So I saw him again this year and I told him like four days after he told that story, I was in France and my luggage got lost. And I said, I didn't have a banjo and I wasn't about to start serenading anybody. But his example actually was in my mind, you know, and because we can take things so personally, like, you know, I had checked three times on that journey to make sure my luggage wasn't going to get lost. It got lost.

I was, the airline's out to get me clearly. And to realize that's just extra suffering, which we don't need. We can let go of that. Yeah. So in any moment when, you know, so the idea of this, you know, saying something like you will get a lasting sense of ongoing peace and fulfillment that will stay with you day in, day out forever is more realistic, you're saying to say, you know, you have things that you can call on, you know, deeper or more expansive or more resourceful parts of your being that you can call on at any moment when things are going well and when things aren't going well.

So it opens up more choice for you. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I don't think many people find, my observation is and I think this is changing now because of the kind of mindfulness revolution that's happening which is a really wonderful thing, but my observation is there's not really that many people because we're not, I guess, because we're not taught. There's not that many people who really find this deeper sense of, I guess, that inner resource. We're not taught to have it.

It seems that human minds don't go there without a little bit of training, without a little bit of support. And maybe in our culture these days, maybe it's a little bit more aggravated. Some parts of our mind might be more aggravated than others. What do you think are the main things that are really, what do you think the things are that are really blocking most people from having access to those resources that you're talking about and finding that sense of real happiness? Are there mind patterns or... Yeah, well, I mean, there are probably many, many mind patterns, you know.

I think partly the idea that these qualities can be trained is a little bizarre for us. You know, that you can train compassion, you can train love or loving kindness, you can train gratitude, you can train these other things. It doesn't make a lot of sense to us. And I understand why not. It sounds a little strange.

You know, like I did a weekend retreat and I came out compassionate or something. You know, that's weird. But, in truth, say in Buddhist psychology, all of those qualities I mentioned and many more are considered emergent properties of how we pay attention. So we know attention can be trained. That's the whole purpose of meditation, right? So, you know, if you're in an elevator and somebody is talking to you and you're not really listening, there is not going to be much of a sense of connection.

Right? You're thinking about your email or something else. And if you realize that and you actually just arrive and you listen, you're fully there, that's the ground out of which a genuine sense of connection, even fleeting, can emerge. And you know, so how do we pay attention to one another? And what do we pay attention to? You know, if we're thinking about ourselves as an example, at the end of the day, almost as though to evaluate ourselves and pretty well, all we think about it is the mistakes we've made and what we've done wrong and what we should have done better, let's just say. So much so, that your whole sense of who you are and all that you will ever be just collapses around the stupid thing you said at lunch. You know, it's almost like asking yourself, anything else happened today? Like, any good within me? And you know, some people don't like that cause it takes intentionality.

It's a stretch. It's not totally comfortable for everybody. But it's not as people fear. People fear that it's moving from a true place, like seeing one's problems, to moving to a phony or hypocritical place. But it's not.

It's moving from a true place to another true place that tends to get very little air time. Yeah. You can just change your focus. Yeah. So what happens when we change our focus is that we feel a different, like our spirits lift.

We feel that sense of resource or possibility. We feel connected to somebody else, if we're focusing on them in that way. And then there's a very, very large question of who do we pay attention to and who do we ignore? Who do we discount? Do we look right through? And so, if we shift the way we pay attention, these qualities will come forth. And so, I think people, otherwise we do kind of stand aside and thinking, well, that's just a pipe dream. That's just a fairytale.

You know, you can't really live that way, but you can live that way. And we need the training. So if I'm hearing you right too, this is something that's so, think crucial to really kind of reiterate, is that one thing that you just said is that our common assumptions about where happiness comes from are often the very thing that keeps us from it and that happiness is a skill. Yeah that's so important to know and so, and really so empowering. Especially for someone like myself.

There was a time in my life where I never thought it would be possible just to have the amount of wellbeing that I have now. I just, I mean, I really just, if you hadn't told me, you know, one day you won't feel like you hate yourself, that you won't feel this bad, I would have just said, well, that's, I don't know, like fairytales are for TV, not, you know. But I'm really so surprised. I wish somebody had of told me this when I was 17. It would have been...

So I hope there's some 17 year olds watching this who can hear this message because it's a powerful message. Yeah. And you can, and it's amazing when you practice this skill, what can really happen. It's truly amazing. I'd like to talk a little bit about loving kindness because you have really been a pioneer in bringing this, the consciousness of loving kindness kind of into the West.

And the great thing that's happening right now is because a little bit of research has come out about it, it's starting to become a bit of a buzz word. People are, because I think the problem with loving kindness is, you know, Western minds, we find a concept like that, it just sounds too sappy for us. So we've got some good solid research for the Western mind now, so we can all try it. But could you give your definition of what loving kindness is and why you feel like it's really important on the path of mindful living? Well you're right. A lot of people think it's just so saccharine and gooey and, you know, sappy.But that's not from within.That's the thought or the assumption and the actual experience is something very different.

The word loving kindness is the common translation of a word from Pali, the language of the original Buddhist texts, that word is Metta, METTA, and a literal translation is friendship. So it's about the art of friendship with ourselves, and that means all aspects of ourselves, and ultimately with all of life. And so I usually define it as connection, a profound sense of connection because it actually doesn't imply that you like everybody, it doesn't even mean you like anybody. But there's this deep knowing our lives have something to do with one another. And the corollary understanding is that everybody counts, everybody matters.

Not everybody's going to be my best friend, but everybody matters. And so, our whole way of relating to ourselves and to others gets first challenged and then transformed. And so, I know that one part of the importance of loving kindness on the path to mindful living too is that sometimes we open up awareness, we start to become more and more aware, more and more aware. And I think you alluded to this in the beginning of our chat about how, I think, it's really common on the path to more conscious living that we can actually get quite self-critical and quite judgy. In fact, I think that's a really big challenge for spiritual practitioners.

We can get quite judgy. You know. We have very strict ideas about how we should be and how others should be. And often we can see difficult, challenging emotions or challenging behaviors as a sign of absolute failure, unforgivable failure. And we can be so hard on ourselves.

And quite usually, I think it ripples out to other people as well, when we're that harsh with ourselves. We kind of tend to get a bit harsh with others. So, I'm so glad that this conversation is coming up more and more about loving kindness and easefulness and gentleness and taking it easy on this path to mindful living. Having compassion, I think it's so important. So yeah.

So I'm glad. First of all, I want to say how much I like the word "judgy," which we don't have. Judgy. Well, I have to say as an Australian, what we like to do is we like to chop any long words in half and then put an O or Y on the end of them. That's why I'm not known as Melissa.

Everybody calls me, Melli. You've got to chop it in half and put it a, so judgy, that's that's my Australian translation. It was fantastic. We're alll judgy, which we are. Yes, we can get judgy.

But this meeting of compassion with judgy, just diffuses all the aggression and the tightness and the holding around it. Doesn't it? And my experience is that it's a profound relief to let it all go. Well really, you know, it's like your bathed in sunlight. Yes, you are. It's a really profound part of the mindfulness path, even from the very, very beginning.

Like my first meditation instruction was sit down and feel your breath. You know, I've come all the way from States to India to find a teacher. I found a teacher. I found a sitting and the first instruction was sit down and feel your breath. As I often say, my first reaction was great disappointment.

I thought, feel my breath? I came all the way to India, where's the fantastic esoteric technique that's going to change my whole life? And then I thought, how hard can this be? And then it was like, whoa?I had thought maybe it'd be, what will it be like? 800, 900 breaths before my mind wanders. And to my absolute astonishment, it was like one breath or maybe two or maybe half a breath and I'd be gone. I'd be way gone, so distracted. And then comes the magic moment when you realize you've been gone. You've strayed from whatever object you had set out to pay attention to.

And that's the moment really where we have the chance to be quite different. So instead of being all judgy and, you know, getting down on ourselves or calling ourselves a failure or whatever, we can practice letting go. And with some kindness toward ourselves, we can practice beginning again. So the very art of the meditation is enriched by and interwoven with the skill of loving kindness. Because without that, you can't actually let, go and begin again.

You just go on this rant about yourself. You know, I'm the only one who's thinking. No one else in the room is thinking. They don't have any distractions. I have all these, you know, which first of all, tends to add some quite considerable length to the time of the distraction.

And it's so exhausting. It's so demoralizing. It's not a way to go on. It's not a way to learn. It's not a way to get better at something or make progress at something.

So I think that's one of the kind of itty bitty moments of meditation that has a huge life lesson. That's a skills training right there. And it goes right into work with us and every endeavor that we do cause the truth, I think, of life is that we're always having to begin again, that nothing in life is a straight shot. We're always having to change course or adjust or be flexible or find another way or start over and encourage ourselves. And that's what we're always doing.

Yeah, I love that you brought that up and also my experience in learning meditation in the beginning was that, that kind of instruction about friendliness, loving kindness or self-compassion was a little absent. It was very much just kind of come back to the breath, come back to the breath, come back to the breath. And what I noticed is that when I started to introduce that critical instruction, I felt like my practice went from being about getting somewhere or being something more, which had quite a, you know, there was a lot of jaw grimacing groom and forehead grimacing and tension in the shoulders. I'd kind of get up sweating sometimes. And then all of a sudden when I got it, I got it.

And my whole practice became, this is a time for me. This is an oasis. This is a nourishing. Like the favorite part of the day, not at all a chore. This is me becoming deeply in touch with life and deeply in touch with myself and it's a joy.

That was how big the difference was in my practice. So it became that meditation is now a love affair with life. That's right. Big difference. Yeah.

So I would love if we could, I love in these chats if it's not just all about in us just talking about it, but actually doing it. Would you care to maybe guide the whole community in a practice, a Metta practice? Sure, sure. That'd be delightful. So,we can start. You can sit comfortably.

And close your eyes or not, however you feel mostat ease. One way of doing loving kindness practice, rather than resting your attention on the feeling of the breath, you rest your attention on the silent repetition of certain phrases. The phrases are the conduit for the heart's energy. They're the vehicle that help us pay attention differently. The feeling tone of the whole practice is generosity.

It's gift giving. It's generosity of the spirit. We're offering through the phrases this sense of connection, of care and so on. And the first recipient is ourselves. You can choose three or four phrases.

Common phrases are things like: May I be safe. Be happy. Be healthy. Live with ease. May I be safe.

Be happy. Be healthy. Live with ease. Live with ease means the things in our day to day life like livelihood or family may not be such a struggle,. May I live with ease.

You can choose these phrases or any phrases that are big enough, broad enough, and that makes sense to you that you can make that offering to yourself and ultimately to others. You just repeat the phrases over and over again, with enough space and enough silence. So that it's a rhythm that's pleasing to you. This is like the song of the heart. Gather all your attention behind one phrase at a time.

You don't have to try to force or manufacture any special kind of feeling. The power of the practice is in that wholehearted gathering. May I be safe. Be happy. Be healthy.

Live with ease. The skill's that is really the same your mind will likely wander quite a lot. That's okay. When you realize it, see if you can gently let go, and return. And see if you can call to mind a benefactor.

That's someone who's helped you. Maybe they've helped you directly, they shall pick you up when you fallen down or they've mentored you or maybe you've never met them. They've inspired you from afar. If someone like that comes to mind, you can bring them here. Get an image of them.

Say their name to yourself. Get a feeling for their presence. And offer the phrases of loving kindness to them. And even if the words aren't perfect, they're the vehicle for the heart's energy. May you be safe.

Be happy. Be healthy. Live with ease. And then a friend. Let's start with a friend who's doing pretty well right now.

They may not be perfectly happy, but at least in some arena of life, they're enjoying success or good fortune. If someone like that comes to mind, bring them here. You can get an image of them or say their name to yourself. See what happens as you offer the phrases of loving kindness to them. Do you have a friend who's having a difficult time right now? Bring them here and offer the phrases of loving kindness to them.

And then all beings everywhere. All people, all creatures, all those in existence, near and far, known and unknown. May all beings be safe. Be happy. Be healthy.

Live with ease. And when you feel ready, you can open your eyes. Rest your gaze. Thank you for that practice. I just have one last question.

And that is, as you reflect on your journey into mindful living over the years and the decades actually of practice that you've had, what would be one, would be your greatest realization or discovery. Wow. That's that's the big, last question. Well, since we've just been doing loving kindness, I'll talk about it within that realm. And I think that actually happened when I went to Burma in 1985 to do an intensive period of loving kindness practice.

It was three months. And like many realizations, it sounds maybe almost like nothing, like, oh, yeah, that just makes sense. So didn't you know that before? But, but to really deeply know it and the changes that that brings versus something else. So it was something like that loving kindness and compassion and love exist as a potential or a capacity within me, and that other people may awaken it or threaten it or whatever, but it's actually within me. And I realized that before then I kind of almost thought of qualities like that like a package that the delivery person was bringing to my door.

And if they turned around right on the doorstep, I was out of luck. It was gone. There would be no love in my life. And that I realized, well, that's totally untrue, that the ability, the capacity is always mine. It's within me.

And that, it was a very empowering kind of realization. Thank you for sharing that. And thank you so much. I just want to take this opportunity to really, from the bottom of my heart, to really thank you sincerely for the work that you do, because it's been, it's really touched my life and I think it's, I know that it's touching the lives of many people, so thank you so much. And is there anything else that you'd like to share before we close up? I don't know.

Listening to you makes me want to go back to Australia. You're welcome here anytime. Thank you. All right. Well, thank you again., I really enjoyed it.

Thank you. And to all of our viewers, I really, really highly recommend you check out Real Happiness. You know, I read a lot of books a lot of the time. I'm kind of a nerdy reader. And it's been a while since I've come across a book, that's really, I found it a real page turner and I really loved it.

So I highly recommend you check out the book and Sharon, where can they find out more about your work if they want to touch in with more stuff you're up to? My website is simply SharonSalzberg.com. Your spell check will likely try to change Salzburg to S A L Z B U R G, but it's S A L Z B E R G. All right, Sharon. Thanks again. Go.

Well, my friend and we'll hopefully get to check in with you some other time soon. That would be lovely. Thank you.

Talk

4.6

How to Ease the Voice of the Inner Critic

How to ease the voice of the inner critic, and draw on your innate capacity for courage, resilience, compassion and kindness when times get tough.

Duration

Your default time is based on your progress and is changed automatically as you practice.

Sharon Salzberg is a world renowned meditation teacher. She's also a New York Times bestselling author and a co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts. She's been teaching meditation retreats since 1974 and has truly been a pioneer in bringing Eastern wisdom to the Western world. She's also, perhaps the world's leading authority on a particular kind of meditation practice called Metta practice or loving kindness meditation. As well as learning about real happiness and how to cultivate it from the inside out, in this masterclass, you'll also hear about how to ease the voice of the inner critic and how to draw on our innate capacities for courage, resilience, compassion, and kindness when times get really tough.

In other words, when we need it the most. Enjoy this masterclass with Sharon Salzberg. May it nourish and support you on your journey into mindful living. So Sharon, thank you so much for your, for giving your time and your presence to, be with us today, the Summit, the mindfulness summit community and myself. I really, really appreciate you giving the time.

I know you're a busy lady. Well, thank you. It's delightful to see you and to be here. So if it's okay with you, I am just going to dive right in. And there, in your book, A Heart As Wide As The World, there's an excerpt that you wrote that I'd like to read.

It says, "From my earliest days of Buddhist practice, I felt powerfully drawn to the possibility of finding a way of life that was characterized by peacefulness and authenticity. My own life at that time was characterized largely by fear and confusion. I felt separate from other people and from the world around me and even oddly disconnected from my own experience." When I read that, I can resonate with that. And I think a lot of other people will too. So I'm curious if you could tell us a little bit about how your journey's unfolded since that time of fear and confusion.

Well, it's funny. Anytime somebody reads something out loud that I've written, I don't remember any of it, you know? And I'm like, wow, look at that, it's interesting. But I would say yes, when I started my meditation practice, which was in 1971, if I was going to choose one word to describe myself, it would probably be fragmented. I was quite fragmented. I didn't really have a sense of who I was and what would make me happy.

I had like a little instinct and that was enough because that's what brought me to India and, you know, had me find a teacher and find a method of practice. So that was enough. But once I began practice, then of course there've been layers and layers and layers of changes. And I was 18 when I went to India and I wouldn't say that I had really done a real introspection before then. So everything was kind of shocking.

SN Goenk, who was my first teacher and somewhat famous amongst the group of people, many of whom I'm still very close to that I met in my first retreat. For once, having marched up to him and looking him in the eye and saying I never used to be an angry person before I started meditating. That was exactly how I felt and I just wanted supported, which was clearly on him. But certainly I'd been hugely angry and I hadn't known it and as I began to go within all of this came up. And so I would say that a huge part of my transformation has been to allow my experience more in the spirit of compassion than judgment.

You know? So, everybody goes through difficult times and delightful times. It's just the nature of life. But how we hold it and how we are with it is the whole point of the practice anyway. And so as soon as I traced my sense of progress from that time that writing described to onwards would be moving from incredible self-judgment to a kind of rueful amusement like, oh, you're back. Okay.

Right. That sounds, even as you're saying that I could, I can sense a kind of easefulness in that. I mean, that might sound like a small thing, but that's a huge thing. That's kind of the whole tone of your inner world going through kind of a seismic shift. Yeah.

And that's something that continues to develop over time. Oh, I think certainly, you know, and hopefully. And sometimes people. Express dismay, you know, about their own experience or someone else's experience, but more in the light of, I don't see why this is still coming up. I shouldn't still be having these thoughts.

I shouldn't be having these feelings. But at this point, you know, I feel so much more knowledgeable and capable of meeting, not every moment, cause I'm not perfect, but, meeting many, many wide varieties of experience with that that same kind of awareness and kindness. And so I just finished reading your book, Real Happiness, which I was magnetically attracted to actually because of the title. And the reason I was magnetically attracted to it was because in my own life, in my own childhood, what I noticed, at a very young age, for whatever reason, I realized that yes, there, we had a lot in, I mean, I didn't grow up in a wealthy family or anything. In fact, in Australia, probably we would call that a poor upbringing, but it's a Western upbringing, so we didn't want for anything really.

And so there was a lot of cause for what we assume would give us happiness. But what I noticed was is that, I would probably change the language here a little bit and I would say, I was going to say, there weren't many people that I could see that had found happiness. And that was really frightening to me. I thought actually that when you're a child, you're okay. But I thought that there's some kind of insanity that starts to creep in as people get older and I was very vigilant.

I was like, okay, I have to watch out for this. Cause when you get older, you become different. So I'll have to be vigilant. But what I noticed was if I could, you know, sum it up, was that nobody I knew and nobody I could really see as a model around me had found what I would call a lasting fulfillment or a sense of wholeness. They seemed restless, discontented, and that kind of thing.

So I'm curious to what would you say, what would you define now as real happiness? The kind of real happiness that you're talking about in your book and what has mindfulness got to do with finding it? Well, thank you for liking the title. I didn't choose the title, but the publisher chose the title. It worked for me. But so did I. I had a little bit of mixed feelings about it, just in that so many people define happiness as something superficial, and this is seeking pleasure or, which we do anyway, or being kind of happy go lucky and conflict avoidant and refusing to see pain or suffering.

And so I was concerned about that. And sure enough, when I went on the tour for the book, many people would say that to me, like, you know, How can you want to be happy all the time? It's stupid. You know, or something like that. But I was defining happiness, I would continue to define happiness, as a sense of inner resource. And that's where the real comes into.

It's not that other forms of happiness are unreal, but they're unstable. Right? And so like the first interview I had after the book came out, the interviewer said to me, are you trying to say that the kind of happiness I feel when I have a lovely dinner with my wife isn't real? And I said, of course, I think it's real. But if that's your deepest sense of happiness, you're in trouble because it comes and it goes, it's impermanent. And what about, what I said to him was, what about the night you don't like your dinner all that much? Right? Right. And I didn't say, but of course it could mean you may not like your wife all that much.

Right? I mean, life is so changeable. It's so mutable. And so I think if anything, we should enjoy those moments more. If we're more present, more appreciative, more grateful, it would be wonderful, but it's not the deepest happiness we can know. It's just too unstable.

And so I think about that night, you don't like anything very much including yourself, but you can reach a kind of inner resource that is there for you. Perspective, peace, presence kindness, things like that. And those really do become like resources. So that in wonderful times, you know, when great, great things happen, we don't have to hold on to them so fiercely, thinking, I can't let this go by because I'll never be happy again. And when painful things happen, we can find that kind of strength to relate differently.

So it's a powerful, powerful message to think about where does our deepest happiness actually abide? Yeah. And this is what I find a bit strange, I guess, in a ways that we never questioned this from a young age. We're never taught to. I mean, it's like it's kind of irrelevant. In schooling, it's all about how can you be the most productive citizen possible.

And I think that actually really aggravates the, you know, how we can really go on this endless, in Buddhism there is that term, endless wandering. Isn't there? It's just this endless wandering, trying to find pleasure, trying to find pleasure. And we can busy ourselves with these, with constant self-pleasuring. And it's so easy not to see the fact that underneath it, there's a lack of just a simple feeling of easefulness in our being, a kind of wholeness in our being. We were not really taught to even question where happiness really comes from, what it really is.

But what is your direct experience? We can talk about your own personal experience here. I mean, I have my own descriptive words for what I'm talking about. I often just say wholeness instead of... Wholeness or easefulness. But what is your direct experience over time of finding some kind of lasting background of peace? How has that unfolded for you? And what does it look like on a daily basis? Like, is it, you don't feel heartache anymore, you don't feel anger anymore, you don't feel, or is there something that carries through? What does that look like on a daily basis for you now? That was a very long-winded question.

That's okay. I would hesitate to ever describe some state where something is no longer ever arising and I think that's unrealistic. And also I think defies reality, you know, the, which is always changing. And so many times people will say things at the end of the retreat, for example like, how can I stay as concentrated as I am here at the retreat? And I say, it's not going to happen. Or how can I keep mindfulness all day long? I said, that's not going to happen either.

You know, so words like maintain, keep and stay, I think, I use them too, you know? But I think it's more that we renew and can remember how to access different parts of ourselves, you know, different layers or different levels. And so, it's through mindfulness actually that it happens because. Or maybe you have a disappointment. Something didn't go right. And, you know, your first impulse is to pile on.

I never do anything right. It's all my fault. Anyone else in this position would have been just fine. You know. It's only me and this is going to last the rest of my life.

And we need some mindfulness to be able to say, okay, this is what actually happened. This happens in life, right? We don't always get what we want. Things are disappointing or we disappoint ourselves. But all that other stuff, it's just like a story that we're adding onto it and, and it makes us miserable. We take things personally.

There's another example that it's just the unfolding of life. Like I was just in Ireland. I just got back from Ireland three days ago. And last year when I taught in Ireland and this man told me at the end of the course, he told this fantastic story about traveling in the States and some incredible airport delay and he ended up landing at a New York city airport after midnight, and his luggage had been lost. He and his friends missed their connection.

And this woman came out from some door to help them. And he said she looked worse than we did. You know, like it's after midnight, everyone's miserable and angry. And he said she said if he happened to have a traveling banjo with him. And he saw her name tag said, Irene.

So he said she looked like she hadn't been serenaded in a while. So he started serenading her and singing Good Night, Irene, Good Night. All these people started coming out of doors and singing along and then at the end the woman said, I am the best person in this company at finding luggage. I am going to find your luggage. I'm going to get you a great connection.

You know. So I saw him again this year and I told him like four days after he told that story, I was in France and my luggage got lost. And I said, I didn't have a banjo and I wasn't about to start serenading anybody. But his example actually was in my mind, you know, and because we can take things so personally, like, you know, I had checked three times on that journey to make sure my luggage wasn't going to get lost. It got lost.

I was, the airline's out to get me clearly. And to realize that's just extra suffering, which we don't need. We can let go of that. Yeah. So in any moment when, you know, so the idea of this, you know, saying something like you will get a lasting sense of ongoing peace and fulfillment that will stay with you day in, day out forever is more realistic, you're saying to say, you know, you have things that you can call on, you know, deeper or more expansive or more resourceful parts of your being that you can call on at any moment when things are going well and when things aren't going well.

So it opens up more choice for you. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I don't think many people find, my observation is and I think this is changing now because of the kind of mindfulness revolution that's happening which is a really wonderful thing, but my observation is there's not really that many people because we're not, I guess, because we're not taught. There's not that many people who really find this deeper sense of, I guess, that inner resource. We're not taught to have it.

It seems that human minds don't go there without a little bit of training, without a little bit of support. And maybe in our culture these days, maybe it's a little bit more aggravated. Some parts of our mind might be more aggravated than others. What do you think are the main things that are really, what do you think the things are that are really blocking most people from having access to those resources that you're talking about and finding that sense of real happiness? Are there mind patterns or... Yeah, well, I mean, there are probably many, many mind patterns, you know.

I think partly the idea that these qualities can be trained is a little bizarre for us. You know, that you can train compassion, you can train love or loving kindness, you can train gratitude, you can train these other things. It doesn't make a lot of sense to us. And I understand why not. It sounds a little strange.

You know, like I did a weekend retreat and I came out compassionate or something. You know, that's weird. But, in truth, say in Buddhist psychology, all of those qualities I mentioned and many more are considered emergent properties of how we pay attention. So we know attention can be trained. That's the whole purpose of meditation, right? So, you know, if you're in an elevator and somebody is talking to you and you're not really listening, there is not going to be much of a sense of connection.

Right? You're thinking about your email or something else. And if you realize that and you actually just arrive and you listen, you're fully there, that's the ground out of which a genuine sense of connection, even fleeting, can emerge. And you know, so how do we pay attention to one another? And what do we pay attention to? You know, if we're thinking about ourselves as an example, at the end of the day, almost as though to evaluate ourselves and pretty well, all we think about it is the mistakes we've made and what we've done wrong and what we should have done better, let's just say. So much so, that your whole sense of who you are and all that you will ever be just collapses around the stupid thing you said at lunch. You know, it's almost like asking yourself, anything else happened today? Like, any good within me? And you know, some people don't like that cause it takes intentionality.

It's a stretch. It's not totally comfortable for everybody. But it's not as people fear. People fear that it's moving from a true place, like seeing one's problems, to moving to a phony or hypocritical place. But it's not.

It's moving from a true place to another true place that tends to get very little air time. Yeah. You can just change your focus. Yeah. So what happens when we change our focus is that we feel a different, like our spirits lift.

We feel that sense of resource or possibility. We feel connected to somebody else, if we're focusing on them in that way. And then there's a very, very large question of who do we pay attention to and who do we ignore? Who do we discount? Do we look right through? And so, if we shift the way we pay attention, these qualities will come forth. And so, I think people, otherwise we do kind of stand aside and thinking, well, that's just a pipe dream. That's just a fairytale.

You know, you can't really live that way, but you can live that way. And we need the training. So if I'm hearing you right too, this is something that's so, think crucial to really kind of reiterate, is that one thing that you just said is that our common assumptions about where happiness comes from are often the very thing that keeps us from it and that happiness is a skill. Yeah that's so important to know and so, and really so empowering. Especially for someone like myself.

There was a time in my life where I never thought it would be possible just to have the amount of wellbeing that I have now. I just, I mean, I really just, if you hadn't told me, you know, one day you won't feel like you hate yourself, that you won't feel this bad, I would have just said, well, that's, I don't know, like fairytales are for TV, not, you know. But I'm really so surprised. I wish somebody had of told me this when I was 17. It would have been...

So I hope there's some 17 year olds watching this who can hear this message because it's a powerful message. Yeah. And you can, and it's amazing when you practice this skill, what can really happen. It's truly amazing. I'd like to talk a little bit about loving kindness because you have really been a pioneer in bringing this, the consciousness of loving kindness kind of into the West.

And the great thing that's happening right now is because a little bit of research has come out about it, it's starting to become a bit of a buzz word. People are, because I think the problem with loving kindness is, you know, Western minds, we find a concept like that, it just sounds too sappy for us. So we've got some good solid research for the Western mind now, so we can all try it. But could you give your definition of what loving kindness is and why you feel like it's really important on the path of mindful living? Well you're right. A lot of people think it's just so saccharine and gooey and, you know, sappy.But that's not from within.That's the thought or the assumption and the actual experience is something very different.

The word loving kindness is the common translation of a word from Pali, the language of the original Buddhist texts, that word is Metta, METTA, and a literal translation is friendship. So it's about the art of friendship with ourselves, and that means all aspects of ourselves, and ultimately with all of life. And so I usually define it as connection, a profound sense of connection because it actually doesn't imply that you like everybody, it doesn't even mean you like anybody. But there's this deep knowing our lives have something to do with one another. And the corollary understanding is that everybody counts, everybody matters.

Not everybody's going to be my best friend, but everybody matters. And so, our whole way of relating to ourselves and to others gets first challenged and then transformed. And so, I know that one part of the importance of loving kindness on the path to mindful living too is that sometimes we open up awareness, we start to become more and more aware, more and more aware. And I think you alluded to this in the beginning of our chat about how, I think, it's really common on the path to more conscious living that we can actually get quite self-critical and quite judgy. In fact, I think that's a really big challenge for spiritual practitioners.

We can get quite judgy. You know. We have very strict ideas about how we should be and how others should be. And often we can see difficult, challenging emotions or challenging behaviors as a sign of absolute failure, unforgivable failure. And we can be so hard on ourselves.

And quite usually, I think it ripples out to other people as well, when we're that harsh with ourselves. We kind of tend to get a bit harsh with others. So, I'm so glad that this conversation is coming up more and more about loving kindness and easefulness and gentleness and taking it easy on this path to mindful living. Having compassion, I think it's so important. So yeah.

So I'm glad. First of all, I want to say how much I like the word "judgy," which we don't have. Judgy. Well, I have to say as an Australian, what we like to do is we like to chop any long words in half and then put an O or Y on the end of them. That's why I'm not known as Melissa.

Everybody calls me, Melli. You've got to chop it in half and put it a, so judgy, that's that's my Australian translation. It was fantastic. We're alll judgy, which we are. Yes, we can get judgy.

But this meeting of compassion with judgy, just diffuses all the aggression and the tightness and the holding around it. Doesn't it? And my experience is that it's a profound relief to let it all go. Well really, you know, it's like your bathed in sunlight. Yes, you are. It's a really profound part of the mindfulness path, even from the very, very beginning.

Like my first meditation instruction was sit down and feel your breath. You know, I've come all the way from States to India to find a teacher. I found a teacher. I found a sitting and the first instruction was sit down and feel your breath. As I often say, my first reaction was great disappointment.

I thought, feel my breath? I came all the way to India, where's the fantastic esoteric technique that's going to change my whole life? And then I thought, how hard can this be? And then it was like, whoa?I had thought maybe it'd be, what will it be like? 800, 900 breaths before my mind wanders. And to my absolute astonishment, it was like one breath or maybe two or maybe half a breath and I'd be gone. I'd be way gone, so distracted. And then comes the magic moment when you realize you've been gone. You've strayed from whatever object you had set out to pay attention to.

And that's the moment really where we have the chance to be quite different. So instead of being all judgy and, you know, getting down on ourselves or calling ourselves a failure or whatever, we can practice letting go. And with some kindness toward ourselves, we can practice beginning again. So the very art of the meditation is enriched by and interwoven with the skill of loving kindness. Because without that, you can't actually let, go and begin again.

You just go on this rant about yourself. You know, I'm the only one who's thinking. No one else in the room is thinking. They don't have any distractions. I have all these, you know, which first of all, tends to add some quite considerable length to the time of the distraction.

And it's so exhausting. It's so demoralizing. It's not a way to go on. It's not a way to learn. It's not a way to get better at something or make progress at something.

So I think that's one of the kind of itty bitty moments of meditation that has a huge life lesson. That's a skills training right there. And it goes right into work with us and every endeavor that we do cause the truth, I think, of life is that we're always having to begin again, that nothing in life is a straight shot. We're always having to change course or adjust or be flexible or find another way or start over and encourage ourselves. And that's what we're always doing.

Yeah, I love that you brought that up and also my experience in learning meditation in the beginning was that, that kind of instruction about friendliness, loving kindness or self-compassion was a little absent. It was very much just kind of come back to the breath, come back to the breath, come back to the breath. And what I noticed is that when I started to introduce that critical instruction, I felt like my practice went from being about getting somewhere or being something more, which had quite a, you know, there was a lot of jaw grimacing groom and forehead grimacing and tension in the shoulders. I'd kind of get up sweating sometimes. And then all of a sudden when I got it, I got it.

And my whole practice became, this is a time for me. This is an oasis. This is a nourishing. Like the favorite part of the day, not at all a chore. This is me becoming deeply in touch with life and deeply in touch with myself and it's a joy.

That was how big the difference was in my practice. So it became that meditation is now a love affair with life. That's right. Big difference. Yeah.

So I would love if we could, I love in these chats if it's not just all about in us just talking about it, but actually doing it. Would you care to maybe guide the whole community in a practice, a Metta practice? Sure, sure. That'd be delightful. So,we can start. You can sit comfortably.

And close your eyes or not, however you feel mostat ease. One way of doing loving kindness practice, rather than resting your attention on the feeling of the breath, you rest your attention on the silent repetition of certain phrases. The phrases are the conduit for the heart's energy. They're the vehicle that help us pay attention differently. The feeling tone of the whole practice is generosity.

It's gift giving. It's generosity of the spirit. We're offering through the phrases this sense of connection, of care and so on. And the first recipient is ourselves. You can choose three or four phrases.

Common phrases are things like: May I be safe. Be happy. Be healthy. Live with ease. May I be safe.

Be happy. Be healthy. Live with ease. Live with ease means the things in our day to day life like livelihood or family may not be such a struggle,. May I live with ease.

You can choose these phrases or any phrases that are big enough, broad enough, and that makes sense to you that you can make that offering to yourself and ultimately to others. You just repeat the phrases over and over again, with enough space and enough silence. So that it's a rhythm that's pleasing to you. This is like the song of the heart. Gather all your attention behind one phrase at a time.

You don't have to try to force or manufacture any special kind of feeling. The power of the practice is in that wholehearted gathering. May I be safe. Be happy. Be healthy.

Live with ease. The skill's that is really the same your mind will likely wander quite a lot. That's okay. When you realize it, see if you can gently let go, and return. And see if you can call to mind a benefactor.

That's someone who's helped you. Maybe they've helped you directly, they shall pick you up when you fallen down or they've mentored you or maybe you've never met them. They've inspired you from afar. If someone like that comes to mind, you can bring them here. Get an image of them.

Say their name to yourself. Get a feeling for their presence. And offer the phrases of loving kindness to them. And even if the words aren't perfect, they're the vehicle for the heart's energy. May you be safe.

Be happy. Be healthy. Live with ease. And then a friend. Let's start with a friend who's doing pretty well right now.

They may not be perfectly happy, but at least in some arena of life, they're enjoying success or good fortune. If someone like that comes to mind, bring them here. You can get an image of them or say their name to yourself. See what happens as you offer the phrases of loving kindness to them. Do you have a friend who's having a difficult time right now? Bring them here and offer the phrases of loving kindness to them.

And then all beings everywhere. All people, all creatures, all those in existence, near and far, known and unknown. May all beings be safe. Be happy. Be healthy.

Live with ease. And when you feel ready, you can open your eyes. Rest your gaze. Thank you for that practice. I just have one last question.

And that is, as you reflect on your journey into mindful living over the years and the decades actually of practice that you've had, what would be one, would be your greatest realization or discovery. Wow. That's that's the big, last question. Well, since we've just been doing loving kindness, I'll talk about it within that realm. And I think that actually happened when I went to Burma in 1985 to do an intensive period of loving kindness practice.

It was three months. And like many realizations, it sounds maybe almost like nothing, like, oh, yeah, that just makes sense. So didn't you know that before? But, but to really deeply know it and the changes that that brings versus something else. So it was something like that loving kindness and compassion and love exist as a potential or a capacity within me, and that other people may awaken it or threaten it or whatever, but it's actually within me. And I realized that before then I kind of almost thought of qualities like that like a package that the delivery person was bringing to my door.

And if they turned around right on the doorstep, I was out of luck. It was gone. There would be no love in my life. And that I realized, well, that's totally untrue, that the ability, the capacity is always mine. It's within me.

And that, it was a very empowering kind of realization. Thank you for sharing that. And thank you so much. I just want to take this opportunity to really, from the bottom of my heart, to really thank you sincerely for the work that you do, because it's been, it's really touched my life and I think it's, I know that it's touching the lives of many people, so thank you so much. And is there anything else that you'd like to share before we close up? I don't know.

Listening to you makes me want to go back to Australia. You're welcome here anytime. Thank you. All right. Well, thank you again., I really enjoyed it.

Thank you. And to all of our viewers, I really, really highly recommend you check out Real Happiness. You know, I read a lot of books a lot of the time. I'm kind of a nerdy reader. And it's been a while since I've come across a book, that's really, I found it a real page turner and I really loved it.

So I highly recommend you check out the book and Sharon, where can they find out more about your work if they want to touch in with more stuff you're up to? My website is simply SharonSalzberg.com. Your spell check will likely try to change Salzburg to S A L Z B U R G, but it's S A L Z B E R G. All right, Sharon. Thanks again. Go.

Well, my friend and we'll hopefully get to check in with you some other time soon. That would be lovely. Thank you.

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