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Dear friends,

Last year, when lockdown started, I took an as-yet-unused diary and started writing a short prayer in it every morning. It was somewhat of a record of desires, but also a record of events. Numbers feature highly in the prayers, and also: hares, and whatever other animals I could see. I’d been reading the Greek myths at the time, so plenty of the prayers are to Hestia, the Greek god of hospitality, one of my favorites. I knew that perfection is an old enemy of mine, so I had a goal of writing a prayer in it three mornings a week and for a few months I made it. 

Then a grief happened, and I was knocked off center. Strangely, the very thing that might have helped me make an undemanding record of what was happening was too much. That little book went unopened for a few weeks. There’s a silence in the prayers, which, I suppose, makes sense.

Then I started it again when I began to feel less invaded by time. A new rhythm on the blank pages. Then another grief, and I lost the pace again. It’s no surprise, it’s been the way of things for me — you start, you flail, you start again. You start, you flail, you feel like a failure for flailing, give up, then recognize the need and start again. 

This week’s On Being interview is with the beloved meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg. She’s credited with being one of the people who brought Buddhist meditation techniques to the west. Since 1971 — for 50 years now — she’s been renowned for her writing and classes, her teachings and retreats. And for her, she speaks about the radical lesson of start; and start again. You begin a meditation practice, perhaps sitting for two breaths. Then it builds up. Then it loses its rhythm. Start again. This isn’t an indication of being a failure — all it is is a reminder that we are returning creatures. “The healing is in the return … not in not getting lost in the beginning,” Sharon says. For her, starting over is the most significant thing she’s learned in all these 50 years. 

This hour considers how meditation can be a companion in a difficult year. Krista spoke with Sharon near the end of 2020, and what unfolded between them lands with even greater resonance in the protracted difficult time we remain in. Those who might misunderstand the powerful truths that meditation tells about suffering might think that meditation could be a practice of escapism; but as Sharon highlights, meditation can help us cope with the “visiting forces” that interrupt (some might say invade) our lives at times. We are not to blame for these, but we might have some capacity to learn how to respond with more equanimity to these forces we cannot control. It is easy to get overwhelmed by the overwhelm; if anyone didn’t know that before, they know it since Covid. But there’s a gift in a practice that can help us know what we can respond to; know what is beyond our control; know what is manageable; and figure out how to survive along the way. 

The practices Sharon teaches are open-eyed about suffering in the world, and about suffering in our lives. She doesn’t see that mindfulness is a solution to all of this — some sufferings are far bigger than an individual can change — but she does remind us that naming a problem can be a relief, because it can remove shame, or despair, or that awful feeling of “it’s my fault” or “I’m alone.” Life hurts enough without making it hurt more; and the conversation between Krista and Sharon this week is a balm. 

There are pains in the world. Feeling unsettled, feeling overwhelmed, feeling alone, and feeling ashamed are unlikely to help in the worldmaking work of making the world more just, equitable, and sustainable. The gift of this conversation lies in its hospitality: in Krista and Sharon’s turning toward each other for conversation and support; in Sharon’s reminders that we can be hospitable, even to the things that threaten to overwhelm us; and in the utterly user-friendly practical tools offered throughout the conversation. 

Much of these tools you’ll have heard of already, but as you hear them again, you’ll be reminded. Not that you forgot them, but that any time — with something as simple as the breath — you can start again. There are systems of oppression that will demand much work from many, collaborating together. 

 

Beir bua, 

Pádraig Ó Tuama
host of Poetry Unbound

 

 


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Experience On Being as never before. Become more fluent in your humanity; shape your presence in the world. The Wisdom app is a new adventure: curated learning; new teaching and reflections from Krista; guided contemplative exercises; and events with other members to build a community of accompaniment.

You can download the app and sample the first course — Hope Is a Muscle — in the Apple or Google Play App Stores. Search “On Being Wisdom.” Or, join through the link below to immediately purchase the full experience and receive an invitation to our first Practice Space with other members, Tuesday, August 17th. If price is an obstacle, learn more about our Wisdom app Fair Pricing options.

Read Krista’s note about why this project and why now, or watch our July app launch event to learn more.

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This Week at The On Being Project


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On Being with Krista Tippett
Sharon Salzberg
The Healing Is In the Return

Caring for the world while learning kindness toward yourself. Holding to what is whole and true and undamaged, even in the face of loss. 

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In Case You Missed It


Seeking Wisdom and Social Healing In a Time of Division

“I’ve seen what’s possible. When you see that, it awakens something in you and that does continue to provide me hope." 

- Lucas Johnson, Executive Director of Civil Conversations and Social Healing

On July 7th, Krista and Lucas participated in an online conversation with Keith Allred, Executive Director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse (NICD), and Rev. Heather Shortlidge, Transitional Head Pastor at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church (NYAPC). Watch again here.

 

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