I am so excited about the Newark Peace Education Summit. I cannot wait to attend. I was recently introduced to Sharon Salzberg, one of the speakers. She is the co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society. Sharon’s latest book is “Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation: A 28-Day Program.” Sharon, along with people like His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Goldie Hawn, Donna Karan, Martin Luther King III, Marianne Williamson, Deepak Chopra and Russell Simmons, is going to be speaking and participating in panels and workshops in Newark at the summit on May 13 to 15.
I was recently able to ask Sharon some burning questions! I thought I would share the conversation with all of you.
SHC: Sharon, I consider myself a peaceful person and somewhat of a yogi, but honestly, meditation has always been difficult for me. What advice would you give to those of us, and I am sure there are many, who struggle in the silence?
SS: I usually encourage people to examine their expectations, which often turn out to be unfair to themselves and unrealistic. Do you define “good” meditation as having no thoughts at all? Having only beautiful thoughts? Having only serene, lovely experiences? Most people define it in just these ways and therefore suffer from a lot of self-judgment and often give up. In fact good meditation doesn’t necessarily mean any of the above. I define it more as applying greater awareness and compassion to whatever experience you are having. Sometimes it is very serene and quiet, sometimes a jumble of planning and regrets. All of it can be considered “good,” depending on how we are relating to them. I often say, sincerely, that you cannot be having a “wrong” or “bad” experience while meditating — things might be very challenging, but if you are approaching them with awareness and compassion, you are doing fine.
SHC: With all that is going on in the world today, how can we cultivate right intention and kindness in our everyday lives?
SS: Insight into interconnectedness helps a lot. If we feel separate and apart, as though what happens “over there” is nicely going to just stay “over there,” we are deluded. it doesn’t take a spiritual understanding these days to see how interconnected all of our lives are — environmental consciousness shows us that, economics shows us that, even epidemiology shows us that. What happens “over there” affects us over here, and what we do here ripples out elsewhere. The heart’s response to recognizing interconnectedness is right intention and greater kindness.
SHC: Is each of us born with compassion? Or is it something we learn to cultivate? I ask because I have young children, and one wish I have for them is that they grow up to be compassionate people.
SS: I think each of us is born with an innate capacity for compassion, but that it is a skill that needs to be developed, too. A capacity that isn’t nurtured and strengthened could remain hidden from us. The way to cultivate greater compassion isn’t by forcing yourself to pretend you feel something you actually aren’t feeling. It is by expanding your awareness so that you pay attention to yourself and others in a different way. If you see your own anger or jealousy or greed, instead of deriding these states as awful or terrible, we can recognize them as states of suffering — that elicits compassion. And we learn to really look at and listen to others, to include them in our awareness, rather than exclude or dismiss them — that also elicits compassion. We also need to recognize the strength and power in compassion, instead of thinking of it as a weakness — we do that by directly looking at the compassionate state, not getting bogged down in assumptions or preconceptions about it.
The Newark Peace Education Summit is a three-day conference focusing on peacemaking practices from around the world. It features panels and workshops with His Holiness the XIVth Dalai Lama, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, Somaly Mam, Nobel Laureates and peace advocates from a wide cross section of cultures, disciplines and perspectives. The summit will explore the programs, policies, and methods used by communities to establish peace, why and how they work, and how to replicate them in America and around the world. The event will be held at the NJPAC (New Jersey Performing Arts Center) in Newark, New Jersey.