Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Noted Spiritual Teacher is Here to Tell You How To Get Happier!!

By Judith England

Stop for a minute and ask yourself a simple question: what makes you happy? If you're like most people, you will realize right away that it isn't things. It's the people you love. It's the special places you go. It's the wonderful but fleeting experiences of life itself.

But much of the time we act as though it is stuff that makes us happy.

We live in a culture that loves more. More money, more stuff, more trips to the mall. More stimuli, more speed, more of everything! We move so quickly from one experience to the next, never in the present moment. It seldom seems to be enough.

It seldom seems to make us happy.

Sharon Salzberg, a New York Times best-selling author and one of the nation's leading spiritual teachers, has devoted years of thought to this and other questions. On Sunday, September 25th, she is coming to Albany to give a free lecture on the subject "Real Happiness," also the title of her new book. The lecture, which begins at 5:30 p.m., will be held at the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Albany, 405 Washington Ave., Albany. Salzberg will explain the benefits of meditation and answer questions. The event is free, but donations are welcome.

For more information, go to

In Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation, Salzberg offers a simple and workable recipe for finding peace of mind. She gives an antidote for the illness of "more," a step-by-step meditation practice and a challenge: Try it for five minutes a day, for 28 days. After that, you'll be hooked! Why? Because it doesn't take long to feel the benefits of stopping and breathing. It takes no time at all to realize that a daily meditation practice deeply enhances one's quality of life and living, regardless of what that life might look like.

As Salzberg writes: "We might not be able to change the circumstances of our lives, but we can change our relationship to those circumstances."

Here are some thoughts Salzberg shared during an interview for the Times Union's Holistic Health Blog:

Q: How would you respond to people who considers themselves too busy to "just sit" and meditate?

A: I find that reaction very interesting. I often say that if most of us were told, "Here's this activity you can do 20 minutes a day and it will really help your friend," most of us would jump at the chance. But framed as "It will really help you," suddenly we are too busy; it seems selfish, not worth doing. I'd say start with just 5 minutes of formal practice each day, and add a few fun things -- like not answering your phone on the first ring, but letting it ring 3 times, and breathing; have one cup of tea or coffee a day without multi-tasking at the same time -- no checking email, having a conversation, listening to the news at the same time. These things really are fun when put into practice.

Q: In your new book, you speak about the life events that led you to explore meditation. In all your years of personal practice as well as teaching, what are some common threads that trigger a person to try meditating?

A: Very often, as in my case, some kind of unhappiness or discontent leads one to explore meditation. Sometimes it is an intense curiosity about life, a wish to live not just on the surface of things that brings one to that exploration. And these days, with so much research going on, often people are motivated by seeking better health, less stress and real help with all kinds of concerns, including ADHD, addiction, and a long list of conditions people find limiting or depleting.

Q: If meditation is about simply "being with" all that we are -- sensation, thought, emotion -- wouldn't it promote a sort of passive acceptance of our life, rather than an invitation to grow and change?

A: I think that's the common misperception, and it is easy to see why -- the words we tend to use to describe meditation can well imply passivity, but it's not what actually happens. If we learn to simply be with our experience, that's the beginning of the process of insight. If we are struggling against our emotions, our bodies, there's not a lot of learning that can happen. If we are overcome and defined by all of our changing states, there's not a lot of learning that can happen. As we learn to be with all of our experience, we are creating the space we need to make choices out of clarity and wisdom.

To close our chat, I asked Salzberg to share a favorite quote. Her response: "The door of possibility has been opened -- the door to authentic and accessible happiness. Welcome. Come in and sit."

Writer Judith England, who writes the Holistic Health blog for the Times Union, is a certified Kripalu yoga instructor and a massage therapist. This article appeared first in the Times Union. Read more about Salzberg's book, "Lovingkindness," on the Huffington Post.

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