Grace Kraaijvanger in Conversation With Sharon Salzberg

My dear Hivery Community! I am so excited to share this post with you today. I’ve been following the career of Sharon Salzberg for years now. She, along with Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein, established the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, back in the mid-1970s and have since become three of the most influential meditation teachers in the United States.

Sharon now splits her time between Barre and New York City, teaching meditation wherever she goes. She also is the author of the bestselling book Real Love, which I highly recommend.

Please mark your calendars because Sharon herself will be at The Hivery for a one-night-only event on Wednesday, Feb. 21 from 7 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. talking about Equanimity with our community. Please purchase tickets today and tell your friends! This event will sell out.

To help you get more acquainted with Sharon and her work, I had the great fortune of hopping on the phone to interview her in early December. Here is an excerpt from our conversation. Enjoy!

Exclusive Interview with
Meditation Master Teacher Sharon Salzberg

sharon salzberg.jpg

Grace: So often women come to The Hivery feeling stuck, or at the beginning of a transition in their lives, which often can feel like “stuckness.” What does the integration of mindfulness/meditation mean during periods of transformation? What answers can we find?

Sharon: The place I’d start would be to encourage people to hang out with that feeling of stuckness. We can be impatient for a resolution and get stressed out in the process. We believe the process of transformation is best served by a kind of balance. But when we can get interested in our experience and have a bit of space from it, we don’t feel as crushed and overwhelmed by what’s going on.

It helps to feel connected to the emotion, but not overwhelmed by it. And this is best served by being able to hang out in some kindness to the self, in that feeling of stuckness, without having to push or prod or force anything to happen. Most of us are not skilled in hanging out with uncomfortable feelings. We aren’t trained to do that.

Grace: Yes. I think we can think of being stuck as being a problem where we are "broken." But at the same time, so many beautiful things can come out of that place. It can be painful, though, while you’re in there.

How does this relate to women and creating work? So many of us feel like we are juggling too many responsibilities while also striving for balance. I’m definitely guilty of that—you should have seen me this morning trying to usher my kids out the door for school!

How can we use mindfulness to get out of the cycle of overwhelm?

Sharon: I’m a believer in daily, formal meditation practice, just 10-15 minutes. It can be hard for women to take even that amount of time for themselves, but if you do that, it can provide you with a platform for what we really encourage, called "short moments, many times."

In terms of multitasking, you may not be able to stop all day every day, but if you can take small moments to do one thing at a time. Like drinking a cup of tea and enjoying it. We are so used to drinking beverages while watching TV, while on a conference call, that we feel perpetually unfulfilled. Research tells us that when we’re multitasking, we actually aren’t doing anything very well.

Other short activities can also help you find peace and pause. One is waiting for the phone to ring three times before picking it up, instead of racing to pick it up on the first ring. This helps create space. Another idea is to write an email and not send it right away, and instead take a few breaths first.

Grace: This is so true. The less we do, the better, especially moment by moment.

Sharon: Exactly. And you don’t have to look at your day as a whole. Thinking about how to bring peace in those short moments is enough.

Grace: I started out as a dancer, and feel like we did mindfulness training in ballet school, but didn’t know it was mindfulness training until much later. Because of that training, it is interesting for me to see mindfulness and meditation become more popular now.

I feel like there is a groundswell of interest in this area. What is that like for you—being such a pillar in this movement for more than 40 years—to see mindfulness and meditation become so popular?

Sharon: It is astonishing, extraordinary. It’s great that access is so widespread now. Of course there are problems, too. I worry about expensive teacher trainings because the old fashioned way was to train for years, not hours. That isn’t to say that the people doing the training aren’t doing amazing work. I just caution people not to feel like they are “done” at a certain time, but instead that we are perpetually students.

I also see a danger in doing this work on your own. There is so much trauma, projection, and uncertainty in the general population. It is good to have a sense of community when you are doing this work.

Grace: I couldn’t agree with you more. I often tell people who feel creatively stuck that they are not permanently stuck, but rather might be lonely and isolated. Isn’t it true that it can be transformative when people feel like they belong?

Sharon: Absolutely. Finding people who share your values is a gift. Just as we need help at times, we can be the helper at other times.

Grace: I’d love to talk about your event at The Hivery around the topic of equanimity. What does that concept mean?

Sharon: I love equanimity. It is an odd word and we can tend to think of it as meaning indifference and not caring, but it doesn’t mean those things at all. I like to think about it in the context of the voice of wisdom. It is the balance born of wisdom. For example, you may be deeply compassionate about a friend and try to do everything you can do to make that person change/get better, but the voice of wisdom tells us that it isn’t up to us, it isn’t in our hands.

Burnout is related to trying to make someone be happy or do something you think they should be doing. Equanimity is the opposite of that. It supports qualities like love and compassion. It means balance. The balance born of love and wisdom—wisdom that we are not in control. When you don’t lead with wisdom, you can often feel responsible with everyone else’s happiness, which can create burnout.

Equanimity is the strength that fortifies love and compassion. It goes hand-in-hand with the truth of how things are.

Grace: You spoke earlier about being a perpetual student. What does that mean?

Sharon: It is extremely useful never to feel like you’re done learning. I’ve had wonderful teachers throughout my meditation life and still have teachers. I find it really fun to be a student. It is a life-long journey. We are always learning, no matter our age or experience.

Grace: Sharon, thank you so much for your time. I cannot wait for you to come to The Hivery. I know we will have a lot of fun, and I'm so excited to share your mindfulness teachings with our community.

Sharon: Thanks for chatting, Grace. This was wonderful.

From one of the world’s foremost experts on lovingkindness meditation comes a field guide for anyone seeking awakened living in the 21st century. Real Love will revolutionize what true connection and love mean to you, and empower you with practical and creative tools to embody it.