Meditation is About Recovering and Starting Again

Sharon Salzberg explains how she discovered the most important part of meditation practice.

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As part of the “Real Love with Sharon Salzberg” event hosted by Women of Wisdom and Mindful, meditation teacher and author Sharon Salzberg discussed the true meaning of love for ourselves, others and life. The following is an excerpt of her talk.

Real Love with Sharon Salzberg

  • 3:00

The first meditation instruction I ever got was sit down and feel your breath, just feel the natural flow of your in and out breath. And as many of you have probably heard, I was very disappointed at first. I thought, “Feel my breath? I came all the way to India.” You know, where’s the magical esoteric practice thats going to wipe out all my suffering and make me a totally happy person?

I’d been going to school in Buffalo, New York and I thought, I could’ve stayed in Buffalo to feel my breath. And then I thought, “How hard can this be?” And it was like whoa—it is not so easy. I thought ok, what will it be, like 800 breaths or 900 breaths before my mind starts to wander? And to my absolute amazement, it was one breath and I’d be gone. And I’d be way gone.

What I heard over and over again, what I did not believe actually, was the most important moment in that practice happens after you’ve been gone: after you’ve been distracted, after you’ve fallen asleep, after you’ve just connected. Because it’s really a practice of recovery—how do we let go, and how do we start again?

It’s really a practice of recovery—how do we let go, and how do we start again?

It’s not that easy, because we are so conditioned. Everybody knows from life, we just sit down to think something through and work, and our minds jump to the past, they jump to the future, they’re all over the place. And very often what happens is just this tirade: I can’t believe I’m thinking, no one else in the room is thinking, they’re not thinking how many people live here. Every single one of them is on the verge of enlightenment. I’m the only one who’s thinking, why am I thinking? I’m so stupid, I’m so bad, no one else is thinking. They’re sitting here in bliss. Maybe they are thinking, but they’re thinking beautiful thoughts. I think these stupid thoughts, like I am thinking about roundabouts, who thinks about roundabouts? I don’t work for the highway department ….

That’s usually what we do. And when we fall into that, not only have we extended the length of the distractions somewhat considerably, but it’s so demoralizing. It’s so exhausting, we don’t feel the wherewithal to start over, to come back, to begin again.

So the secret ingredient of that whole process is self-compassion. You don’t need to go on that tirade, and if it begins you can let it go. You can have some kindness towards yourself and just return. That’s why we say meditation is a practice of resilience. We say the healing is in the return, not in never having wandered to begin with.