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Real Happiness and Meditation

The 28-Day Meditation Challenge: One Month Later

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I am at Kripalu Yoga Institute teaching with Krishna Das, and of course it is April Fools Day. The only prank played on me was by my friend Jerry, whom I mentioned briefly in Real Happiness – he was a fireman at the World Trade center on Sept 11. He went this morning to get me a cup of coffee, and returned with one, saying “They only had decaf.” Then he laughed and said “April Fools.”

It felt wonderful to celebrate normality, even cheesiness, a great contrast to commemorating trauma. I find myself emphasizing here, as I did so often on the book tour, bringing meditation into ordinary life, being present and grounded with what is, having a tool that isn’t exotic or esoteric, that can accompany us anywhere, into any situation or feeling. And so we have awareness of the breath, and the body, and our emotions and thoughts. Very plain. Very transformative.

And here, like so many places, people come up to me and say, "I did the challenge," or "When will you do another one?” It was really a great experience and I’m delighted to meet so many people I hadn’t known were doing it, and to hear that it helped so many get a different sense of practice. Someone here told me, "I have meditated every single day since!" and was so happy. I was so happy too.

- Sharon Salzberg

I have meditated continually since the challenge stopped at the end of February and I do feel a shift of consciousness. April Fool's brought another 12 inches to mid coast Maine so change is real but subtle. Just like my meditation. I do think that writing about the experience of meditation sharpened my awareness of it. So I would say I miss blogging. Where I feel the shift is in an increased ability to let go at certain times and begin again. Here are a few short stories of my challenges to practice letting go.

Trash Can
Morning Time to feed the dogs. I reach for the container of dog food on top of the refrigerator. It topples to the floor when my shoulder tweaked. Spilling grains and dried vegetables all over the kitchen floor. I bellow in dismay. "Anyone die?" My husband calls down from his computer upstairs. "Nooooo!" Then I simply grab the dust pan and begin to sweep up the tiny flakes of grains and bits of dried vegetable and dump them into the trash can. The annoyance of having to stop my routine and sweep and the annoyance of an arthritic shoulder I dump as well.

- Lucinda Ziesing, Writer, Actress, Producer, and Teacher

Because I haven't been meditating every day since the challenge I've been feeling guilty, and wondering if the benefits of my daily sits were "wearing off". Then a few days ago I found myself in a new dentist's office. I noticed I was not stressed. I was mellow, smiling and appreciating the view of the hills and the Frank Sinatra music, in fact I was so enjoying it I heard myself wonder if I could come and hang out more often. The walls were a warm buttery creme color and there were bronze sculptures... I then heard myself wonder if my insurance was really going to cover this whole check up. Long story short, I was pretty present, in the moment, not expecting the worst, but open to what was needed. He was a lovely man: tan, experienced, and was smiling when he said I needed a root canal. Noticing my breathing, I said, uh huh, so what happens now? He said, you go get a root canal. I was like, what do you mean? Isn't this out of the blue? I just met you 4 minutes ago and you tell me to go get a root canal?

Cut to: I'm reclining in another dentist's chair, my mouth is spread open so wide it's shaking. A "rubber dam" is holding it open after my cheek has been jiggled in a friendly yet violent manner, and the monster needle has injected Novocain. I breathed so deeply and so slowly, noticing each and every precious second of every super fascinating breath like it was my last. He kept asking, you okay? And I kept nodding, deliriously enamored by my noticing... my hands, they're relaxed... this breath, so rich, and long, and lovely... You ok? You're doing great. You're going to hear a filing sound now. Then drilling. Sorry, but your nerves are curvy. But I am breathing, and surrendered to this bizarre turn of events this afternoon.

- Daphne Zuniga, Actress

The truth is that my month of meditation has not led to a regular practice, but it has led to regular practice writ large. Let me explain...

I don't wake up every morning, roll over, and head to sit on the mat, as I have always aspired to. Some mornings I do this, most I don't. I still dream of having a ritual of meditation that is consistent, organic, and integral to my life. I haven't given that up.

What I have learned to do is keep my dream alive, without beating myself up about it's delayed manifestation. I have also learned to turn to meditative practices--breathing, being mindful, being metta lovin'--at all kinds of moments through out my strange days. While standing at the airport waiting to board and watching the people pace and crowd, I think, "Here's an opportunity to breathe, to be patient, to trust the universe that I will board when it's right." Having a tool that helps me resist that groupthink of panic and push is an incredible gift.

- Courtney E. Martin, Writer, Teacher, and Speaker, Author of "Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists"

What I find most amazing about this practice is the affirmation that occurs when you become a part of a collective consciousness. Just as our twenty-eight days was closing, a note came home from my son’s school. It said his fifth grade class would be participating in a kindness retreat. An organization called Youth Frontiers does full day workshops to teach children about kindness and compassion with a main intention of deterring school bullying. They do all sorts of exercises throughout the day, with one at the end where they invite the students to stand up and express kindness towards someone they might have been cruel to, or not stood up for when they knew they should. Parents were not invited to attend but according to the teachers it was an amazing day.

When I picked him up from school all the kids were wearing red buttons that say "kindness" in white letters. I couldn't help but feel how connected we all are, and with that I can't help but have faith that goodness can certainly prevail, even in such chaotic times.

- Christine Califra-Schiff, Writer

Over the last month I have thought about the 28 Day Challenge and what a good experience it was for me. It really made me think about my practice. Reading the posts....the comments. I realized that...it really really made me think about my practice and it is not just about sitting. Sharon had made a comment to one of my posts about taking your practice into your everyday life and that really resinated with me. In particular with lovingkindness for myself....as that is something I find more difficult. To sit and say phrases for myself.....feels empty to me.....but to take lovingkindness into my daily life....while it is still challenging for me....it is something I can do. It was so helpful to read that. It was like giving my head a shake (I should have had a V8!!) So I have continued thru March (and upward and onward) to practice lovingkindness for Tracy....in my life. Doing my stretches to help my leg.....nourishing myself - with retreats, with a good book, wholesome food (that includes Ken bread). Things are going ok. When I nourish myself....hold myself with an open loving heart....as best I can, try not to be too harsh when I don't...as best I can....when I can hold myself......things are calmer. Or...I should say....sometimes calm....sometimes not. But when I am anxious...upset...angry and I actually see it.....I remember to breathe. Just breathe. I am here.

- Tracy Strauss, Administration Manager for a Local Courier

It has been almost another 28 days, and I am happy to report that I’m sitting strong. It’s not always a 45 minute sit, and not always peaceful, but even if I can only manage 10 minutes, I am more and more devoted to giving myself the time to just sit, just breathe.

When I was a child I couldn’t understand how my father could go to the same job day after day after day. The idea of repetition was almost repulsive to me. Now of course, I take comfort in the things that don’t change, because so much does. When I can count on something, something as small as the sound of the fans bringing a brush of air to my face while I sit still and silent on the dojo floor, when I can count on something as familiar as my breath, I can for a moment feel safe, happy.

- Riva Weinstein, Artist, Writer and Creativity Coach, modernsacred.com

...I cannot remember when I last meditated, I had stopped somewhere between the 3rd and 4th week of the challenge. Then life took over, I was traveling, I was tired and not practicing yoga or meditating, eating poorly, feeling fat and ugly...

Then I read an interesting article on Ayurveda ( the ancient Indian healing system ) and the causes of disease.I read that toxins accumulate in our cell structure from actions and behaviors from a past life, this life's experience or re-actions. This is called " khavaigunya " or a defective space in an organ or tissue due to a genetic predisposition, trauma or chronic conditions and a likely place for imbalance or disease to arise, often as the result of accumulation of ama (toxic residue).

It sounded like in the 2-3 weeks I did practice I took actions, took baby steps to start eliminating the toxins. Knowing now how much I help myself when I do meditate - 10 minutes a day is a good seed to sprout. again! Starting over....

- Nandini Sharma, Risk Manager for the Consumer Division of a Global Financial Services Company

As a meditation teacher who works a lot with cancer patients, many of whom are going through the toughest times of their lives, I’m often asked, “What can I do?”

We are carrying so much collective stress right now that it's easy to slip into overload and zone out. I remind people of the bare poignancy in Helen Keller’s words that often keep me going: “I am only one. I cannot do everything but still I can do something. I will not refuse to do the something I can do.” If we would all only just do the something we can do we would make of this old world a new world.

James Baldwin said a long time ago: “People pay for what they do. And still more for what they have allowed themselves to become. And they pay for it, very simply, by the lives they lead.”

Sharon has pointed the way and provided the necessary guidebook. But it is up to each one of us to honestly and fully answer the question, “What am I prepared to do?” The simpler question is, “Are you willing to sit?”

- Elesa Commerse, Meditation Teacher working with cancer patients

Read more at the 28-Day Meditation Challenge blog.



For the month of February we've invited a diverse group of people to participate in the meditation program that Sharon Salzberg lays out in her book, Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation: A 28-Day Program

In the group participating, we have a firefighter, a comedian, an investment banker, a teacher, an activist, a human rights worker, and so many more all over North America. We have asked them to reflect on their experiences going. They are blogging about their experiences on Sharon's website: www.sharonsalzberg.com/realhappiness/blog. All are welcome to post comments.

We hope that the challenge fosters real dialogue about the potential of meditation to change one's life, and intrigues more people to find out what meditation is all about.

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SHARON SALZBERG has been a student of meditation since 1971, and leading meditation retreats worldwide since 1974. She teaches both intensive awareness practice (vipassana or insight meditation) and the profound cultivation of lovingkindness and compassion (the Brahma Viharas).

Sharon's latest book is Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation: A 28-Day Program, published by Workman Publishing. She is also the author of The Kindness Handbook and The Force of Kindness, both published by Sounds True; Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience, published by Riverhead Books; Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness and A Heart as Wide as the World, both published by Shambhala Publications; and co-author with Joseph Goldstein of Insight Meditation, a Step-by-Step Course on How to Meditate (audio), from Sounds True. She has edited Voices of Insight, an anthology of writings by vipassana teachers in the West, also published by Shambhala.

Sharon Salzberg is cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society (IMS) in Barre, Massachusetts. She has played a crucial role in bringing Asian meditation practices to the West. The ancient Buddhist practices of vipassana (mindfulness) and metta (lovingkindness) are the foundations of her work. "Each of us has a genuine capacity for love, forgiveness, wisdom and compassion. Meditation awakens these qualities so that we can discover for ourselves the unique happiness that is our birthright." For more information about Sharon, please visit: www.SharonSalzberg.com.

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