Sharon Salzberg: “Real Happiness at Work” | Talks at Google

Sharon Salzberg: “Real Happiness at Work” | Talks at Google

thank you so much. It’s such a delight to be here. I was here a little bit for
this conference, Wisdom 2.0, so it was kind of
nice coming back into the same room and
just sort of settling. So I as you doubtless know,
I am a meditation teacher. And its very funny now when I’m
introduced that way, because I came back from India where
I’d first gone to study– I went in 1970, and
came back in 1974. And in those days, I’d be at a
party or some social situation and people would say
to me, what do you do? And I’d say, I teach meditation. And they would kind of
go, oh, that’s weird. Or occasionally, somebody
would say to me, oh, did you meet the Beatles
when you were over there. I’d say, sadly no, they went
when I was in high school. And now, all these years later–
after so much more significant research, and science,
and kind of a relanguaging of the whole process–
the most common response I hear when I say
teach meditation is, I’m so stressed out. I could really use some of that. Although my favorite response,
which I also hear sometimes is– my partner should
really meet you, that’d be really good for them. And these days, even going
beyond the context of stress, people see meditation–
I think rightly so– as a kind of capacity building. As a way of finding
resourcefulness, and a kind of an innovative
energy within themselves. Sometimes I hear the
response which concerns me the most, which is, oh I tried
that once, I failed at it. I couldn’t do it. And then what follows
is some description of what people expect. I should be able to
stop all my thinking. I should have a
completely blank mind. I should have only
beautiful thoughts, like doubtless everyone
else in the room is having. I should be able to keep
sleepiness completely at bay. I should find perfect peace
within the first hour. Whatever it might be. And that of course concerns me,
because we say we believe very strongly, you cannot fail at it. It’s impossible. Because the essence of
the meditative process is changing the way we
relate to everything. So it’s that quality
of relationship, that’s where the
transformation takes place. So you can’t actually be
having the wrong experience, the wrong thing happening. So I’d gone to
India to begin with. It was actually my
junior year in college. I went to college when I was 16. I’m a product of the New York
City public school system where they like to skip grades,
so I skipped two grades. And when I was a
sophomore in college, I took an Asian
philosophy course– which quite honestly, as I look
back, was sort of happenstance. I needed a philosophy course. It was a requirement. I looked at the schedule,
and it was something like– it’s on Tuesday,
that would be convenient, so let me take that. And of course the course
completely changed my life. So this is what I
heard in that context. That there were
some very practical, immediate, direct
tools that anybody could do if they want to. There wasn’t, like,
a prerequisite. Anybody who wished to
could pick them up, and that these
tools of meditation were like skills training. Training, first of
all, in concentration. In the ability to
stabilize our attention. Most of us experience
ourselves as fairly distracted, maybe not in every
realm of our experience, but at least in some. Where we sit down to think
something through, or work through a dilemma,
and then we’re gone. The way our minds tend
to jump to the past, and we go over and over and
over some situation, often one where we now have some
kind of tinge of regret. I should’ve said nothing,
I should have said more. Why did I go there, why
didn’t I, why did I stay? Whatever it is. And we don’t go
over it with an eye toward making amends, or
learning from our mistakes. We just go over it, and over
it, and over it, and over it. Or our minds jump to
the future, and we create a scenario that has not
happened, and may never happen. Which is different that just
kind of creating a space, and letting your mind roam. It’s more like an anxiety
driven construct– of like, well then this is
going to happen, and that’s going to happen. No doubt it will all fall
apart when that happens. And then we emerge
from that with kind of the burden of that. So our minds tend to jump to
the past, jump to the future. Judgement. Speculation. And the process of
developing concentration is one of more
stabilizing our attention. It’s not in a frozen way,
it’s not in a rigid way. But it’s like with tremendous
flexibility and fluidity. So we realize we’re
gone, we can come back. So that the end result is
that we’re much more centered, and grounded, and present. And we recapture
all that energy, which has been just
flying all over the place. The larger consequence,
the feeling of that sort of
distraction is said to be a kind of fragmentation. It’s the way we have so
much role identification often in this society. That people say, I feel
like I’m one person at work, and I’m a different
person at home. Or my very favorite
example of that still is, I was teaching
in New York City somewhere. And somebody raised
her hand and she said, I feel filled with loving
kindness and compassion for all beings everywhere,
as long as I’m alone. But once I’m with others,
it’s really rough. And everybody laughed,
because we all knew exactly what she meant. And it can be the
other way around. We might feel fine
when we’re with others, and very ill at
ease being alone. So our lives can
be very cut apart. Or seem very cut apart. Whereas the reality is
that they’re seamless. We’re of one piece. So concentration and a greater
stabilization of attention is one of the great
skills of meditation. The second is mindfulness,
which for me feels kind of like the
word of the hour. When I came back from
India, of course, no one ever use the
word mindfulness, unless you were using it in a
very kind of classical context in terms of meditation training. And now it’s just everywhere. I teach in Washington,
DC about once a month, and one of my great amusements
is listening to the conductors. Because every once
in awhile they will say please be mindful
of the gap between the train and the station platform,
and I get very excited. I’m like, oh they said mindful. Mostly they say what
they really mean, which is please be
careful of the gap. I recently had the conductor
who simply said, there’s a gap. It’s like, no hint about how
he wanted you to relate to it. It’s just like, there it is. But really, you hear this
word like everywhere now. So classically, mindfulness
means a quality of awareness. A way of paying attention so
that our perception of what’s happening in the moment is
not so distorted by bias. Projection into the
future, like what’s this going to feel like in three
months, eight months, 10 years, right? Which distorts our sense of
what’s happening right now. And interestingly enough,
as an example of that, in some of the meditation
research around physical pain what they’ve
discovered– and this is Richie Davidson’s lab
in Madison, Wisconsin. I don’t know how they got
IRB approval to inflict pain, but somehow they did. And what they discovered
was that the difference between meditators
and non-meditators was not the reaction
to the pain. Everybody had the
reaction to pain. But the difference was in
terms of what happened next, where they said
non-meditators tended to flip into an
anticipatory cycle. It’s like, whatever happened
in terms of the pain, you know the tension,
the reaction, happened. But then they didn’t
relax subsequent to that. Because they were very caught up
in when’s the next bout coming. How bad is it going to be. How intense will be. Right? Whereas the meditators have that
same reaction to pain, but then it was over. And they weren’t caught in
all of that anticipation. It’s interesting. So maybe that is
a great tendency, or we just pile on to our
experience in some way, but we’re continually adding so
many layers of interpretation and judgment that we
lose touch with what is actually happening right now. Or, we have a big
thing about control. I shouldn’t be feeling this way. This is here. I’ve been meditating
for 40 years. It shouldn’t be here anymore. Or I spent $10,000 in
therapy just last year, surely it should be gone. Or no one else feels this. Or whatever it might be. All of which tends to distort
the actual experience. And so we say that
mindfulness is the ability to make the distinction between
what our direct experience is, and then everything
we make of it. It’s not to say we want
to destroy or annihilate that narrative capacity. We want that, for sure. But we don’t necessarily
want to be stuck there. Right? We might want more to
be able to see things from different angles, and
see them for ourselves. Just in the
interests of freedom. So my favorite
example of mindfulness these days is, let’s say
you’re on your way to a party. And you run into a friend,
and the friend says to you, you know who I met today? That new person who’s
going to be our colleague, and they’re really,
really, really boring. And then you go to the
party, and who do you end up stuck talking to you,
but the very person you have just been told is
like the most boring person on earth. Very likely, you don’t
really listen to them. You don’t really look at them. You’re thinking about the
50 emails you need to send, or everybody else you’d
rather be talking to than this very person. But sometimes we realize
that, and we stop, and we gather our attention,
and we do really listen. And we really look. Maybe we come to the end of that
party and we walk out thinking, you know that new person? They are so boring. But maybe we don’t. Because life is
full of surprises when we pay attention. So why take a borrowed
impression, what someone else said about
something or someone, rather than developing our
capacity to realize that. Let go of some of those
preconceptions and assumptions. See more directly, and
decide for ourselves. So one of the great
dangers of mindfulness in terms of the language that
we tend to use around it, is that it can seem so passive. It’s so complacent. Or so it seems. Of course, it doesn’t really. When we say things
like, mindfulness means accepting things
the way that they are, it sounds like you’re
going to vegetate. Or, be with your experience
without judgment, that you’re going
to lose discernment and an edge of activity. And of course, it’s
not like that at all. It’s much more
creating that space. That our action
is comprehensive. It’s not coming from someone
else’s vision of what’s true. That we can make
choice very easily. We’re going to do just a
little bit of meditation here together, and one of the
standard kind of beginnings to a meditation instruction
is to sit and just listen to sound. Of course, there’s
not a lot of sound here, but I’ll make
some just by talking. I once gave that
instruction somewhere, and immediately someone
raised their hand and said, well, what if it’s
the sound of the smoke alarm I hear. Am I supposed to sit
here mindfully knowing that the smoke
alarm is going off? Or should I get up? And I said, I’d get up. All right. But I can see how one
can have that impression. And yet, really the relationship
of mindfulness to whatever we’re experiencing– something
very vital, and alive, and creative because
we’re freeing ourselves from all of those old
habits of perception. And then the last great skill of
meditation practice, the third, is compassion. Or loving kindness. Compassion for ourselves. Compassion for others. And this is a very
interesting thing. First of all, the notion that
compassion can be trained is a little weird,
I find, in the West. People think of it as
cold and mechanistic, whereas in the
Eastern psychology, say in Buddhist
psychology, absolutely it’s considered that
compassion can be trained, because we know that
attention can be trained. And compassion is like
an emergent property of how we pay attention. How do we recover when
we’ve made a mistake. When we’ve lost sight
of our aspiration. When we’ve strayed
from our chosen course. And the kind of
mini version of that is inherent in the
meditation instruction. You sit down. You have an object
of awareness, say it’s the feeling of
the breath, which is what we’re going to do. And most people discover
it’s not 900 breaths before their attention wonders. Usually it’s more like three. Or maybe five, or maybe eight. Maybe one. And then we’re gone. And sometimes we are way gone. And then comes this magic
moment when we realize oh, it’s been quite some time since
I last felt a breath. That’s the moment where instead
of the berating ourselves, and chastising ourselves,
and feeling like a failure. We practice letting go, with
practice beginning again. And the only way
we can do that is to deepen compassion
for ourselves. And this is very
interesting also, because I was teaching
somewhere very recently, and someone raised their hand
and said, I don’t buy that. You know, I think if you
have compassion for yourself, in effect, if you
forgive yourself, that it just makes you lazy. That you’re going to give
up a sense of clarity about ambition, or goal. And that you’re just going
to let yourself do anything. But I don’t honestly buy that. Because I think if we look
at how we learn, how we grow, how we change, it’s
usually not from that kind of brutal self-judgment. So just in the example
of the meditation, you sit down to feel the breath. It is one breath,
and then you’re gone. It’s not that useful. It’s not that efficient. It’s not that
effective to realize that you’ve been
distracted and then launch into this spiral
of self-judgment. I can’t believe I’m thinking. No one else in the
room is thinking. They’re all sitting
here in bliss. They’re all sitting here bathed
in brilliant white light. Or is that golden light, I
forget what color of light that’s supposed to be. Some kind of light everybody
gets, but I don’t have it. They have it. I don’t have it. They’re not thinking. I’m thinking. Maybe they are
thinking, but they’re thinking beautiful thoughts. They’re thinking
wonderful thoughts. That’s because they’re
wonderful people. I’m not a wonderful person. That’s why I’m thinking
such stupid thoughts. I’m thinking such
petty thoughts. I’m thinking about the
traffic flow on 9th Avenue. Why am I thinking about the
traffic flow on 9th Avenue. I’m not responsible
for the traffic flow. And anyway, I wrote to the
mayor’s office last year. You know, and it’s just
like, why am I doing that? I’m so bad. I’m so useless. Right? So if we just engage in
that, if we fall into that, then not only have we extended
the period of distraction sometimes considerably,
but it’s so demoralizing. It’s so exhausting. We say in contrast that the
healing is in the return. Not in never having
wandered to begin with. It’s in our ability
to bounce back, to come back with compassion. With clarity. OK, so that’s the basic platform
of the meditative process. And everything I talk
about in this book that follows that– resiliency,
open awareness, integrity– we consider an emergent
property of those three. Concentration, mindfulness,
and compassion. That’s how they get
developed in a real way. So that the platform is
really using these tools as a kind of skills
training, just like I learned way back when. It doesn’t have to be
involved, needless to say, in a belief system, or a dogma,
or a certain kind of tradition, even. But just a kind of practical
application of these tools. I consider that a very
interesting moment too, because there
is a big difference between thinking about
them and doing them. It’s of course so much
easier to think about them than to actually do them. There’s something– it’s almost
like alchemy in that moment– where we’re not deferring,
and we’re not postponing. And we’re saying, let me
see if this is true for me. It’s like a grand
experiment that we make. One of the ways
this particular book came about for me was born from
a previous book of mine which is called real
happiness, which is like a template for establishing
a meditation program in one’s life. And that book came out
a couple of years ago. And subsequent to
that, in February, we ran a challenge on my website
where people could sign up and we asked them to blog
or comment and describe their own meditation practice. And we asked everyone,
please be honest. Unless you actually sat down
and 10 seconds later you were floating away in a cloud
of bliss, don’t say that. You know, lets really create
an authentic community by disclosing what our
experience actually is. So people did that,
and it was so beautiful and so interesting. And at the same time,
it seemed clearer that even given the wide variety
of occupations that people were engaged in– from firefighters,
an undercover policewoman, and lots of tech people, and
school teachers, and nurses, and all kinds of people– one
of the most challenging arenas to take these values and
make them real was work. So then I began to look at, OK,
let’s say that you understand and practice some amount
of stabilizing attention, and refining attention
through mindfulness, and knowing how to
begin again, and having that deepening of
compassion– what does that look like
in the workplace. What might it look
like, and how might you take that and make it real. So it’s not just a nice thought. They say that the greatest
predictor of happiness at work is a sense of meaning. And that’s very interesting,
because sometimes the meaning comes not at all from
the job description, but it can come from what
we bring to that job. How we are. First of all, there’s a
sense of doing a craft well. Having great integrity
and fullness. In doing just the best
we can do at something. And it also comes from
any kind of communication and connection. Realizing that when we
relate to somebody else, whether it’s a
colleague, or a client, or whatever it is– that
is a meaningful moment. It’s not just nothing. It’s not negligible. And that we can use
that encounter, whatever it is, toward the
well being of not only a mission, but
that other person. And I find that with
any kind of job. It is really interesting. And I’ll just close–
before we start sitting for a few minutes,
and then do questions– with what is, I think, my
favorite story from the book. And that is this time– I love
telling this story in New York City because you don’t need a
huge, long preamble about taxis and changes of
shift, but anyway. It was one of those hours when
it’s so, so hard to get a taxi. And I was further downtown,
and I was on my way to Midtown, New York to try to
hear the Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh give a lecture. And it was just that time,
and I couldn’t get a cab, and then a cab finally stopped. And of course the
lights were off, and they ask where you’re
going, so that they could see if your
destination matches where they need to
drop off the cab. And so I told him, and
he said, OK get in. So I got in a cab,
and then we got stuck in the most unbelievable,
awful, unthinkable unbearable traffic. I’d never seen anything like it. And we were just crawling
along, going nowhere. And my first thought
was, oh great, I’m not going to
make the lecture. I then I really felt very bad
in terms of the cab driver. I thought, he was
nice enough to stop. His shift was over. I don’t know if he gets
penalized in some way. I don’t know if he has to
pay a fine in some way. And I said to him,
I am so sorry. It was really good
of you to stop, and now I’ve never
seen traffic like this. It’s just unbelievable. I am so, so sorry. And he said to me, Madam,
traffic is not your fault. And then he said,
nor is it mine. And I thought, wow. First of all, I
don’t have to get to the lecture, because I just
had an enlightened cab driver, and that was like my nugget
of wisdom for the day. And I kept thinking about that
second comment, nor is it mine. And I thought about
how many times in a day he’s usually blamed for
something that’s not his fault. Bridge is closed,
traffic’s crazy. Some other driver
does something else. And I thought, what wisdom
not to take that on. And I thought, OK, there it is. There’s an encounter that
was really, really important. So I think that’s a
wonderful example of what we bring to any job
that we do, and how it can really make a difference. OK, so let’s do some meditation. Is that OK? So, we say the essence
of meditation practice is balance, that’s interesting. Instead of our normal,
maybe more acquisitive frame of mind– like if I
have a big insight soon, I can get up and leave. The whole sensibility is that
the insight, everything else we want, will
emerge from bringing our system into greater balance. So they say some balance
is experienced right away in our posture. See if your back
can be straight, without being strained
or over-arched. You want some energy,
but not so much energy that you’re really
rigid and uptight. You also want to be
relaxed, but not so relaxed that you’re way slumped over,
nearly bound to fall asleep. And we’ll start just
by listening to sound, whether it’s the sound of
my voice, or other sounds. It’s the way of
relaxing deep inside. Allowing our experience
to come and go. Of course we like certain
sounds and we don’t like others. But we don’t have to chase after
them to hold on, or push away. Just let it come, let it go. And bring your attention to the
feeling of your body sitting, whatever sensations
you discover. Bring your attention
to your hands. See if you can make the shift
from the more conceptual level, let go fingers, to the
world of direct sensation. Picking up, pulsing,
throbbing, pressure. Whatever it might be. You don’t have to name
these things, but feel them. And then bring your attention
to the feeling of your breath. Just the normal, natural breath. Wherever it’s clearest
or strongest for you. Maybe that’s the nostrils,
or the chest, or the abdomen. If you find that place, you
can bring your attention there and just rest. See if you can feel one breath. If you like, you can use a quiet
mental notation of in, out– or rising, falling–
to help support the awareness of the
breath, but very quiet. So that your attention,
your attention is really going to
feeling the breath. And if images, or sounds,
or sensations, or emotions should arise– but they’re
not all that strong– if you can stay connected to the
feeling of the breath, just let them flow on by. You’re breathing. But if something
comes up with a bang, and it just pulls you away, you
get lost in thought, spun out in a fantasy, or you fall
asleep, don’t worry about it. The most important moment
of the whole process is considered to be that moment. That’s the moment we have the
chance to be really different. So instead of judging yourself,
and condemning yourself, see if you can gently let go. And shepherd your attention back
to the feeling of the breath. If you have to let go and
begin again, like 10,000 times, in the next few minutes,
that’s really OK. That’s the training. And when you feel ready,
you can open your eyes. So, we have a little time for
questions or comments, anything you’d like to talk about. And those two mics are there. If you can make your way over
there, that would be great. AUDIENCE: Hi. SHARON SALZBERG: Hi. AUDIENCE: I have been meditating
for a couple of years now. Actually, things to you. I took some of your
classes at the Tibet House. And I find that I’m
still struggling with this very
basic thing, which is how to focus on the breath
without controlling the breath. And I’ve tried all kinds
of tricks, and some of them occasionally work. Most of them don’t. And I wondered if you
had any thought on that. SHARON SALZBERG:
What are your tricks? AUDIENCE: One of them was to
focus– instead of focusing on the most prominent
place where the breath is, to focus on something else
that’s affected by the breath, such as, like, my
shoulders, and how they’re affected by the breath. And then I don’t control
it quite as much. SHARON SALZBERG: Right, OK. First of all, I
wouldn’t worry so much about controlling the breath. It doesn’t need to become the
major project of your practice. The reason we say don’t
is more to counter the tendency we would have to
feel, well I’m not breathing deeply enough, properly,
appropriately, skillfully, whatever it is. And thereby making it a
breath exercise, rather than an awareness exercise. So, if you find that you’re
controlling the breath somewhat and it’s not exhausting
you, it’s OK. Don’t worry about it. A lot of what we talk about in
terms of controlling the breath is creating a kind of balance. So that would mean
spaciousness, openness. So that the breath
feels like it’s happening in a bigger space. And so, people– it is
like a personal experiment that people make–
just to see what helps create more that sense of space. For some people, it’s as
simple as listening to sound. Which tends to be more
expansive in awareness. Or feeling your whole
body, and feeling the breath happening
within the body. It may be that if you’re
mostly with the breath at the nostrils, that
switching to the abdomen will have a different
sense to it. So it’s things like that. It’s just kind of playing. Not with a sense of like,
I’ve got to correct this. But just to see if you
can create some balance. AUDIENCE: Right, OK. Thank you. AUDIENCE: Hi Sharon, thank
you for coming, or Salzberg. I’ve been meditating
for quite some time, and the example you brought
up about sending the letter to the mayor, and those
demoralizing thoughts– one thing that I’ve practiced
is making them positive. My fear is that it
kind of gives you this sense of maybe false
value, or arrogance. Have you seen that happen
to people in the past? SHARON SALZBERG: So you have
those kinds of thoughts, and then you switch them? AUDIENCE: To very
positive, right? Like, wow, I sent a
letter to the mayor. Like, I have all this
power, or you know– SHARON SALZBERG: I don’t
think that’s a problem. I think ultimately all
those different methods, and the things we try, and the
tricks, and the ways we play, are all aimed toward creating
a more balanced relationship to our experience. And if that’s what helps you see
the thought as just a thought, and not take it so to heart,
and not be so embroiled in it, it’s great. The way I usually work
is more like– myself, in my own practices. You know, sometimes
I tell the story about once having seen a cartoon
from the Peanuts comic strip. I saw it in a house that some
friends had rented for several of us to do a retreat
in, and it was left on the desk in the bedroom
that had been set aside for me. So, in the first
frame of the cartoon, Lucy is talking
to Charlie Brown, and she says, oh you
know, Charlie Brown, what your problem is–
the problem with you is that you’re you. And then in the second frame,
poor Charlie Brown looks at her and says, well what in the
world can I do about that? And then in the third
and final frame, Lucy says, I don’t pretend
to be able to give advice, I merely point out the problem. And somehow whenever I
was walking by that desk, my eye would fall
right on that line. The problem with you
is that you’re you. Because that Lucy voice had
been so amazingly predominant in my earlier life. And I felt that one of the
techniques that I have been trained in, in terms
of mindfulness, is called mental noting. Where you quietly place a
label if the word comes easily on your predominant experience. So, I felt like seeing
that cartoon gave me a new mental note, which
was kind of like, hi Lucy. Or my favorite form of
that was, chill out Lucy. You know, something great
would happen for me, and my next thought
would be, it’s never going to happen again. And I could say, chill out Lucy. You know, so it’s not
like all freaked out, like Lucy’s still here after
all these years of meditating. Or, yes Lucy, you’re right. You’re always right. But it’s a very different
kind of relationship– of recognition, balance,
a little bit of space, a little bit of humor. Some tenderness,
some compassion, and an ability to let go. Like, OK, I see you. So that’s one way of working. And if it works for
you to work with kind of molding the thoughts, or
seeing them in a different way, then that’s just another
way of bringing balance. AUDIENCE: Thanks. AUDIENCE: Hi. SHARON SALZBERG: Hi. AUDIENCE 3: I just
had a question. I’ve kind of been a meditation
dabbler for a number of years. But I’ve never had
a long term teacher. But I did have long
term music teachers. And I just wonder if
this instruction you gave is similar to instruction
I’ve heard elsewhere. And I guess I just
wonder, if you’ve been doing it for a
long time, or whatever your experience was. If kind of by analogy,
what we do now is sort of like playing scales. And then when you’re
at your level, it’s like you’re playing
Brahms concertos or something. If it’s like a really
fundamentally, amazingly different experience, or if
you could somehow speak to what the processes is like. SHARON SALZBERG: Yeah, I
mean in some ways I actually see the instruction as a
fractal, which fascinates me. Like, the very
first instruction I ever got, when I went to
India all those years ago, and began my meditation
practice, which was in the context of an
intensive 10 day retreat. Because it took
me awhile to find just the kind of practical,
pragmatic approach I was looking for. That was the first
instruction I heard. Sit down and feel your breath. And I was very dismissive. I thought, feel my breath? I came all the way to India. Where’s the magnificent,
fantastic, esoteric technique that’s going to wipe
out all my suffering and make me a
totally happy person. I thought, feel my breath? I could have stayed
in Buffalo, where I was going to school,
to feel my breath. And then I thought,
how hard can this be. And then I was like,
whoa, this is not so easy. So there’s so much contained
in that simple instruction. Settle your mind in the moment. Realize you’re
distracted, and come back. There’s a huge
amount there that has ramifications and implications
for something so much bigger. So, in a way I’m still playing
the scales 40 years later. And another way, of
course my experience is completely different. I think I was so self-judgmental
in the kind of level of anguish that I experienced and
expressed when I was distracted, or I had an emotion I didn’t
like and was very strong. And now it’s much more
like, hey, chill out Lucy. Which makes a big difference. I think there’s a
common trajectory that people go through
depending on what motivates you. In the beginning,
there’s a trajectory toward greater and greater
inclusivity and compassion that’s born out of wisdom. Like, it’s not forced. It’s not something that you
feel obliged to develop. It’s just something shifts. So that even if you’re
thinking about your job, there’s just a
kind of recognition of how many other people need
to do their jobs in a good way so that you can do
your job in a good way. Right? That we’re not so isolated,
were not so alone. That we exist as part of
networks, and patterns, and a bigger fabric of life. Or, my very favorite reflection,
which we could do right now, is how many people come
to mind as having played any kind of role in your being
here in this room right now. Right? Because we’re all
here because– myself included– because of
conversations, and encounters, and relationships. And somebody gave us a
book, or someone told us about their meditation practice,
or whatever it might be. It’s just layers, and
layers, and layers. So this moment in
time is actually a confluence of connections. As is every moment in time. And so, whereas in
the beginning that might have seemed like
an abstract notion to me– because I saw it,
and saw it, and saw it, to be true– then it’s just, it’s
just different in those ways. And so, one of things I really
love about meditation practice is the level in which
it seems to change us. Because it’s not deliberative,
and it’s not studied. In the sense that you’re
not encountering a stranger and feeling disinterested, and
then thinking, well, you know, I just did an eight week
meditation class on compassion. And I really should
force myself to smile, and pretend to be interested. It’s not like that. There’s just shifts that go on. So that these things
come much more naturally. Remember when the Dalai Lama was
awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, one of my friends said,
giving the Dalai Lama a peace prize is like giving
mother nature an art award. But his level of
compassion– I thought of him because I’ve seen him meet
many strangers, obviously, of all kinds. And he always
seems to be present and interested and caring. You don’t get the feeling
he’s sitting there thinking, oh God, not you. Not five more people,
I can’t believe it. But I am the Dalai Lama, so
I better act like I care. There seems to be a very
authentic sense of presence. But he’s the one that gets
up at like 3:00 every morning and practices for three hours. It didn’t just happen. But the changes become embodied. They become more
natural in that way. AUDIENCE: Hi. SHARON SALZBERG: Hi. AUDIENCE: So, when I think about
mindfulness in everyday life, not specifically just
during meditation, and I think about the
distractions that all of us have in life here. It’s usually a vibrating phone,
or an email alert or something. But then also with all of
the other people that you’ve met in various
professions, I’m wondering if there were any more practical
tips, or just general things that worked for people. Whether it was ignoring
those distractions, or making a note of
them, and what works. SHARON SALZBERG: Great. So what tends to work is
ritualizing kinds of pauses. You know, they don’t–
well, two things. One is uni-tasking every now and
then, instead of multitasking. And the other is
ritualizing certain pauses. They don’t have to be–
neither has to be very lengthy. But, we need them to
punctuate our day. So that they’re repeated. And in terms of
pauses, for example a very classic example
would be don’t pick up the phone on the first ring. Let it ring three
times, and breath. And then you pick it up. It’s almost unbearable
to think about. But if you actually do it,
it’s like– in those moments, we can return to ourselves. Because usually what
happens, as you are implying, is that we get caught in
this kind of crazy momentum. And we’re taken so far away
from ourselves that we’re just– and we’re getting
increasingly agitated, and then it’s harder
to return because we know it’s going to feel
comfortable when we come back. But if we just kind of
regularly come back. We come back to the moment. We come back to ourselves. We can utilize something
like the breath, which is with us– I was
going to say always, except I learned in doing
an interview for this book, the journalist told me there
was such a thing as email apnea. Which I hadn’t known before. That people tend to stop
breathing, actually, checking email. Which is also interesting,
and kind of dreadful. But, since we’re breathing
most of the time, and we could be breathing
more if we’re mindful, it’s a great vehicle
for just coming back. And once we come back to the
moment, and to ourselves, we’re also coming back to
our sense of priorities, our sense of values. They’re just apparent to
us, whereas they’re not when we’re just kind of
caught in the momentum. And then uni-tasking. I’m sure you know studies
show that multitasking isn’t as great as what
it’s made out to be, in that we’re actually
not more effective, we’re not more efficient,
we’re not getting more done. So even though we’ve got
this huge amount to do, and it seems like it will
get done the best if we do it all at once, it’s not going
to happen in a good way. And so, here too,
it’s like a question of ritualizing or committing. Like three times a day, if
I’m drinking a cup of tea, or drinking a cup of coffee,
I’m going to just do that. I’m not going to do
that, and check my email, and have a phone conversation,
and watch the news on TV. And if we if we can get into
that habit of just bringing mindfulness in these short
momen– one of my teachers said short moments
many times– then it will make a very big difference. AUDIENCE: All right, thanks. SHARON SALZBERG: Uh huh. AUDIENCE: Hi. SHARON SALZBERG: Hi. AUDIENCE: So, my
question is on oneness, which you touched on
a little bit earlier, but I was hoping we could
dive into more detail. So, in New York
City, and at work, we can often get
caught up in I. I’m late for work, I need a taxi. I want that promotion. I’d like to be the one
to improve that algorithm product, et cetera. Google is great at fostering
a we driven environment, but how can we on
a personal level use our practice to connect
with that idea of oneness and become closer
to it, and really indoctrinate it
into our daily work. SHARON SALZBERG: One
of their reflections that we do– I mean, I
think one answer is actually a kind of loving kindness
meditation, or training, so that we really look at others
rather than look through them. And that we, you
know if you think about the people
you might normally encounter who are kind
of neutral for you, like check-out person
at the supermarket, or whatever it might be. Where we do tend to create
an other out of indifference. Not antipathy, or prejudice,
but just indifference. And you make the
experiment, what happens when I actually
look at somebody, instead of look through them. And in terms of work, as well,
there’s a certain remembrance that first of all, everybody’s
a human being and everybody wants to be happy. It doesn’t mean you’re
not competing, sometimes, or whatever it might be. But there’s a
certain remembrance, and you actually can do it
as a kind of reflection. Everybody’s a human being, and
everybody wants to be happy. And sometimes a corollary
to that is everybody makes mistakes. So, after I’d written the
book, in addition to– now I’m in that phase where
it’s after the book, so now I’m learning
all these other things, and all these people are
bringing anecdotes, and stuff, and I think oh damn. But anyway. After I’d written the book,
I was teaching somewhere here in New York, and
some it came to me and said all week long my
boss has been like a tyrant in a very uncharacteristic way. And she’s been really
unfair, and she’s been really off-putting
and critical, and it was only sitting here
meditating that it occurred to me for the first time, maybe
she’s going through something. Maybe something hard is
happening in her life. And I said to her, well do you
have the kind of relationship where you can ask her,
is anything going on? She said, you know
actually I do. But I thought that was
an interesting moment. It’s like we don’t usually
we stop, and think, oh maybe that person
has something going on. Because we’re just engaged in
defensive or reactive mode. I think it’s just a very
powerful reflection. Everybody’s a human being, and
everybody wants to be happy. And of course the
fear is that that’s going to make us sort of
weak, and sentimental, and kind of gooey, and we’re
going to lose our edge. But I think the reality, of
course, is not that at all. It’s just– it is
more as you say, a kind of we
consciousness within which we can be quite strong. So, I think we need to
stop, but maybe one more. Just finish. AUDIENCE: Thanks for being here. SHARON SALZBERG: Sure. AUDIENCE: So I have a
question about loving kindness meditation. I’ve sort of practiced
mindfulness meditation on and off for a couple
years, but every time I’ve tried to get into loving
kindness it ends up being much easier to
direct positive thoughts externally than internally. And I guess that’s the order–
you start with yourself, and then the ones close to
you, and then sort of neutral. Understanding that
probably comes from some sort of
self-judgement place, is there a set of
tricks or something, like something that makes
that barrier easier to cross. SHARON SALZBERG: I’ll
teach you the basic trick. Don’t start with yourself. No, truly. The principle of loving
kindness practice, where instead of gathering our
attention around the feeling of the breath, we’re
gathering our attention around the silent repetition
of certain phrases. Very simple phrases,
like may I be happy. Or may you be happy,
something like that. And the principle,
classically, is that it’s supposed to be done
in the easiest way possible. And the reality is that
starting with ourselves, which is how you’re supposed
to start, because it’s said to be easiest,
is not always easiest. Sometimes it’s
really, really hard. So I always go back to
that fundamental principle of doing it in the
easiest way possible. Because part of what’s
developing along with the loving kindness
is confidence and clarity. It’s understanding
the difference between maybe having compassion
for someone else and giving in. Or understanding what it
feels like to have compassion for yourself and someone else. Or, there’s a lot that is
developing all along the way, and so it’s worth
not struggling. It doesn’t mean you
never include yourself, because you have to. But it doesn’t have
to be right away. It really doesn’t. OK, thank you. [APPLAUSE]

10 comments on “Sharon Salzberg: “Real Happiness at Work” | Talks at Google

  1. Karlee R Post author

    She seems like such a chill person. I bought her book Real Happiness the 28-day meditation challenge and I haven't started the book yet. I'm excited

  2. Alice Potter Post author

    I'd love to hang out with her!! I've tried to meditate a few times but it was a disaster. The excerize was very helpful.

  3. ProtestSong68 Post author

    she looks waaaaay high on herbs. I guess she's just high on the present and breath.


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