August 23, 2021

A Reflection on Faith by Sharon Salzberg

By Sharon Salzberg

Note: Sharon Salzberg will be discussing her book Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience, with the IMS Book Club on Mondays, September 13, 20, and 27, at 7-8 PM ET. Click here to learn more and to register.

“The first step on the journey of faith is to recognize that everything is moving onward to something else, inside us and outside. Seeing this truth is the foundation of faith. With faith we can draw near to the truth of the present moment, which is dissolving into the unknown even as we meet it. We open up to what is happening right now in all its mutability and evanescence. A pain in our body, a heartache, an unjust treatment may seem inert, impermeable, unchanging. It may appear to be all that is, all that ever will be. But when we look closely, instead of solidity, we see porousness, fluidity, motion. We begin to see gaps between the moments of suffering. We see the small changes that are happening all the time in the texture, intensity, the contours of our pain.

No matter what is happening, whenever we see the inevitability of change, the ordinary, or even oppressive, facts of our lives can become alive with prospect. We see that a self-image we’ve been holding doesn’t need to define us forever. The next step is not the last step, what life was is not what it is now, and certainly not what it might yet be.

Some years ago, when I was teaching meditation at a federal women’s prison in California, one of the inmates observed, “When you’re in prison, it’s especially important to try to live in the present moment. It’s easy to get lost in the past, which you can’t change anyway, or to get lost hoping for the future, which is not yet here. If you do that, it’s like you’re not really alive.” Then she paused and looked at me, her eyes shining, and said, “I choose life.”

Such faith is not superficial or sentimental. It doesn’t say everything will turn out all right. As we all know, as I knew profoundly by the time I was 18, a lot of times things don’t turn out “all right,” according to our wishes, according to our demands or ideas of how they should. Life is not likely to deliver only pleasant events. Faith entails the understanding that we don’t know how things will unfold. Even so, faith allows us to claim the possibility that we ourselves might change in ways that will allow us to recognize and trust the helping hands stretched toward us. It enables us to aspire to a better life than the one we inherited.”

From the bookFaith by Sharon Salzberg, published by Riverhead Books. Copyright © 2002 by Sharon Salzberg. Reprinted with permission from the author.