IMS Book Club
Real Change: Mindfulness to Heal Ourselves and the World
By Sharon Salzberg
January 10, at 7 PM ET
Register for this free eventhere.
IMS co-founder Sharon Salzberg’s latest book, Real Change: Mindfulness to Heal Ourselves and the World, has been released in paperback. To mark the occasion, the IMS Book Club will host a one-night-only event with Sharon to discuss her book, which provides a roadmap for engaging in challenging times with clarity, calm, and heartfulness. Here, Sharon discusses Real Change one year on from its original publication with IMS Staff Writer Raquel Baetz.
One year on, what are your reflections on the book and the timeline of its publication?
I’m mostly grateful that the content is what it is because it was all written (except for the preface) and turned in before the pandemic. It was supposed to be published in June of 2020 and was postponed until September. That’s when I wrote the preface.
Sometimes I’d wake up in the morning and think, “Did I write a completely irrelevant book?” But as I look at the content, for example, moving from anger to courage, moving from grief to resilience, equanimity, finding balance, having agency, etc., it was all kind of perfect for the moment. So, I’m grateful.
So much had changed [after the pandemic began]. I was in a place I wasn’t expecting to be. My travel had come to a halt. I wasn’t teaching in person. Everything was different.
When I teach, the overarching question is, “What is still true?” That is the question we can ask ourselves. The investigation is the point. What am I feeling? What am I counting on? What do I feel like I can rely on?
What’s the response been like to the book, particularly in this time of so much grief?
I tell a story in the book about a time when I was in the hospital for an infection and some of the medication they gave me made it difficult for me to walk and bear weight. I was using a walker in the hospital and working with my physical therapist to walk up and down the hospital corridor. At one point, the PT said to me, “It’s not a race, you know. You’ll go farther if you stop now and then and just give yourself a break.”
That sort of became my mantra. It’s not going to happen any faster because you’re pushing. If you’d only allow yourself to take a break now and then, and rest, you’d actually go farther. It’s a big life lesson.
That kind of spirit has, hopefully, been useful for people during this time. Time is so elastic. It’s been almost two years [since the start of the pandemic]. It feels endless, and at the same time, we only have now. This is what we’ve got to bring forth our dreams or try to make something real. Otherwise, it’s just like a story that we tell.
I think most people are very tired and worn out. Coming back to that sense of “What can I do right now to find balance?” Rest. Take a break. I think that has been useful.
Thinking about your writing on the importance of interconnectedness, community, and social interaction, in this time of fewer in-person interactions, how do we stay connected and why do we need to?
Even before the pandemic, there was a loneliness epidemic. In the US, England, Japan, and other places, it’s been a time of disruption. And a lot of the ways we used to come together; we aren’t coming together anymore. Somebody said to me they really missed their prior experience of New York City when you could strike up a conversation with a stranger sitting next to you on the bus or something like that. Now everyone’s on their phone. It might not have been a deep, meaningful relationship, but it was an interaction that could be enlivening and open in some way and certainly you can make a connection with somebody.
There are fewer ways for us to come together. I kept thinking, even before the pandemic, that it can’t solely be a question of numbers. For example, I only have two friends, but I need seven to be in a better zone? We need to have a sense of being connected; being a part of things. That may mean, for certain people, you do have to make some overtures and see if you can have a more real-world connection. But fundamentally, I think it is that inner sense of connectedness that we need.
We need to cultivate that inner sense, which is the same as coming into greater alignment with what’s true, because we are connected. That’s the truth of things. Our interconnectedness is a healing and strengthening force.
Real Change is filled with practical tools for implementing change, for individuals and scaling that up for organizations and systems. Are there any basics you can give—for those who are new to the practices of mindfulness and lovingkindness—for how to get started with these practices particularly at a time when things can feel so overwhelming?
My friend, Dr. Amishi Jha [professor of psychology at the University of Miami and director of Contemplative Neuroscience for the Mindfulness Research and Practice Initiative], has a book that just came out called Peak Mind, Find Your Focus, Own Your Attention, Invest 12 Minutes A Day.
She studies meditation in her lab. She works with a lot of very high stress individuals. What they have found is that meditating 12 minutes a day, three to five times a week, will make changes in your life.
Because we’re friends, I told her that I don’t know if it’s that healthy to go for the bare minimum. For me, I don’t think three to five times a week would work very well because I’d end up putting it off and then not doing it.
I think we need a combination of self-knowledge and a spirit of exploration. See what it’s like to put a meditation tool or technique into practice and decide what’s reasonable for a week. Is that every day for a week? Is it three to five times a week? Make the experiment. See what’s appealing to you and put it into practice. Then you have a foundation, and you can decide how it’s useful to continue.
Also, every once in a while, decide you’re going to do something, like drink a cup of tea, and do only that. Don’t multitask. Just drink a cup of tea. Feel the warmth of the teacup. Smell the tea. Don’t do something that takes like 18 hours, just something short like drinking a cup of tea, but do only that.
We need a ritual or signal to remind us, “Okay take a breath.”
Is there anything else you’d like people to know?
The color of the cover of Real Change is the same as the color of the Statue of Liberty which makes me extremely happy because she is my icon, my hero.