MINDFULNESS IN DIFFICULT TIMES

Spirituality & Health|May/June 2020

MINDFULNESS IN DIFFICULT TIMES
We interviewed SHARON SALZBERG for this issue (see page 70) to honor her remarkable career. With COVID-19 on everyone’s mind as we went to print, she graciously allowed us to share an adapted excerpt from Real Happiness.
SHARON SALZBERG

I’VE HEARD SOME WONDERFUL EXPLANATIONS of mindfulness. Sylvia Boorstein, a writer and teacher, calls it “awake attention to what is happening inside and outside so we can respond from a place of wisdom.” The Vietnamese Zen teacher and poet Thich Nhat Hanh says, “I like to define mindfulness as the energy that helps us to be there one hundred percent; the energy of our true presence.” But my favorite definition comes from a fifth-grader at the Piedmont Avenue Elementary School in Oakland, California.

The school offered a program of five weeks of mindfulness training from a coach who visited classrooms twice a week, leading 15-minute sessions on how to have “gentle breaths and still bodies.” The students trained their attention by focusing on their breath and noting the emotions that arose. The coach also asked them to cultivate compassion by reflecting—“taking a moment”—before lashing out at someone on the playground. A reporter asked a boy participating in the program to describe mindfulness. “It’s not hitting someone in the mouth,” the 11-year-old said.

His answer is wise, wide, and deep. It illustrates one of the most important uses of mindfulness—helping us deal with difficult emotions.

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May/June 2020