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Feeling Lonely? Embrace Compassion

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In a world driven by competition and comparison, Sharon Salzberg contends shifting our definition of love might be the key to reconnecting to what matters most.

As part of the “Real Love with Sharon Salzberg” event hosted by Women of Wisdom and Mindful, meditation teacher and author Sharon Salzberg discussed the true meaning of love for ourselves, others and life. The following is an excerpt of her talk.

As the world has evolved, whether it’s in a personal way or it’s in a global way, we have tremendous difficulty with people. Now I did a group in Barre, Massachusetts where the Insight Meditation Society is that I co-founded in 1976. And this guy in that group said to me, “You know my whole life I’ve thought that of course, we like everybody, but loving somebody—that’s like an extremely unusual, rare, rare state.” And he said to me, “You’re reversing it. You’re saying we can love everybody, and maybe not like maybe anybody.”

And I thought about it and I said, “You’re right, I am reversing it.” Because of the way I’m using the word love, which is that deep acknowledgment of connection, that our lives are connected — Which has nothing to do with wanting to invite someone to dinner, or seeing them succeed, or giving them money, or saying yes or anything like that. It’s the heart’s knowing that we are part of this great picture of life and that everybody actually wants to be happy.

Love is that deep acknowledgement of connection…which has nothing to do with wanting to invite someone to dinner, or seeing them succeed, or giving them money.

We all want a sense of belonging. We want a sense of feeling at home, somewhere in this body, in the mind, of one another on this planet somewhere. And it’s because of the force of ignorance or confusion that we make so many mistakes. Look at what we are taught about where the greatest happiness has to be found: endless consumption or acquisition. 

Re-Thinking What We Are Taught About Happiness

One of my favorite phrases to examine these days is, “it’s a dog eat dog world.” Many of us have that kind of conditioning—don’t take care of anybody because they can’t take care of you. And it doesn’t matter who you have to hurt or step on to get ahead, you know you’ll only be safe, you’ll only be happy when you’re on top, and don’t worry about anybody else. 

I once semi-ruined this young woman’s life when I was teaching a six-day workshop, and the first night I was talking about that phrase.  And this woman came up to the microphone and she said, “What a horrible phrase. I never knew that was the phrase. I always thought the phrase was, It’s a doggy-dog world.” Like puppies in meadows, jumping up and down. 

So the six days went by, and it was the closing circle and she came up to the mic again and she said, “I’ve decided, I’m not going to live in a dog eat dog world. I’m going to live in a doggy-dog world.” 

We can see for ourselves what’s true by paying attention. Learning how to pay attention differently, more accurately, less laden with all that conditioning overtaking our perception.

So look at what we are taught about where happiness is, where strength is, how alone we are. But what’s true? This actually is one of the greatest blessings of mindfulness, is that we can see for ourselves what’s true by paying attention. Learning how to pay attention differently, more accurately, less laden with all that conditioning overtaking our perception. And we see for ourselves that maybe endless vengefulness is not that happy-making, maybe compassion is not that stupid. And we can see very directly for ourselves, there is a kind of compassion we can have for those who are caught in a dog-eat-dog world.


BY SHARON SALZBERG

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