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Mindful : August 2019
For Sharon Salzberg, world-renowned meditation teacher, bestselling author of Real Happiness and nine other books, it all comes down to advice her teacher gave her in Calcutta, India, in 1974. “You really understand suffering, that’s why you should teach,” Dipa Ma told Salzberg, then a young adult with ever y intention of living in India forever, and remaining a lifelong student. “I had a very tumultuous, difficult child- hood,” Salzberg says, “and that was the first time I ever thought about it as a potential credential for anything.” Salzberg began as a reluctant teacher of medi- For Rhonda Magee, practicing law and prac- ticing mindfulness go hand in hand. “ Lawyers have to struggle with ethical questions of right and wrong,” she notes. “Lawyers are called in when there are high stakes—somebody is threat- ened with loss of freedom or the right to be in this country, custody over children. Lawyers are called in when those who call are suffering. “If we can engage mindfulness, we can man- age stress and support ourselves in the practical aspects of what we’re trying to do while also deepening our capacity to serve in ways that minimize the harm we do along the way.” For Magee, that understanding of harm includes her own experience “as a woman of color in a society and a world that wasn’t neces- sarily created for a person like me to thrive.” “Through my life, I’ve had the opportunity to become more aware of the subtle ways identity may be showing up—what is the rightful place of a woman, or a Black person in a group?—by seeing how we’re all caught up in making mean- ing and perceiving each other through lenses shaped by a culture that has made all these identities relevant to us.” Mindfulness is the balm for what Magee calls “that extra layer of suffering, wounding, and harm that we may be experiencing or causing others.” Magee speaks from the experience of a 51-year-old, cisgendered, racialized Black woman in America—and that informs what she is able to offer. “I really just believe that if we’re willing to look at our own experiences carefully, we have unlimited capacity to help transform the world. So we should be encouraged to be our beautiful unique selves and know that our voices are incredibly needed in the world at this time.” RHONDA MAGEE Engage with Your Experience tation, and soon founded, along with Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein, the Insight Meditation Society. During a sojourn to Burma (now Myanmar) in the mid-eighties she was introduced to loving- kindness practices. The practices resonated hard with Salzberg, and she brought what she had learned back to the US, eventually writing a book called Lovingkindness. It was not met with open arms in the meditation world. “People said to me that loving-kindness wasn’t an insight technique. They said, ‘It’s just a feel-good practice.’ But I had had a very powerful transformative experience with loving-kindness practice, so I just kept on teaching it.” The practice that many of her peers wrote off actually resonated with others. “It’s very gratifying now that the pendulum has swung the other way,” she says, “ that people are realizing com- passion is the thing that was missing from mindfulness.” She credits the kind words of her teacher, all those years ago in India, for helping her maintain her loving-kindness practice when others viewed it as frivolous. “Dipa Ma said to me: ‘You can do anything you want to do, it’s just you thinking you can’t do it that will stop you.’” Believe Yourself SHARON SALZBERG “If we’re willing to look at our own experiences carefully, we have unlimited capacity to help transform the world.” RHONDA MAGEE PHOTOGRAPHSBYTAWNIBANNISTERFORDUMBOFEATHERANDBYTODDRAFALOVICH 44 mindful August 2019 leadership “People said loving-kindness was ‘just a feel-good practice.’ But I’d had a very powerful transformative experience, so I just kept on teaching it.” SHARON SALZBERG