Sharon Salzberg answers the question:

What is the nicest thing a non-family member has ever done for you?


I think I would choose the time that my goddaughter chose me as her godmother. She was three or four years old, and I had known her mother somewhat, and we were friendly, and I met the little girl. Her name is Willa — then a little girl she's not anymore. And later she told her mom, "Sharon is my fairy godmother." And her mother said, "You know, you have to ask." So they asked me, and I was so delighted and honored and I thought, "Oh, this is a nice gesture. This will be a great thing." And it turns out she is a remarkable young woman. She's now 21 or something. And having her in my life has been one of the most magical and fulfilling things ever.

So just one story, one amongst the many Willa stories: When she was about nine years old, she started sending me emails through her mom. She would dictate them. And this was the very first email: "I've been thinking about things, and I wonder if you can help me out. Where does love come from? Where does space come from? Where did the universe come from? And do love and space have anything to do with one another? Please tell me everything that you know." So I was like, Whoa, this is intense. And fortunately there's a quotation from the Buddha which I've used quite a lot in teaching, which says "Develop a mind so filled with love it resembles space. Develop a mind so filled with love it resembles space. That free, that open, that unconfined, that unconstrained." So I wrote some kid version of that to Willa.

And then I said, it's like somebody maybe says something that hurts your feelings and it hurts, that's for sure. But either your mind or your heart can be like really big and open. And then what they said, and the pain kind of comes through like clouds moving through the sky. Or maybe you take it to heart and you soak it in, and that toxicity fills every cell in your body, and you end up all gucky and yucky, and that's the difference.

So I sent that to her, and I didn't hear from her for about a month. So I thought, Oh, okay. And then her mother wrote me and said that Willa had gotten into an argument with her little sister, which had happened a lot. And then Willa was going around the house muttering. "I am like the sky, I am not a sponge. I am like the sky, I'm not a sponge." And I asked her mother, "How do you feel about that?" And she said, "She's working it. I'm delighted." So Willa has taught me more I'm sure than I've taught her through these years, and it was just a lucky, lucky moment when she asked me to be her godmother.

Sharon Salzberg is a meditation pioneer and industry leader, a world-renowned teacher, and New York Times bestselling author. As one of the first to bring meditation and mindfulness into mainstream American culture over 45 years ago, her relatable, demystifying approach has inspired generations of meditation teachers and wellness influencers.

Sharon is co-founder of The Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, and the author of 11 books, including the New York Times bestseller, Real Happiness, now in its second edition... her seminal work, Lovingkindness... and her newest book, Real Change: Mindfulness To Heal Ourselves and the World, coming in September 2020 from Flatiron Books. 

Sharon’s secular, modern approach to Buddhist teachings is sought after at schools, conferences, and retreat centers around the world. She is the host of her own podcast, The Metta Hour, featuring 100+ interviews with top leaders and voices in the meditation and mindfulness movement, and her writing can be found on Medium, On Being, the Maria Shriver blog, and HuffPost.

Click here to visit Sharon’s website.

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This article appears in: 2020 Catalyst, Issue 14: Resilience & Renewal in Your Third Act Summit