In Part Two of our wide-ranging interview, Sara Eckel, author of It's Not You, talks about her life with buddhism before giving you advice on how to grow in the future.
We are an entirely non-political entity. My question, without getting into politics or naming names would be, do couples with markedly different values have any business being together?
That’s a good question. I honestly can’t imagine being with someone who doesn’t share my political views.
The divide is too deep. But many couples do it. When I wrote that piece in 2016, I spoke to a couple who had this kind of relationship and the husband said: “We can disagree with each other without being disagreeable.”
I think that if you are kind to one another and respectful of each other’s views, it can be done and it is done.
Getting Into Buddhism
What brought about your interest in meditation and Buddhism?
I started taking yoga just for exercise, and one of the teachers read from a book by the Buddhist nun Pema Chodron.
At the time I was feeling real low – it was when I was single and upset that I couldn’t find someone. I was lonely, but also embarrassed about being lonely.
Chodron presented the idea that it was okay to feel bad sometimes. That feeling lonely is a normal, natural state and nothing to be ashamed of.
So I started to take the yoga teacher’s meditation class and I learned that if I just stayed with the pain – if I just let it be there without judgment – it wasn’t so bad.
I realised I could handle it. And that ended up having a very positive effect on my life.
Bad things happen to us, and it hurts, but you don’t have to be afraid of the pain because it’s just a sensation that doesn’t really mean anything.
So it helped me become braver, and then more joyful.
What have you learnt from it thus far?
I’ve learned to enjoy my life. To relax into whatever is happening and be interested in it. That doesn’t mean being complacent.
There are a lot of things happening in the world that I’m angry about. And I want to take part in making things right, or at least better.
But before I started studying Buddhism and meditation, I wasted a lot of time reacting to certain things, like other people’s judgment of me.
I allowed myself to get too caught up in external measures of success – like did this or that magazine accept something I’d written. I’m afraid I still do that sometimes, but I have been able to tamp that way, way down.
Because now I can see how that does nothing but make me miserable.
So my Buddhist practice has enabled me to see when I’m doing that, and then stand outside of it.
It has enabled me to relax and see that I’m fine. No better or no worse than anyone else. And that has made life a lot easier and more fun.
How does your family react?
I grew up in an agnostic household. They don’t have an issue with it. Honestly, it rarely comes up.
Please tell us about your growing up years.
I had a pretty happy childhood. My parents were good to my brother and me. We had birthday parties and family vacations, etc.. I had nice friends. I had no idea until how good I had it until I was older and found out what lots of other people went through.
The most unusual thing about my childhood is that I became a born-again Christian at age 10, even though my parents aren’t religious.
In my grade school years, my family lived in a very religious part of the country and my classmates thought it was very weird that we didn’t go to church. So I was always bugging them to go to church – I just wanted to be normal.
My mom signed me up for private religious tutoring and the very nice lady who taught me asked if I wanted to make this extra-level commitment to God.
I said yes, but I didn’t really know what it was about.
It was partly just wanting to fit in, but I really did want to believe that there was a God who was watching over me and making sure that even when bad things happened, there was a good reason. I was never able to believe that, and still can’t.
In your life, you will often get the message that you’re not ok just as you are. You must ignore this.
In addition to self-motivation, who inspired you along your way?
My friends. I moved to New York when I was young to become a writer, and I was very lucky to make some good friends who were trying to do the same thing.
When they caught a break, they would help me too. They would introduce me to an editor, or amplify my voice in other ways.
I would help them too when I got a good contact or opportunity, but I think they helped me more.
And even more than that, it has just been nice to have company on the very long and often frustrating journey of being (and continuing to be) a writer.
A Word of Advice
Our readers are mostly the youth in different parts of the world. A word of advice for them?
Buddhist scholar Joanna Macy has said: “Late capitalism depends upon our discontent.” There will always be forces in the world telling you you’re not enough, because people’s insecurities are very profitable.
But if you feel fine about who you are – if you can accept yourself even if you aren’t a supermodel/Rhodes Scholar/Oscar winner, etc. – then you will be very hard to manipulate.
The key to gaining self-respect is not to win first prize or get the most Instagram likes. It is simple–behave in a way that makes you respect yourself.
Be kind, compassionate and ethical. This also will make you hard to manipulate.
You will develop a stronger sense of when someone isn’t treating you well, because you have treated yourself well.
It will also help you develop the skill of knowing whom to trust. Most people are good, I think. Confused and insecure sometimes, but not out to hurt anyone.
Unfortunately, many of us live in systems that put shareholder profits above all else, and these systems often facilitate the rise of many unkind and unethical people.
So learn to trust yourself, and to find the people you can trust. Which, to my earlier point, is easiest to do when you can interact with people in real time. You can’t get this information from a text.
Sara Eckel is the author of It’s Not You which has been translated in several languages. She is an eminent writer of essays, arts, criticism and her writings have appeared in some of the major publications around the world. She studies meditation and Buddhist teachings.
Photos: From the Archive of Eckel; Shutterstock
Catch up with the first part of Sara’s interview here:
All your donations will be used to pay the magazine’s journalists and to support the ongoing costs of maintaining the site.