In May 2001, in a laboratory at the University of Wisconsin, a Tibetan Buddhist monk donned a cap studded with hundreds of sensors that were connected to a state -of- the- art EEG, a brain-scanning device capable of recording changes in his brain with speed and precision. When the monk began meditating in a way that was designed to generate compassion, the sensors lit up in a way that registered the shift to regions of the brain that activate in a state great joy. “The very act of concern for others’ well-being, it seems creates a greater state of well-being within oneself,” writes Daniel Goleman. When I read that and wrote about it in Publishers Weekly about fourteen years ago, I pictured the monks brain sensors lighting up like those photos of the earth from space that show twinkling lights in the darkness. Hard scientific proof that compassion leads to joy! This was the kind of news flash I wanted to help spread!
Before I came to Parabola, I was a journalist and book reviewer for big mainstream publications, including The New York Times and Publishers Weekly. I kept at every chance to write about books like Destructive Emotions: How Can We Overcome Them?: A Scientific Dialogue with the Dalai Lama by Daniel Goleman. I lobbied to make sure the book review received a special tinted box and a big red star, the better to draw attention to a book about then-new breakthroughs in the neuroscience of emotion, the scientific study of consciousness, the fruits of collaboration between leading scientists and Buddhist monastics including the Dalai Lama in a still-ongoing series of dialogues called Mind and Life.
Reviews for PW, which then went up on Amazon, had to be compact so I worked really, really hard (too hard) to drive home how awesome it was that Western Science and Buddhism were joining forces. My mission as I saw it was to make Goleman’s important book stand out before it could be lost. This was my final sentence: “Goleman travels beyond the edge of the known, and the report he sends back is encouraging.” Thanks to the magic of the internet that review is still up there on Amazon (isn’t it strange to think that everything we write , every little exclamatory burst, is still out circulation like space junk or stored in vast unknown repositories). Over the years, I came to meet and admire Daniel Goleman, his wife Tara Bennett-Goleman, and many more leading Buddhist thinkers and teachers. Yet the almost panicky urgency about helping get the word out began to ease. As I practiced, just the simple daily practice of sitting down, breathing, being still, I began to see that the deeper truth is always here, waiting for a chance to arise.
“The mystery of seeing. This is what Meister Eckhart brings for our edification,” writes David Appelbaum in Parabola’s new issue “Liberation & Letting Go.” “The gateway is to be found in the releasement from what Eckhart calls the ‘me and mine.'” I love “releasement,” a firm, solemn, formal word, as if a prison door is swinging open, allowing us to walk out into a bigger world. A friend in my weekly sangha once shared this insight about wisdom: it is the same in every tradition. This is because wisdom is not a formula–it is truth seen in the midst of life, live, wild truth. Wisdom must cannot really be given. It is a way of seeing that must arise in your own life. Yet there are guides and timeless guidance. It is all there in already. We just have to actually DO what is said. (This is why I love Parabola so much. It treats the timeless like news).
Seeing is the way. Seeing lights us up inside. No detail is too small. For example, we may think it’s very unremarkable, not really worth noticing at all–the way we automatically tag every impression with “I, me, mine” or “like, dislike, neutral.” Yet it turns out that this incessant automatic tagging, this involuntary clutching at our experience–especially our feelings–is what keeps us imprisoned. In a timeless collaboration, the Buddha and Meister Echkart take us beyond the known.