Self-Diminishment And Its Upside | Ten Percent Happier Podcast [LISTEN]

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There is a powerful scene in a novel called Lincoln In the Bardo, where President Abraham Lincoln has come to the cemetery where his young son, Willie, is soon to be buried.

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Self-Diminishment And Its Upside

Willie had passed away at the White House where he had gotten sick. Lincoln is so distraught that he goes to the graveyard to get one last glimpse at his boy’s dead body. As the President is leaving, and in the grips of perhaps the worst psychic pain available to any human, he has an insight.

His suffering, he realizes, comes from viewing his son as solid, when, in fact, they are both just “energy bursts” or “two passing temporarinesses.”

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There is a reason this insight will be familiar to anyone with a passing familiarity with Buddhism, and that is because the author, George Saunders, is a practicing Buddhist. Lincoln in the Bardo won the 2017 Man Booker Prize for best work of fiction in English.

Saunders has written ten other books, including the newly released A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, which is about how to become a better reader and that can tell us about how to live. This was an enormously valuable conversation for me, both as a meditator and as an author (because he has many, deeply useful thoughts about the craft).

We talk about many things here, including the “unified theory of the brain,” how writing resembles meditation, his speculations about the afterlife, and a speech he gave on kindness that went viral.

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