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From ABC, this is the 10 percent happier podcast. I'm Dan Harris. Hey, all, there is a really powerful scene in a novel you may have heard of called Lincoln in the Bado, in which President Abraham Lincoln, fictionalized version of him, has come to the cemetery where his young son Willie is soon to be buried. Willie had passed away at the White House. That actually did happen. The boy had gotten sick and passed away in the novel.


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 the graveyard in the grips of perhaps the worst psychic pain available to any human being, he has an insight.


His suffering, he realizes, comes from viewing his son as solid, when, in fact they are both and I'm quoting here, just energy bursts or two passing temporariness is. A fascinating but hard to pronounce neologism, there's a reason this insight will ring a bell for anybody with a passing familiarity with Buddhism. And that's because the author, George Saunders, is a practicing Buddhist. His novel, Lincoln in The Bado won the twenty seventeen Man Booker Prize for best work of fiction in English.


Sondra's 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 writer and what those skills can tell us about how to live a better life. This really was an enormously valuable and, by the way, enjoyable conversation for me, both as a meditator and as an author, in part because, as you'll hear, he has many, many deeply useful thoughts about writing.


We talk about a whole bunch of things here, including his unified theory of brain. That's his term, how writing resembles meditation, his speculations about the afterlife, a speech he gave on kindness that went viral and the profound upside of self diminishment.


One timely bit of business before we dove in here, you can join me this weekend in an online summit called Love and Resilience, the Contemplative Care Summit. It's a free five day online event from March twenty fifth to twenty ninth. It's being presented by Lions Roar and the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care. That's the Zen center where my wife and I trained to be hospice volunteers. And actually my wife and I appear together in this summit. We talk about our relationship.


So if you want to know more about what it's like to be married to me, you can go check it out. As I said, it's free and the registration is open right now. You can visit Lions'. Broadcom airlines were dot com care. We'll put a link to that in the show notes. All right. Here we go now with George Sanders. George Saunders, thanks so much for coming on the show, really appreciate it. Thank you for having me.


What a pleasure I was telling you before we started rolling. I'm almost finished with the brilliant Lincoln and the Bado. So I'm really excited and thrilled that we were able to get you to come on. So I have a million questions to discuss. The first on my list is you use the term with my compadre, my comrade Jr., who is producing this episode of the show.


You said you've been thinking a lot about what you called the Unified Theory of Brain. What is that?


Yeah, well, I was thinking about it because I read Michael Pollan's book, How to Change Your Mind. And so he talks in there a lot about the state of the mind on hallucinogens. And then I'm always thinking about the changes in the mind underwriting when I'm writing what's going on in my head, because I've noticed that it makes me happier to write after the fact. Somehow I'm just in a better place. Even if the day has been kind of crummy, something neurologically is going on that's pleasurable.


And then also, you know, with that Lincoln book, I was thinking a lot about death and what happens in those moments, which even if you're a spiritual person, to some extent, it's a physiological thing that's happening at the end there. So I'm just kind of interested in the idea that at some future time we'll be able to say this is what your brain is doing as it dies. This is what your brain is doing when you're creating art.


This is what your brain is doing and you're meditating. And to me, that seems like not merely of academic interest, it's it's everything, really. But I don't have any answers yet. I just have the intention. So the thinking is, if we can get this unified 360 view of what the brain and the mind are doing, or actually and specifically here you're referring to the brain in these key activities of our life that could lead us to a better understanding of how to live a better life all the time and every moment.


I think we're doing it all the time. I mean, I'm sort of even at 62, still stumbling towards some idea of how to start the day, how to get into it, what to do during it, so that my experience stays within certain parameters. And we might call that being happy or being whatever. So, yeah, I think that's the idea. I think we actually people have been doing it for thousands of years, but they maybe haven't been able to use the scientific angle.


What do you do to keep yourself within certain parameters that might be called happiness and outside the parameters on happiness? What are your modes?


For me, writing is real, a real big one. I try to do that pretty much as long as I can every day, four or five hours, six hours. And then also I'm a Buddhist, my wife and Buddhist. So we've been involved in meditation sort of at different levels over the years. And those are the two things that I know how to do. And I think they're related somehow, but I'm not sure how. I kind of know that the more of those two things I do.


And yet I'm in that kind of classic mode of going, yeah, I should do more of that, I would be happier.


And yet somehow I, I don't I'm very familiar with that conundrum. OK, so I have a ton of questions though, based on the foregoing. So the I want to get to the Buddhism in a second because obviously that's the primary obsession of the show. But when you talk about writing as something that is happiness producing, I start to feel very guilty because I experience writing as the worst thing in my whole life, except for like a few minutes, a few seconds, a few nanoseconds where I understand something or phrase something correctly or somebody tells me they like something I've written, but the rest of it is fallacious.


And I know I'm not alone on this because just to give you some examples, there's that famous quote from who I can't remember. Nobody likes writing a book. Everybody likes having written a book. And the other is Philip Roth, who after he finished his final novel, I believe, put a sign up on his computer that said, My long struggle with writing is over. So what what are you doing that the rest of us are failing to do?


No, I mean, I don't think well, first of all, it's only really been a pleasure for the last some number of years. I mean, when I was younger, it was just torment and all that. I think the only thing that's changed for me is that I've written enough stories where I kind of understand that a period of frustration and self-loathing is part of it. So when I get there, I don't really believe in it. I feel like I'm being I'm having a kind of an emotion, but I've also got a little bit of distance on it where I can say, oh, yeah, this is the part where you're filled with self-loathing or you're you're frustrated.


You know, it's kind of two levels of torment in an emotion. One is the emotion or the feeling. And then the second one is comes from believing in the feeling as being something permanent or real. So for me now I get to a place I mean, I'm there now. It's a story I'm working on where I had to trash the last four pages. And I'm kind of at a loss and I'm feeling a little bit inadequate and a little bit frustrated.


But there's another little voice going, yeah, that's how it always is. This is the part where it gets good. So I think it might just be the exhaustion of. Experience and then, too, there's something about my process, which is really I think because of I'm a little bit unclear thinker, I've had to develop this method of revising that's really rigorous. It has a lot of rewriting and kind of ridiculous amounts. But knowing that that's the way it is, I'm a little patient with it.


And that becomes part of the fun. Is it go OK? I'm probably about a third of the way through this really, really long thing that will eventually produce something good. I guess it induces a kind of patience. So I actually at this point, I really do enjoy it and I kind of crave to do it. And this is maybe another topic. But the state of mind that I'm in when I'm doing it is I think what I'm talking about when I say it makes me happy.


It's something like meditation and that afterwards I just feel better.


What is it about the state of mind you're in while writing that resembles in some form or fashion meditation? Can you say more about the. Yeah, I think it just has to do with the lessening of rumination, so when I'm reading, it's so simple that it's kind of embarrassing, but I'm just looking at my text, reading my text as if I didn't do it, and then really just watching some kind of internal meter in me that either likes it or doesn't like it, that's either pulled in or isn't pulled in.


And over the years, I've learned to not narrate that process. Just look at the text, feel it, maybe make a little intuitive change or a cut or something or keep reading.


But in that mode, it's a high attention mode, maybe something like when you're playing sports or you're rock climbing or something where you're not rationally deciding anything and you're not busy with concepts, you're just reacting. And so there this monkey mind is quiet and it's not quiet because I'm able to get it quiet, but I just push it out of the way a little bit, it feels like with task focus. So I think that's the part that I've come to think is beneficial were the decisions that are making aren't being made analytically or conceptually, they're just kind of gut instinct feelings, if that makes sense.


Yes, it does. And I wish I was able to do more of that because I do have. You know, in my own writing, and whether it's writing introductions for the show or writing my next book, I can have other voices in my head that are not so helpful.


I think that's the sort of really high level part that's interesting, is that I say that the rumination goes quiet and I'm just concentrating. That's true. But second to second, there's all kinds of things going on, like I'll get a part that's pretty good or pretty funny and a little voice will go, Oh, that's really good. The New Yorker is going to love that, you know, and then there's going to be an illustration. So then you say, all right, that's true.


Of course, that's all right. Then it's just a slight move to sort of go, OK, enough of that. Let's go back to concentrating. So I think these things I guess that's where I make the connection to meditation, is that these states are just second by second.


And to some extent, what I've learned in that whole process is to be a little bit loving towards all those voices, like the one that piped up about The New Yorker instead of castigating him or myself and saying, oh, you're selling a sacred moment. You just kind of laugh it off and go, yeah, of course you'd think that. Now let's get back to it. You know, so there's a kind of a gentleness that's involved that I somehow associate also with teaching.


Let's not make any crisis's here. Let's just kind of have a sense of humor and trust a process.


And like that is so interesting what you just said, because you just articulated probably better than I'll ever be able to do what I think is probably the core thesis of this book that I'm writing right now, which is can you have a warm, friendly, humorous relationship toward all of your ridiculousness and all of the darkness and ugliness? I often use the expression, you know, instead of slaying dragons, which is quite a hostile approach, can you give the Dragons a hug?


Mm hmm.


Yeah, I mean, I think that's right. And especially if you to me, that whole question comes down a little bit, too, when you despise yourself or when you are crazy about yourself, what is it that you're despising you're being crazy about? So in a certain way, a person who's never wrong is ontologically or whatever related to the person who's never right, because they're both so, so celebratory, basically, that it's so I think with writing the fun thing is you've got all these different voices in your head and you start to realize that none of them are you like capital y you they're just they're almost like just people who are walking by shouting at you.


You're sort of destabilizing that sense that the self is at the middle of everything and it's permanent. Which living?


I mean, we have the monkey mind that tells us that person is so real and so important and so cool or so real and so important and so terrible. But in writing it somehow it reminds me that there's a whole bunch of I use a technical phrase or brain farts that are constantly going on these little voices in our heads and instincts and habits and feelings that really they don't exist. They're just kind of temporary and they come and go.


Is there something you you invoked the Buddhist concept of not self or selflessness that there isn't some core nugget of you that we can find between your ears somewhere? Is that concept more alive for you as somebody who has to inhabit other selves and bring them onto a page?


I think it's it is it well, in this sense that when I'm doing that, what I'm really doing is going deep within myself to find a corollary of that person. So in other words, if I have a bitter ninety seven year old man in my story, I'm trying to find him within myself. And the thrilling part is that I can or I can find you close enough. And I had Israeli writer Etgar Keret, who's just a wonderful writer and mind and person, and I heard him one time talking about his parents were Holocaust survivors.


And at one point he sort of said, you know, Dad, I know I could never understand what you went through. And his dad said, nonsense, you've been cold, you've been hungry, you've been scared, you've been tired. Just more of that, you know. So I think part of when you're making a character in a story, you're really not I mean, it's quite impossible, I think, to know somebody else's experience.


But you can say to yourself, OK, that person, there must be a corollary of that person within me. So the writing task then is to believe that to really believe it and then have confidence in your ability to summon up that corollary to within the approximation needed by the form.


Can you sum up that empathy in your relationships with other actual human beings? I would say it's not really it's kind of empathy, but it's almost more mechanical, like, for example, in a story, if you say Bill was a blowhard, then in revision you're going to want to put some meat on those bones and you're going to want to be specific about why do we say that? So you're going to have Bill say something. And what tends to happen is once you force yourself to do that, Bill is going to say something that, yes, includes a concept of blowhard, but also takes it a little further or makes it more specific.


So you find out that he's a blowhard with a particular issue of feeling inferior.


OK, then you revise it again slowly.


The blowhard, like fades out of the picture and he becomes a very specific person with a feeling of inferiority because of something. So as you go that direction, I don't know that I'm really feeling more empathy for him. I mean, he's not even a person. He's just some words on a page. But I'm putting myself to an exercise of increased specificity, which I think you would say is increased attention, i.e., increased love.


So then when you go out into the world, I think there is some residual habitual after effect. Somebody cut you off in traffic and you go and the projection comes up. And then maybe in a moment there, you can at least say to yourself, you know, what I know from writing is that's a first draft. And if I actually was in the car with that person, I would have a different story. So, you know, maybe you can sort of fake it till you make it kind of thing the way you just talked about it, sort of it.


I don't know if this was conscious or unconscious, but kind of diminishes what seems actually pretty powerful.


I mean, being able to sort of on a cellular molecular level, understand I could be anybody else.


And maybe if you want to be really Buddhist about it, maybe I was those other people. And that just boosts my ability to put myself in other people's shoes and reduces my. Capacity, which, by the way, is gigantic for being judgmental, does any of that, what I just said makes sense. One hundred percent, I mean, when you're reading a story, the person that walks by you on the sidewalk that you instantly categorize in and reject or whatever, you know, you turn around and follow them and then the writer puts you into that person's head for seven or eight pages.


So, yes, it definitely reminds you that other people are just as real as you are. And I think it also for me, it just strengthens my confidence that I can make that jump. I actually can mechanically make it for other people. And I guess I'm just trying to say that when I'm writing, I wouldn't want to give the impression that I imagine a character and I just love her so much. And so then she's totally there for me.


It's much more in the writing part of it. For me, it's much more mechanical, more like, well, if you start out the first half of the story with the character below you for fun and then she stays there. Well, you've got a technical problem, which is status. You know, the relation between you and the character hasn't changed and therefore the relation between the reader and the character hasn't changed. Whereas if you keep looking closer at her and forced her to do things and force her to say things and kind of force her into clarity, then that's kind of a scale model of what we're talking about, about the process of a human being starting out vague and maybe dismissible and then becoming clear and equal.


So I think it is true what you're saying. I mean, empathy is definitely part of fiction writing, but I always feel a little funny saying it because I don't I wouldn't want to convey the idea that when I'm writing it, I'm in some transported state. Now, I think meditation is much more effective than writing. It's it's many, many more times more effective in it. And I think that's a totally different kind of deal.


I'd be curious to hear about your meditation practice. I understand you practice Mingma Buddhism. Am I pronouncing that correctly?


Yes. Yeah. And it's kind of been, I guess, like everyone's meditation practice has been all over the place. There have been some periods of real high intensity and now it's not so intense. But I think for me, the biggest thing that I've probably learned in this life is just that, you know, there is variability in the state of the mind. And so being a practitioner and meeting people who are real practitioners, not beginners like me, you just see that their practice has changed the way their minds work and that has changed the way they are.


And they're amazing. So I think if nothing else, if I don't take anything else from this life, then would just be note to self. Your mind is not fixed. And there are these ways to change your mind. You know, from experience that people who have gone to that trouble and submitted to a tradition are living lives that seem quite rich and amazing.


So to do that. Can you educate me a little bit on Neelima Buddhism? Nima, it's Nima Mingma. Yeah, you know, I, I really I kind of can't because I think I'm so much a beginner that I would feel really shaky doing that. I think sort of the best practice at this moment would be to demur on that and not not talk about it too much.


What has practice done for you? Well, the biggest thing I I you know, when we first started, my wife and I were Episcopalians and then she was trying to find a Christian meditation practice and couldn't quite put her hands on one. So she went to a Buddhist retreat and started practicing. And then I immediately noticed that she was different. There was something more patient and kind of just fun. And like she was just we would get to those places where you have you've been married a while.


You're going to have 60 or whatever it is, you know how it's going to go. Suddenly, she just wasn't going to do that. And it was like really freeing for both of us. And so I thought, I want to see some of what she's having. So I started just sitting a little bit and kind of on my own, like with no instruction. And the first thing I noticed was that there was just like a split second more time between thought and action.


And we had little kids. So that was helpful because if I start felt grouchy or something, that split second would stop me from being grouchy out loud. And if I really thought that was incredible and then as I got more into practice, I noticed that I became aware that my mind had a preset quality to it, which was sort of kind of defensive and because defensive, it was a little bit negative. So if I went to a party, I would often just kind of start making fun of it in my mind a little bit.


And I was pretty good at it. So it's just a slight inclination to be uncomfortable with comfort, you know, to not if I start feeling happy, I would kind of swerve off it. If I started feeling genuine, positive emotion, I would kind of bounce off it like a stone on water. The big thing about that was that I with practice, I realized that that actually wasn't me. That was just a tendency was like a hitch in your golf swing or something.


So there was just a period where I was like, oh, so this person that I thought was me all along and had all those kind of negative traits, it's just an overlay and it can be worked with. And so the way so the immediate effect of it in my work was that I noticed when the story was taking an auto swerve towards the negative, you know, when it was taking sort of the easy path or the kind of negative path.


And that's actually where Lincoln and the Bato came from. Harley was the idea that you I don't have to take that path. If the mind is saying do this auto dark thing, you can cause a second and consider some other options. So that was that was a big deal. And I think that's still kind of where I am is with the kind of slightly snarky, negative, defensive mind, but with a dim awareness that that's not necessarily fatal.


You don't have to be owned by your mental habits and conditioning. You can sometimes catch it and make a different decision. Right. And for me, the longer term thing is that, plus, if one really worked at it, you could go deeper in that direction. And I think the definition of a spiritual life is just the knowledge that your mind is always the same. If you think of the worst day you ever had, the greatest you ever were, the most dismal, everything it ever seemed.


OK, that was real. Then you think of the day in which everything was luminous and wonderful and you felt free and you felt generous. That was real. So therefore there's a continuum there. And the really lovely hopeful thing is that people have showed us how to be more often in the second condition than the first. So that's good. My schtick as a public evangelist for meditation basically is the good news is that the mind is trainable. And I really believe that that is incredibly good news.


It's huge, and especially when you get the sense that the world doesn't exist independent of the state of your mind at any moment, then suddenly there's all these doors it could fly open. But then the other thing for me at 60 to and with this preoccupation with writing that is so strong and I love it so much, it also has struck me how it's kind of like if the settlers got to America and said, oh, the good news is there's a whole country out there.


And then they sat down, which is what I'm doing. So in other words, the ego I'm finding is so amazingly stubborn. And at sixty two I can kind of say, oh boy, this is something that one should start young and do with great fervor. The progress that can be made is tremendous, but it really is. It's really like ruling that stone uphill. I think no matter where I go, the ego is there and it's always a little bit smarter than I am, so I can be in the middle of being on a stage.


So we're talking about these ideas and be aware that I'm getting very conceited about it. And I'm so I'm such an advocate for selflessness.


I'm great, you know, but the seeing of it allows you not to be so on, but. And then I feel proud about that. What were you saying that you sort of part of your ego is that you're you're so invested in this writing thing that if you could turn down the volume on that, you'd practice way more to so that you got better at a more positive mindstate. Yeah, I'm not sure that's where it gets tricky, because I don't think the answer is for me is to forgo writing and just be a full time practitioner, because I think that's all for me, the desire for attention and the desire for accomplishment and the more legitimate desire to do something wonderful in prose.


Those are such strong desires. And I think that's kind of what I have to work with, you know. So it seems to me that the trick would be to use writing as part of the overall practice. And I think I've done that with different degrees of success. But I don't know if you feel this, but as I'm getting older and when you see people that you care about passing away and so on, it does make me think of changing the mix a little bit, let's put it that way, in favor of meditation, which I think it's a nice idea.


And I like the idea that writing might be related to meditation. But for me, it's really important to keep in mind that they're not the same. And meditation is see if your goal is to realize these ideas that we're talking about in your body and not just in your head. Meditation is the much more powerful route.


Let me try a few things out on you. One is in Buddhism, as you know, meditation was part of an eightfold path toward enlightenment or fully lived life. And I could it's probably easier for me to do than for you to do. But I can easily frame your writing as service. I mean, like having spent the past couple of weeks reading Lincoln into Bado every night before I go to bed, that has given me an enormous amount of pleasure.


It's all inspiring. So why couldn't you just frame the writing as just another aspect of the Eightfold Path? Well, thank you. I think I do. I think I do, but I also noticed in myself, you know, it's just interesting when you have something that you love to do. As much as I love to write, you see that even that is made up of all different kinds of vectors. So there's the purest part for me is when you're working on something and a solution comes to you and you take it that kind of responding to the form in a really genuine, honest way.


And then there are other things which have to do with ambition. They have to do maybe with surrendering to the fictional world and being less attentive to the real one. It might have to do with a move that I've done where you say, yeah, I've got some things to work on, but in this life I'm just going to work on writing. So I think it's really it's absolutely part of the whole. But like everything else in the world, it's a matter of the mix of things I talk about in this Russian book is the idea of how much human beings love autopilot, meaning I'm going to decide once and for all that I'm going to dedicate my life to X.


That's such a relief to do that, because then you don't have to worry any more. You just do X. But I think that's a sort of a a weak position. You know, the truth is that life always requires to juggle many things at once. And the virtue of the life depends a lot on the acuity with what we've done, the juggling. So I think that's where I am. I'm just thinking writing is one really interesting practices, another intense thing.


And of course, family, just to get the mix right, is really the trick. And what I tend to do, like with that Lincoln book, I went to a zone of just I was writing 12, 14, 15 hours a day, which isn't really sustainable. So I know I'm just kind of it's a stage of life, just trying to look down the road and see what's the mix that I want to do in the remaining years.


Yeah, I mean, that seems like the question we should probably all be asking ourselves all the time and what I heard in your answer there, and you'll correct me if I'm wrong, is that yes, sure. You can frame your art as a kind of service, a gift to the world. But also there are pitfalls within that, like getting sucked into the fictional world to the detriment of your actual life, et cetera, et cetera. Exactly, and I have a feeling at the end of the day that there probably isn't.


I know I get a little bit addicted to having a stance. OK, here's how I'm going to do it. But my life to date has been a sequence of having those stances totally messing them up, recovering, having a newstands, contradicting that one. So it's almost like somebody who is crossing a frozen pond and, you know, they'd like to skate very gracefully and beautifully, but they just are stumbling all the way across the pond. And every five minutes are saying skate right, skate right.


And then they stumble off and they're dead. I think that for me, that's part of the thing is that perfection is not really the the game, you know. Yeah. So it's going to be OK with all of it going on at once.


I think I think I said this to somebody maybe on this show that I've been an idiot my whole life up until six weeks ago. I always do. Yeah, right, right, right. I'm reading Don Quixote, and that seems to be part of that book is the idea that there's a guy who believes really fiercely in something and sometimes it serves him well and sometimes it doesn't.


And, you know, that kind of long view of a life as a series of blunders coming from a central source as opposed to my model of life is I got to a certain age. And then I figured it out and I was all clear sailing from there. But I don't see that in my future, really.


Well, you're a few years, just a few ahead of me, so I'm relieved to hear that I could drop that ideal. I want to go back to something else. I heard you say that scan to me at least as self-critical. And I'm picking up on it because it's first of all, I'm not even sure I picked up on it correctly. So, again, you'll correct me if I'm wrong here, but I picked up on it because it's the type of self-criticism I've this is a rabbit hole.


I've gone down many times. And I had a conversation with somebody who helped me kind of on Raval it untangle it. And I want to see if it lands for you. You said something before about being kind of addicted, I believe, to the praise of writing and people liking what you do.


And I think you framed it as maybe not so positive. And I don't write as well as I used to. And I don't encounter the kind of accolades that you do. But to a certain extent, I've had people say, you know, thank you so much for whatever you wrote or your podcast or blah, blah, blah. And I really like that more than I care to admit. And I've carried around a certain amount of shame around that.


And a friend of mine, Jerry Colonna, said something to me, like you could kind of maybe reframe that as an exchange of and this is a big word, but love between you and the audience, you are getting that love from the audience and that fuels your ability to do more work, which, of course, that work is ideally in service to the audience and that can create a virtuous cycle.


Does any of that land for you? Oh, sure, yeah, yeah, I think so. I mean, I and I tell my students, you know, you have to kind of to do the hard work of art, you have to use what you have. So if you are a person who has craved attention or fame or praise or whatever you've crave, I don't think you can just suppress that and pretend that it doesn't happen. It's kind of like hunger.


You know, if you get up in the morning and you're hungry, we look strangely at someone who said, oh, no, but I can't. That's low. I deny that urge. I think you just have to use the energy in a functional way and especially in art. I think that's maybe the whole thing is to skillfully use those motivations so that you're kind of extracting out the negative and keeping the positive. So that's really what's happening. In the best cases.


I'm taking this need for attention and then running it through this through the machine and purifying a little bit. So you're taking all the umph of it and using it to take that artistic object to the highest level. And likewise, if you go to an event, you get a lot of positive energy. And the trick is to kind of extricate out the part that's reaffirming your bad ideas about yourself, your positive self and so on, and keep the stuff that helps you do good work.


So the way I see it is we're born in this world and instantly we're the center of the universe. We're the star of the movie and all these nice bit players, our parents and friends and family and the country of England and so on, are there for our enjoyment. Then, you know, you get older and things start breaking down. You make mistakes, you lose love, you hurt people, you do unkind things. You go bald, your knees start going out.


And all that is kind of a blessing because it's the world's way of saying, yes, what you really weren't the center of this and you really weren't ever meant to go on forever. So we're just giving you a message. But then I think there's a can be a kind of a subsidiary challenge. If anything goes right in your life, then there's a little voice inside you that says, see, you were right. You really were the most important thing.


So I think that's where for me, the kind of public life becomes a little fun because it wants to tell you that you're more important than you are. And all your life you've been learning through living and also through your art that you're not as important as you are. So it becomes a little bit of a clash, I guess. But it's it's all manageable. And I think for me, a lot of the fun of this is that it gives you something to work with on the play with and some challenges.


I love that.


Speaking of challenges, I want to ask you about this viral commencement speech you gave on the subject of kindness, which is a challenge for many of us in certain circumstances. Before I dove into my questions about your speech, do you mind sort of just describing the basic thesis? Oh, sure. I had been asked by my university, by Syracuse to do a little speech at this convocation and I thought, OK, I should do it. And I had a graduation speech that I'd given to our daughter's sixth grade class a couple of years ago before, and it went over pretty well.


So I thought, OK, I'll just use that one. And then two or three days before the talk and I couldn't find that speech. I just I never I haven't found it since I lost it. So I kind of rewrote it from memory. And the basic idea was just that, like, you've got this old guy up in front of the crowd and what does he have to offer you really? And really what an old person has to offer is just the kind of the experience of looking back over all those years and seeing what he did right and what he did wrong.


And so what I said was that I didn't really regret anything. I had made some really stupid mistakes in my life and really gone off into the weeds. And but I don't really didn't mind that so much. But I what really did kind of stick was the times when because I was a little anxious or a little selfish or a little distracted, I had failed to do even a small act of kindness for somebody who really could have needed it. And as an example, I just use this one girl from grade school who was kind of not a real popular kid and had some issues and took a little bit of heat from it.


And I remember several times trying to engage with her and it was just too risky, you know. So looking back, I thought she was somebody's daughter. And if I'd been a little braver, I would have gone ahead and engaged and I would have maybe, you know, maybe found a way to ease her way a little bit. So that was the talk. And I think kind of the background was that I wanted to say to these graduating kids that kindness is something that we we live by every day.


You get up and you're doing a lot of things for the people around you to try to make their life better. But somehow it doesn't have. An intellectual presence, in other words, when we talk about things intellectually, we don't often cite kindness as a real concept and I think that's a fly. It makes a kind of dysfunction in our public life if we if what we live by doesn't have a place in our intellectual discourse. So that was the talk.


And, you know, it was also it's also fairly light. I was aware that I was going to give it in this big sports stadium to a bunch of people who probably would rather have been elsewhere. So it was kind of light and I did. And it didn't really you know, there wasn't much reaction. And in fact, I there was a little reception afterwards and I was kind of trolling through there looking for some place and none was forthcoming.


And then a couple months later, it was posted and went viral. So then suddenly you become the kind this guy, which is kind of a mixed blessing, kind of messes up your bank robbing career.


But when you say you would like to have more of a role in our intellectual life, what are you envisioning there?


Well, I mean, a lot of that idea just came from reading Dharma text and seeing that the great practitioners, they assume that there is a thing called kindness or compassion, and it's real and it's important and it's certainly isn't separate from human activity. I mean, it's kind of what we're all I mean, in my view, we're all trying to get there, really, that we if you look back at your life, the moments when you're in that state of heightened generosity or love or whatever, those are really powerful.


I mean, the state you're in when somebody has just passed away or when you've someone has needed you and you've responded. So it seems to me like in the east, they understand this is a I mean, I think they'd find it laughable that to think about philosophy with that out of it. But in our culture, it seems like that's sometimes seen as a little bit as a kind of frothy Hallmark thing that, yeah, sure, you can be kind.


And I think it's because we mistake it for niceness. Kindness and niceness aren't well, we can talk about it, but they're not the same thing. And so I think it's you know, I think for young people to be told that not only is kindness possible, it's really the core of who they're going to be. It's kind of a a useful thing to tell them.


You will be surprised that I'm going to ask this question. What is in your mind the difference between kindness and niceness? Well, yeah, to me, it seems this way, like, OK, if you think of kindness as being in a state to benefit the people around you, now for a minute, we'll just leave blank what that means benefit. So then your question becomes, how do you do that? So if you woke up one morning and you would pledge yourself to kindness and you go to the coffee shop and you see that the barista have been crying, OK, so then you're the kind this person, what do you do?


And I would say that based on what I've told you, you can't know what to do because we don't really know why he or she is crying and we don't really know who that person is. So therefore, it's kind of hard to understand, hard to know what would benefit her or him, you know. So then suddenly kindness expands and becomes, well, awareness. So in an instant, when you're stepping up there and you notice the tears, there's some quality of data gathering.


I guess that I would say is related to the quietness of your mind, maybe. How open are you to the actual data? Relatedly, you would want your own mind to not be pushing too hard. Like if you have a savior complex, you might override the existing data. You might not see what she actually needs. So it might be that would be to shut up, shut up, take your coffee and go home. Or in another scenario, it might be that saying just the right thing would really ease her way.


But suddenly you're in a whole different realm where you're talking about awareness and then how. Well, OK, what is awareness? How do we cultivate it? And then you're off to the races and all kinds of interesting ways. But, you know, the kindness thing is like when I toured for that book that was made of that speech and I remember doing this radio show and we're talking about kindness and how nice it is. And and I had two calls and one guy said he said like, yeah, you know, I love what you're saying about kindness.


It's the most important thing. But a lot of people are too stupid to get that. So that's one example. And then and then a lady called up and she said, I think you're so right about kindness. And I think Americans are such kind people, really, not the Europeans so much. So I think kindness is a virtue that people can kind of fold into whatever it is they already believe and not have to move too much. If it if kindness is just niceness, that isn't it.


Because if the baby's crawling towards a light socket, niceness might not be the might not be kindness. You've got to get her away from there, you know. So I think it's a kindness itself is a very complicated concept, as I found out after I wrote this little speech about it, trying to see if I can reflect that back to you.


So niceness would perhaps be a surface level, sort of bland guri ability. The baby's crawling toward the light socket and you're commenting on how nice the baby's outfit is as opposed to kindness, which is alert, aware, ready to respond with what is needed. Maybe always, as my teacher, Joseph Goldstein says, holding in your mind the question, how can I help? Yes. Would that be an accurate description of the difference? That's a beautiful description.


Yeah. And I think, too, sometimes I've understood kindness to be kind of that, you know, somebody drives a spike through your head and you say, oh, thank you for the coat rack. You know, sometimes a little bit of pushback and a little bit of genuine anger is might actually be the most helpful thing. But the trick for me is I don't really I can tell I don't have the tools to make that kind of judgment at this point in my life.


And I feel that every day something will happen. And I'm like, I don't know if I should be forceful or, you know. So I think that's just where practice comes in, because there have been times when I was doing more practice and I felt a little more confident about my ability to inflect things to the positive, which makes sense, because, again, if you're practicing your kind of you know, hopefully you're in a state of higher awareness and less neediness.


So you're you're not always trying to inject yourself into things just because you're there and so on.


Much more of my conversation with George Saunders coming up right after this. It's time to enjoy the view wherever the day takes you. Come on now, have no fear. The view girls are here, the biggest names, unafraid to share their views and hold nothing back. We talk about being on this show that people don't talk about. And now ABC's The View is available as a podcast with Whoopi, Joy, Sarah, Sunny, Megan and Diana. This is going to be good.


Enjoy The View podcast. Listen for free on Apple podcast or your favorite podcast app every weekday afternoon.


Hey, Dan, here again, I just want to do one little bit of business before we get back to the interview with George Saunders, I want to take a hot second here to recommend another podcast that I really think you guys would enjoy. It's called The Science of Happiness. On each episode. The host is a friend of mine, a psychologist named Dacher Keltner, who has yet to come on the show. Decker needs to come on the show anyway.


Dacher has guests on every episode. Try some science backed practices to help them feel more connected, calm and resilient. And then we hear from experts about why these strategies work. The science of happiness has just come out with a great new series about music. They explore what draws us to melodies and rhythms. Why can't it, for example, soothe us to sleep? On the first episode, David Byrne, the former frontman of The Talking Heads Chairs How Music Can Help US Communicate and Connect the Science of Happiness is produced by Prick's and UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center.


You can find it wherever you listen to your podcasts. OK, back now to my conversation with George Saunders. You take the speech, you have pretty to my eyes pretty deeply, so I'm going to read a if it's OK with you, I'd like to read one little bit of it and see if you can comment on the back side. So here it is, the quote. And so a prediction and my heartfelt wish for you. As you get older, your self will diminish and you will grow in love.


You will gradually be replaced by love. If you have kids, that will be a huge moment in your process of self diminishment. You really won't care what happens to you as long as they benefit. Can you say more about this process of kind of turning down the volume of you and what it is that rushes in when that volume goes down?


You know, in the Catholic faith, I used to have a hymn that when we must diminish in Christ increase. And I thought that was really beautiful. But, you know, that part that you just read, I caught so much flak for that because people would say, oh, yeah. So you're saying as you get older, you get kinder. Let me introduce you to my husband, you know, so I think there's probably a crossroads moment as we get older where either you get you do get kinder or maybe if you haven't addressed certain things, I suppose you just get more bitter.


It's possible. But I think that for me, some diminishment is really related to monkey mind. Like if you if I look at myself and say, what is it that keeps building George up every day, why does that guy keep showing up? And it's these thoughts that I have as I'm walking around my house that always seem to have me at the center of them and always are reaffirming what I already am in some way. And I think those are the things that prohibit self diminishment.


And those are the things that recede a little bit for me during meditation and during writing. And also I think during when I'm reading or listening to a piece of music.


So self diminishment is not running yourself down. It's not self flagellation or self deprecation. It's turning down the volume on self-centered thinking so that the aforementioned How can I help attitude might emerge. And I guess that might be synonymous with love.


Yeah, and also the self deprecation is a form of self aggrandizement. Also, you know, like somebody told me that the phrase better ego where if you're saying, oh, I'm the worse I'm the worst person at this party, you're kind of saying you're the best person at the party, or at least you're the dominant person at the party. So I think the self diminishment that I'm talking about is maybe more like I mean, I always go back to this example.


But, you know, when somebody that you care about has passed away, something happens internally where you just aren't somehow you understand the correct proportions of the universe for a couple of minutes or hours or days or something. I think that's more what I'm talking about, the intellectual idea that I get, which is that the self is a construction. The I guess the brain constructs this thing called the self, probably for Darwinian reasons. That thing is it's a fiction and we know it's a fiction because for me that thing didn't exist in nineteen fifty seven and then suddenly there it is, you know.


So I think to somehow get that, to get the obituary every moment, belief in the reality of that self, that that's the real job. And I think all the other things we're talking about kindness and love. I think I've had the feeling sometimes that when that self making monkey mind goes quiet, that other stuff just kind of comes and naturally, you know, like water into a basket or something.


Right now, I'll say loyal listeners know exactly what I'm about to say, because I quote this all the time. But the Tibetan definition of enlightenment, as far as I understand it, the word enlightenment translates into in Tibetan clearing away and bringing forth. Mm hmm. Right, right. So that's the dream, you know, and and I think we get those little glimpses of that. It's not like it's some distant shore that we never get to. But in little moments, you get you get little little looks at it, I think.


Is there a difference in your mind between love and kindness? Probably not really. Ultimately, I think that probably I can just remember moments where, you know. There was somebody in front of you who needed something and you saw it really clearly, and then it was obvious what you should do. That seems to me like love causing kindness, maybe. But sometimes, like I often think if you were in a park and there were some people playing Frisbee nearby and the throw went astray and it was coming right for you and you could catch it, you just would.


There's no real rationale for doing that. You know, I've had that feeling sometimes when my mind was in the proper state and somebody was in front of me of just going, oh, I know what would be good and just boom, just doing or saying the thing. And I guess one thing I'd know about that state is, unlike my usual state, it's pretty clear of agenda. It's not something like, oh, if I did this, that would be really kind or this would be awfully Tolstoyan of me.


You know, it's literally just an impulse that comes out of that sort of feeling, you know? But again, I'm recreating this from memory. Like, this is not nothing that's happening every day for me. But I think that feeling of catching the Frisbee is also one that I recognize from writing. You're editing something. You clear away a certain part and suddenly there's an idea right there and it just you just catch it. It just comes in very naturally.


And again, same kind of thing, free of agenda, not the product of intellectual or analytical thought, but just like almost like a feeling like, oh, that be cool. So in a certain way, this whole writing craft is really for me about getting into a state where one of those moments will seem clear to me and then I can just do it very simple, very quiet.


I read a quote. I can't remember who said it may be Picasso, but something like the muse does visit, but she needs to find you working, right?


Yes, absolutely. Yeah. Because I think so much of what we call the muse is actually reacting. I don't do any exalted first draft stuff. I mean, there's nothing exotic going on when I'm doing a first draft. But when you come back and start reacting this stuff, you've already done that I think where the real enjoyment is. And that's where a person, I would say, distinguishes herself from other writers is in the quality of those reactions to whatever is already there, somehow doesn't get enough credit in the sort of myth of the writer.


You don't you don't. In the movies, you don't see somebody revising closely, you know, is walking through a field with Daisy's idea.


I mean, I'm so gratified to hear you say this just as a writer, because I'm in the stage of the book I'm writing right now that my colleagues and I refer to as the SFD. I'll call it the crappy first draft. But but we use s it's just so it's so not exult at this stage. But I got to get some clay on the wheel and so that's what I do. And then, yes, it's iteration after iteration later down the road where the thing can become less horrible and maybe get dragged over the line between terrible and decent.


Exactly, that's it exactly. I always think, you know, I try to say to myself, if you're reading something years and it really stinks, that's a cause for celebration because it means your taste is still active the day that everything you write seems good and then you're in trouble.


So I want to talk about your new book, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain. Can you describe sort of what it's about?


Yeah, well, I've been teaching this class at Syracuse for 20 years now and the classes coliforms class, which is basically literature for writers. So we get about six hundred seven hundred application of the year and we pick six students to come study with us. So it's 20 of those people in a room. And basically we're reading a body of work and it's got a slightly different emphasis in a regular class, which is that we're kind of trying to take it apart technically and trying to basically steal something from it, or you learn something that will inform our own work.


So it's kind of cool. It's less formal, a little more pragmatic. And so I started teaching the work of the 19th century Russians in translation about 20 years ago and just found them to be a really wonderful stories for teaching. For some reason, they're kind of simple. They usually have a kind of a I don't know, like a moral ethical charge to them. So I started teaching it in ninety seven and taught it every few years since then.


So I just thought it'd be fun to make a book that kind of tries to mimic that classroom setting. So the book has seven of these Russian stories punctuated with my kind of musings on them or analysis of them. Close together you have Tolstoy, Gogol and Chekhov.


Is the idea somehow that becoming a better reader and writer can tell us how to live? Kind of, although for me, when I get into a book project, I usually have some kind of little idea of it. I've just said to you, and then I really hope that it'll be something other than that, that it'll kind of turn into something else along the way. So this one, it feels to me like it's just a little bit of a celebration of the act of reading and it's relation to writing and then maybe just takes a little gesture in the direction of saying, since reading and writing are so fundamental to who we are, and since really if we're looking at reading, we're kind of looking at the idea of one human mind communicating with another, then there might be some takeaways for life know, in other words, habits, as we've been talking about habits that we get into our reading habits, we get into our writing, they do have natural corollaries and other kinds of relationships.


And so being somebody who practices within reading and writing might maybe have something to offer us in our regular lives, too. But I didn't want to hit that too heavily because I found reading and writing to be heavily dependent on a respect for mystery, which is let's not nail anything down too tightly, let's not be too programmatic.


So I wanted to go a little bit light on that aspect of it, I guess, because if we if we tell people that reading is supposed to manifest certain benefits in their life, then it might feel mechanistic.


Yeah. And also, I think then it changes the quality of it. If if somebody says, oh, this book is really good for you, you know, a lot of books. I mean, they may be good for you, but they're good for you in a really indirect way. So I think the whole thing somehow for me, the practice of art has has to do with freedom, the writer being exactly who she wants to be without having to defend it, without having to articulate it, without having to do anything but just be herself in that moment.


And I think to have that attitude, you have to sort of let a lot of stuff go. Is writing good for the world? Probably, but I'm not going to worry about it right now. It's a short story. Going to be instructive to the reader. Maybe, but let's not let's not commit to that, you know, so as a practitioner of writing, I don't want to claim too much for it, because if you said this is a hammer, it's only good for nails.


It's the best thing for nails. Well, then if a bear was coming for you and they had the hammer in your hand, you want to be free? I'm sad to say to the bear on the head. So likewise with art, I think you want to be give it maximum freedom. And having a setting conditions on what it should or shouldn't do has a tendency to kind of truncate that freedom. I'm not advocating for hitting beers with him.


I'm sensitive to the fact that we don't have a finite chunk of time here. And I do want to talk a little bit about Lincoln and Abbado, which we've referenced a couple of times, but not really explained to those who might not have read it what it is. Can you take a shot at sort of just describing that book? Boy, yeah, well, I had about 20 years ago, I heard this story, which I and I don't know if it's true or not, but the story was that Lincoln was president.


His son Willie passed away, nine year old, 10 or 11, and Lincoln was bereft. And supposedly the newspapers of the time said that he had actually visited the graveyard and had gone into the crypt of his son. And that just really hit me in such a beautiful, sad thing. So I kind of carried that idea around for 20 years and then finally wrote this novel in which it's all set in one night. And Lincoln does just that.


Yeah, I mean, it's a strange book because also the narration is done by the ghost in the graveyard and there's all kinds of crazy things. But basically it's just a story of a father who he just can't say goodbye. So he does a slightly strange or inappropriate thing and then he recovers and goes back to his life. But it's all kind of focused around that one evening.


For the uninitiated, what's the bado? Well, it's it's a Tibetan word that means transitional space. So that space between death and reincarnation would be one. But we're in the bado of life right now. So really, when you use that word, you're usually referring to the Tibetan Book of the Dead and that sort of transition that happens after the person is dead and before he reincarnates. And in this book, I kind of started out with the idea that I would put it in that world.


But then it just I didn't have the understanding of that, that I needed to. So it's kind of a general word, just I mean, the transition between death and whatever comes next.


But you did have to kind of create some metaphysics here. So you did have to come up with some vision of what the bado might be like, because we've got all these characters who are these ghosts, as you say, who are narrating the story and there are some rules of physics to their universe. Am I wrong about that? No, no, you're exactly right.


And that was actually a lot of the writing of the book was discovering what those rules needed to be and then kind of making them come alive and justifying them. But they're not. In other words, the rules of my universe are not exactly the ones that are put forth well anywhere else. They're kind of my own. I kind of made it up, but yeah.


So in that world, they're one of the interesting things was that the the people who are there aren't necessarily they weren't in life necessarily the best adjusted people. So they got to the moment of death. And in the world of the book, which you're supposed to do, is kind of just be grateful to have been here and go on to whatever's next. And this group is huddled in the graveyard is couldn't do that for different reasons. Either they love life too much or they they didn't get what they wanted or they have some hurt that they're nursing.


And so they're kind of stuck there and they kind of have to work at being there. You have to kind of keep telling yourself the story of your pain, basically, and then you can stay there a little longer. So it's not necessarily a happy world and the people really shouldn't be there. But they're they're kind of, I guess, clinging to life in a certain way.


Do you have a suspicion on some level that the way you've described it may actually be how it is? Or were you just doing that for the story? I don't know the one thing I have I think I read this somewhere is the idea that if you want to know what your death is like, you just look at this moment, right now, your habit of mind isn't going to miraculously change just because you're getting really old and weak and sick. And I also read somewhere, I think it's a Tibetan text that, you know, when you're here on Earth, it's a very fruitful time for development because you're trapped in this body.


So your wild mind is kind of got a damper on it, just your physicality. So your mind is like a horse, a really wild horse that's tied to a post as long as you're alive and then when you're dead, that rope gets cut and the mind is just totally powerful and you're being dragged along with it. And so that's scary. In other words, whatever your habits of mind are now, presumably that could be supersized. And whatever your relation to this dream that we're living in is, it's going to be solidified.


So if you think this life is real and you're real and you go into this next zone, it could be difficult or it could be glorious. But I don't really know. And I know that the book. Really? Yeah, I don't know. I have a feeling that the one thing that is true about it is that you we cultivate certain habits in life and then I don't know and I don't know what happens, but I'm sure it would be better to have those habits be functional and intelligent and loving than otherwise.


When we see one of the ghosts say, oh, sorry, go ahead. No, no. I just was going to ask you what you think happens.


You know, I don't know that I've ever said this publicly, but I've started to develop six months ago, said I have no idea. I'm respectful, agnostic. I'm sure there are lots of metaphysical claims about the before and the after. And I don't I've seen no evidence for any of it. But I'm not going to tell you it's not true.


I don't know why I started to develop some sort of suspicion that I cannot defend and I won't attempt to. That rebirth may actually be real.


Yeah, is that where you're at? Yeah, only because my sense is and again, this is my 62 year old revelation, is that I really have been so lazy about spiritual practice and there are people who have not been and they the people that I know who have not been are quite confident. And, you know, I can go this far with it. I can say, OK, would it be weird if the world was just exactly the way that George and Dan imagine it is?


In other words, if our sensory apparatus and our thinking apparatus was just precisely tuned to just exactly what's true. And we know that, isn't it? You know, so clearly whatever is going on beyond us is really unknown territory and we might get little glimpses of it in different ways. So I kind of feel like the rational position is to kind of look to the people who have actually really maybe over many lifetimes done the work and say, well, OK, you say rebirth.


I don't quite get it, but I can see that my sort of a.. Rebirth mind is just completely born out of sloth, really. So I don't know. I guess we'll find out as hopefully so I mentioned this name before.


Joseph Goldstein's my meditation teacher is a great, great, great person. And he had a teacher. His first meditation teacher was a guy named Meningie. And when he used to say these of the rather baroque metaphysical claims that you will find in Buddhism around not only, you know, the various realms of existence, but also the various superpowers that you could develop here in this realm if you practice well enough. Maninder used to say you don't have to believe it, but it's true.


Yeah, right, right, yeah, yeah, I mean, I again, I just become more and more convinced that I've, you know, my life has been spent in a pretty small little corner of a pretty small little room. And so I you know, again, that's to me, one of the really encouraging things about becoming involved in a tradition is that you see that if I plunk around on the guitar for 20 minutes a day, which I do, that's great.


When I go to see Segovia, you're like, oh, OK. So my my ability to imagine prowess on the guitar is incredibly limited and it's surpassed by by reality. So I think that's kind of where I am. Let me ask you, just in closing here about something more terrestrial, one of the many moving aspects of reading Lincoln Abbado for me is a vision as psychedelic as it may be, a vision of an America that was almost fully torn asunder in the throes of a civil war, as Lincoln is mourning the loss of Willie, his son.


And and I know you've kind of spent some time both in fiction and nonfiction, sort of thinking about and dwelling in this period of American history.


I wonder from that vantage point what you think about what we're seeing today in a divided country? Hmm.


Yeah, it's it's deep, isn't it? I went on the campaign trail with the Trump campaign in twenty sixteen or kind of skipped around to different rallies and stuff. And I have to say, I haven't made sense of it quite yet. I think it's really complicated phenomenon. And I'm kind of in the mode just now where I'm writing more fiction and I'm just trying to fight back my urge to make a theory about it and just listen to people. I have a lot of people in my extended family and stuff where Trump is.


And so I'm it's really hard for me to do. But I'm trying to just get as much data in my head as I can because I didn't like the mode I was in in twenty seventeen, which was I can't believe this because as a novelist, if it's real, you should believe it and you should, you should have an understanding of it. So I'm kind of just I feel like I'm kind of on a bit of a mental field trip to try to understand this thing, not to enable it or to normalize it, but to really understand the cause and effect of where it's coming from.


And I don't know. I mean, I have to say, I'm not that optimistic. It seems very dark that these things have happened. And actually, you know, I was pretty, pretty pessimistic in twenty sixteen. And the way it played out was much worse, you know, so I don't I'm not really sure what to think about it. I hope we can recover from it. And I think you couldn't ask for a better guide than than Joe Biden.


I've met him and he's an amazing person. So I'm just hoping for the best for all of us and kind of trying to transition back into artist mode, which is I'm supposed to be interested in what's happening. And that's I think that's a mode that makes you anxious. It's a mode that doesn't close things off or decide or pronounce or assuage or reassure. It's just a mode that's open. So information is disturbing. You let it in and then let it percolate down.


So it's a little bit of an uncomfortable space, but somehow it for me, it feels more authentic than when I'm trying to be a pundit or trying to be a cheerleader one way or the other.


But as you go about trying to understand what you call the trumpet's, including in your own family, do you experience that as a kind of empathy Olympic's? You know, it's funny, I have a pretty natural fondness for people, so I never really have trouble liking people, anyone. One of those Trump rallies, I had a great time and the people were I can get along with anybody. And there was a lot of interesting changes. I mean, to me, it seems pretty simple that we're at a maybe it may be a very fruitful crisis point where we say, OK, are we going to decide that America is the America that's discussed in the founding documents where everybody is equal?


That seems to me like a beautiful path. We've never done it yet, but we could. And it's fundamentally, as we've been discussing, it's a spiritual path because it says that everybody, in essence, is wonderful. Everybody's equal. It says that, you know, I would say everybody has Buddha nature. That's a path that we laid out way back then, but we've never really inhabited it. So that could be very exciting. The second path is to ascribe the term American.


To a set of behaviors that actually have more to do with a certain kind of racial nostalgia, a certain kind of rallying around some strangely empty symbols like flags, eagles, crucifixes or whatnot, that second path is more about what kind of construct idea of America that actually has very little to do with the founding document. So I think we're at that crossroads. That's interesting to me. But empathy, you know, I feel that pretty naturally for even people that are in the other camp.


But sometimes I think maybe what I've done is be a little bit too inadequate in the kind of kindness we talked about earlier that has a little bit of an edge that actually might be a sort of protective kindness or kind of engaging, even angry kindness. I tend to I tend to be somebody who doesn't like to have a fight, which can be a weakness.


Well, whatever your weaknesses, perceived or or real, you're doing amazing work in the world and we're all the beneficiaries of it. Thank you. So I'm really grateful for the work you do and grateful for you to come on and spend time with me, us. So thank you.


Well, I'm grateful for what you do with such an interesting conversation. I have better answers about 4:00 in the morning, probably if you want to call back how that's how it works for me. Thanks again to George. I really love that conversation. I'm going to go back to it. I suspect many times one more piece of business before we go, if you'll humor me in response to our ever changing reality, we have done our best, as I hope you know, to use this podcast to help you figure out how to navigate a turbulent world.


And as you know, the practice of meditation undergirds nearly all of the practical takeaways you'll hear us discuss on this podcast. Many of our guests have also contributed to our companion meditation app, which is also called 10 Percent Happier. Our app helps you understand both how to practice meditation and how meditation can help you navigate our ever changing world. We hope that you will subscribe to the app to learn how to care for yourself and others during crises which are, after all, inevitable.


To make it easier to sign up. We're offering 40 percent off the price of an annual subscription for our podcast listeners. We don't do discounts of this size all the time, and of course, nothing is permanent. So get the deal before it expires on April 1st by going to 10 percent dotcom March 10 percent. One word all spelled out dotcom march for 40 percent off the subscription. We'll put a link in the show notes. The show is made by Samuel Jones, D.J. Cashmere Kim become a Mariah Wartell and Jan plant with audio engineering by Ultraviolet Audio.


And as always, a big shout out to my ABC News friends Ryan Kessler and Josh Cohen. We'll see you all on Wednesday for a brand new episode from a guy named John Berwin, who has done incredible work looking into both what it is to be white and what it is to be a man with the help of meditation. There was much talk of a big question we want to get out, there is no way out from best case studios and ABC audio.


Listen to In Plain Sight Lady Bird Johnson, a new podcast about the power of a political partnership, one that somehow doesn't show up in the many, many accounts of Lyndon Johnson's presidency, told through ladybirds own audio diaries and available now wherever you listen to podcasts.