#332 The Profound Upside of Self-Diminishment | George Saunders
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. 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.”
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 brain,” how writing resembles meditation, his speculations about the afterlife, and a speech he gave on kindness that went viral.
Another order of business: In response to our ever-changing reality, we’ve done our best to use this podcast to help you figure out how to navigate our world. And as you know, the practice of meditation undergirds nearly all of the practical takeaways you hear us discuss on this podcast. Many of our podcast guests have also contributed to our companion meditation app, which is also called Ten Percent Happier.
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Where to find George Saunders online:
- George’s commencement speech, Syracuse University, 2013
- Some Thoughts on Kindness from George Saunders
Books by George Saunders:
Other Resources Mentioned:
- Unified Theory of Brain in New Scientist
- Towards A Unified Theory of Mind and Brain, Stephen Grossberg
- How to Change Your Mind, by Michael Pollan
- Phillip Roth
- Etgar Keret
- Jerry Colona
- Joseph Goldstein
- Anagarika Munindra, Munindra-ji