So what the hell am I doing out here on a book tour, lugging around 6 weeks of outfits, staying in friends’ spare bedrooms, and generally hoping to hold the humiliation factor to a minimum? (There’s almost nothing more embarrassing than showing up at a place where they have giant posters of your joyful-yet-understanding face, Shaq-sized stacks of books framing them—and it’s just you and the bookstore person, who is trying not to pity you.)
I’m shilling for the Buddha, that’s what.
Well, not really. My new book, The Wisdom of a Broken Heart, is about applying the Buddhist view of compassion and wisdom to the devastating sorrow of lost love. Surprisingly, the Buddhadharma, especially my lineage of Shambhala Buddhism, has a lot to say on the topic. After all, brilliant teacher, master, and evocateur, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche coined the phrase “the genuine heart of sadness” and said “in order to be a good warrior, one has to feel this sad and tender heart.” If breaking up with your beloved doesn’t propel you smack dab into warrior territory, I don’t know what will. The trick is to stabilize your heart in this open state—not so easy to do. Luckily, the dharma explains how and my take on those explanations is what this book is about.
An important factor in all of this: my books don’t go in the Buddhist section of a bookstore. They reside smack-dab in the middle of the self-help section alongside books about weight loss and magically attracting things by wishing for them. So the job I’ve found myself in is presenting the dharma, not as a teacher, but as a student; not as a philosophy, but as a strategy, if that makes sense. I don’t hide the fact that I’ve been practicing Buddhism for 15+ years and am authorized to teach in my lineage, I just don’t use it to try to sell books—and not for any noble reasons. I just feel more comfortable writing from a personal viewpoint, rather than an academic or theoretical one. So I lead with my own life, for better or worse.
PS, it turns out that this makes it easier to get on TV—producers are less afraid of booking me. I guess I won’t scare America by showing up with robes or a shaved head or anything. If you’re wearing a Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dress, you can pretty much say anything.
So my book tour started out with an appearance on CBS Early Show, which has 3 million viewers. My segment was allocated 3 minutes. The questions they were to ask were along these lines:
You say there is a difference between sadness and depression. What is it? (Gloria Steinem: “When you’re depressed, nothing has meaning. When you’re sad, everything does.” Nuff said.)
Susan, what are the hallmarks of a broken heart? How is it different than other kinds of loss? (Well, shame and wildly obsessive thought for starters, not to mention an immediate 10-lb weight loss, no matter who you are.)
Heartbreak can be an important means of growth. How? (Um, because suddenly you can feel everything? And this is good?)
You have three heartbreak recovery tips. What are they? (I do?! OK, well I guess I can make 3. They are allowing your heart to be broken, practicing meditation to regain dominion over your obsessive thinking, and bringing some discriminating awareness to your mindstream—question exactly what is making you feel what you do. I believe I used the words, “you’ll see it’s not just a whole heap of icky in there –something else is also going on.”)
Job One: say all that in 3 minutes without mentioning Buddhism or one lick of jargon or completely bumming people out by insisting that heartbreak is inevitable (which it is, but that’s not terrible news). Honestly, I didn’t do so well, but hey, you try it.
So after that, it was on to D.C. and Durham for talks at the Shambhala Centers there (and Barnes & Noble) and tonight is Asheville, then Nashville, Austin, all the way out to Vancouver with many stops in between. So far all I can tell you is this: I’m hanging out in space, constantly checking my authenticity:poseur ratio and praying I can tell the difference. (Sometimes you just have no idea.) I miss my husband and our cats and my own bed and the delights of regular digestion. I have no idea if this is going to cost me a buttload of cash and/or net some professional progress. But each time I have the chance to speak to people about their sadness, they invite me right into their hearts to give me an amazing dharma teaching and it is touching and inspiring and draining and dear beyond description. We lock eyes and recognize each other as breakable beings—which somehow makes us smile at each other.
And then I move on.
Next post: What it’s like to appear on Nashville broadcast TV without big hair or pantyhose to discuss sorrow.