OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:
Hey, everybody. It's Ophira Eisenberg, host of NPR's ASK ME ANOTHER. And wow, feeling kind of out of sorts, but we have a show to do. And I have some great guests. And I'm going to call up Jonathan Coulton. Here we go.
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JONATHAN COULTON, BYLINE: Hi, there. You've reached Jonathan Coulton's voicemail. I'm not available to take your phone call right now. I'm probably on a cruise ship or at a concert or at some other crowded place with a lot of people. Call me back. Bye.
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EISENBERG: He needs to change that message. OK, I'm going to try him again.
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COULTON: Hi, Ophira. Hi. Sorry, sorry. It's me. I'm here.
EISENBERG: I'm so glad you picked up.
COULTON: Yeah. Sorry. It's a little stressful time - a little stressed out for no particular reason.
EISENBERG: (Laughter) I totally understand. And you know what? I feel the same way. And I have someone here to help us.
COULTON: Oh, great.
EISENBERG: I have Sharon Salzberg here. She's a meditation teacher. She's a New York Times bestselling author. And she hosts the podcast "The Metta Hour." Sharon, hello.
SHARON SALZBERG: Hello.
EISENBERG: Sharon, you've written 11 books. And your latest is called "Real Change: Mindfulness To Heal Ourselves And The World." Now, I imagine everyone is reaching out to you right now just saying help me.
SALZBERG: Well, that's true.
SALZBERG: It's not necessarily because of the book, you know? But I've been teaching meditation since 1974.
SALZBERG: And so, you know, there are a lot of people reaching out either because they think, well, I've put it off, you know? I really should...
SALZBERG: ...Adopt this new tool I've heard about or read about. Or they are relying on it more than ever or all kinds of reasons. But definitely.
EISENBERG: Yeah. And then people are like, right, meditation. OK, do you have something that I can do in, like, 30 seconds?
SALZBERG: Well, you know, that's also very true. Like, what neuroscientist friends of mine tell me, who study meditation and the brain, is that - well, I've heard two different things. One neuroscientist said seven to nine minutes a day will change your brain in the ways we apparently want our brains to change. Another neuroscientist told me 12 minutes a day.
EISENBERG: Twelve minutes.
SALZBERG: Twelve minutes. And I usually say - first of all, I don't know if it's that healthy to go for the bare minimum, but it is also...
SALZBERG: It's, like, very American. Like, what's the least amount of time...
SALZBERG: ...I can put into this thing?
COULTON: I got to meditate. I only got eight minutes.
SALZBERG: That's right.
COULTON: What can you do for me?
EISENBERG: But do you think you could help us - I'm a novice - with a guided meditation, a short one?
EISENBERG: One in American style.
SALZBERG: American style.
SALZBERG: Sure. I'd be happy to.
EISENBERG: Excellent. OK. What do we do? What do I need to do to prepare?
SALZBERG: OK, so I'll say - because people are in all kinds of different situations listening to this...
SALZBERG: ...That you have to use common sense (laughter). Like, if you are driving, please don't close your eyes.
SALZBERG: If you are at home...
EISENBERG: This is perfect.
SALZBERG: ...And you hear sound like the smoke alarm going off, please get up and respond to it.
COULTON: That's a good point. I will say that I have some construction happening on my street. So that'll be a nice opportunity for me to practice.
SALZBERG: So this is just going to be about two minutes for anybody who's just concerned. All right.
SALZBERG: So you can sit comfortably. Either close your eyes or not.
EISENBERG: I'm going to choose closed eyes.
COULTON: Me, too.
SALZBERG: And we'll start actually by listening to sound. If possible, see if the sound can just wash through you, the sound of my voice or other sounds.
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SALZBERG: Of course, we like certain sounds. And we don't like others. But we don't have to chase after them to hold on or push away. Just let it come. Let it go. Bring your attention to the feeling of your body sitting, whatever sensations you discover. You can feel the earth supporting you. You can feel space touching you. Usually, we think about touching space. And we think about picking up our finger and poking it in the air. But receive the feeling of space touching you. And then bring your attention to the feeling of your breath, just the normal natural breath, wherever it's strongest for you - nostrils, chest or abdomen. Find that place. Bring your attention there and rest. See if you can feel one breath...
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SALZBERG: ...Without concern for it's already gone by, without leaning forward for even the next breath, just this one.
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SALZBERG: And if you find your attention slipping away, don't worry about it. You can practice letting go and just come back - no blame, no judgment. And when you feel ready, we can end the meditation.
EISENBERG: I don't want to end.
SALZBERG: I know.
SALZBERG: I saw that. Sometimes, I think - because that's how I usually end, like, when you feel ready. And I think someday no one's going to feel ready.
EISENBERG: (Laughter) Yeah, right.
SALZBERG: And I'm going to sitting in a room full of people.
COULTON: Honestly, it is so pleasant to just sit still and just be for a short stretch of time because it's so rare.
EISENBERG: But now that's over.
COULTON: (Laughter) Back to work.
EISENBERG: OK, Sharon. Jonathan Coulton has to play a theme song to get the show started. But would you like to stick around and play a game with us?
EISENBERG: OK, fantastic. Jonathan, take it away.
COULTON: Yes. I've prepared a special mellow version of our theme.
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COULTON: Hello, friends. From NPR and WNYC, coming to you from a very relaxed place here in Brooklyn, N.Y., this is NPR's hour of puzzles, word games and, well, letting go. I'm Jonathan Coulton. Now here's your host Ophira Eisenberg.
EISENBERG: Thank you, Jonathan. We have a great show today. Chelsea Handler is here to talk to us about her new stand-up special. Comedians Dewayne Perkins and Aasia LaShay Bullock will help us invent a new backstory for Mr. Peanut. And comedians Mike Albo and Amanda Duarte are going to help us figure out why is it called Zoom? But first, meditation teacher and author Sharon Salzberg is here to play a game with us.
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