— -- Sharon Salzberg, a towering figure in the meditation world, is part of a small group of people who helped bring meditation from Asia to the United States.
Growing up in New York City, Salzberg had a traumatic childhood and was a sophomore in college when an Asian philosophy class she chose on a whim led her to find a personal connection with Buddhist teachings and practices. Today, she is a meditation teacher and the co-founder of Insight Meditation Society. She's also the author of nine books, including "Lovingkindness," "Real Happiness" and "Real Happiness at Work."
Salzberg sat down with ABC News' Dan Harris for his livestream podcast show, "10% Happier with Dan Harris," to talk about her personal history, her meditation practice and her advice to those who are interested in meditating.
"My teacher told me to teach. I didn’t even want to teach, certainly didn’t see it as a career path," Salzberg said. "She said, 'You really understand suffering that’s why you should teach' … it was the first time I had thought of everything I had been through as something that could be helpful to others."
Her specialty has become a sort of meditation known as “loving-kindness.” It may sound syrupy and sentimental, but Salzberg begs to differ.
"It’s not just sort of 'woo woo' and phony and make believe," she added. "It’s a very different way of looking at ourselves and a very different way of looking at the world."
Whatever kind of meditation you choose, Salzberg says the best way to start is to make a reasonable commitment, such as deciding to practice meditation for 10 minutes a day for two weeks.
"The first five minutes are the hardest five minutes because you’re so agitated, often thinking about what you have to get done that day; 10 minutes is kinder to yourself than five minutes," she said.
"The goal is not to wipe out thinking or alienate the ability to think," Salzberg said. "The goal is to have a different relationship to your thoughts so even if you have a torrent of thoughts, even if they go on and on, even if they’re not very positive, doesn’t matter, because first of all you’re settling a little more on the breath, then a little bit more, and a little bit more, and you’re also developing more space toward the thoughts, which is the goal."