But First the News...
making plans to do a long retreat, GERRY HADDEN was offered a job at
NPR. A reporter, he discovered, is a lot like a meditator. Both are on a
quest for truth. And ultimately neither finds it.
I was thirty-three I built a house in Seattle, Washington. It stood on a
steep, wooded hill, and had one bedroom, one bathroom, and a big open
living room and kitchen. But its most exciting feature was its dedicated
Buddhist shrine room. I was so thrilled to have a whole room just for
my meditation practice. When you build your own house you can design
things like that. I lived there for exactly one day. Then I locked the
door and never went back.
was 2000 and NPR had hired me to be its correspondent for Mexico,
Central America, and the Caribbean. I set up a shrine room in my new
digs in Mexico City, but I soon realized I wasn’t going to be meditating
much. The problem was that I was traveling all the time, sometimes on
the road for weeks. All right, I thought, I’ll get a travel Buddha. One
that’ll fit in my pocket.
little guy was easy enough to find. But although I’d set him up in
hotel rooms — on top of the mini-fridge, for example—I still didn’t
meditate very often. I was just too tired after my long, occasionally
harrowing, days of reporting.
Seattle I’d built the shrine room in part because I’d had my sights set
on a three-year meditation retreat and needed to ramp up my practice,
to log more hours on the mat. I spent many hours imagining how the
retreat would be: mind-blowing, life-changing, ego-destroying. I set out
asking my teacher, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, for permission. It took
longer than I’d anticipated to get a yes out of him, but once his
blessing was in hand there was no stopping me. Or so I thought.
the next four years with NPR I would look back on that untaken retreat
like a man gazing across at himself in some parallel, unreachable life.
I’d been so sure that that was my path, had felt so passionate about it,
and now I was losing my ability to practice even basic sitting
meditation. I fretted over this—in the Lacandona Jungle, the Galapagos
Islands, Port-au- Prince, San Salvador, and Guatemala City—even lying in
my own bed in Mexico City, just feet from the mat. I loved my job, and
had no regrets about having accepted it, but it was also true that I’d
paid a price: I’d lost my spiritual way. I’d left it behind in my
untested little house in the northwest.
a radical rupture, I used to think, going from wouldbe meditator to
foreign correspondent. Now, more than twelve years after making that
choice, I’ve reconsidered. I see that the lure and life of the
microphone were, in fact, very similar to those of the meditation mat.
2000 I was a young man eager to leap into the unknown, to push myself
to my limits, to pull a Jonathan Livingston Seagull on the world’s sorry
backside, so to speak. Buddhism, especially via a long retreat, would
have provided that leap. Instead, the NPR gig gave it to me. Boy, did it
give it to me. I flew away from my comfortable life to invent a highly
unconventional one, reporting from parts of the world with which I was
barely familiar, living out of hotels on good nights, sleeping on floors
or in hammocks on better ones.
some fundamental way there had been no fork in the road, as I’d
believed. The choices before me had offered essentially the same thing,
at least for a young man at that point in his life. And looking at the
bigger picture, I now see that there are deeper, more enduring
similarities between journalism and Buddhism, both in how they’re
practiced and in their goals.
at its finest, is nothing less than a pursuit of the truth. I’ll
capitalize it, because the Truth is a reporter’s ideal. It’s their Holy
Grail, whose ensnaring alone might guarantee that justice is done, that
wrongs are righted, that harmony is achieved. The meditator’s equivalent
might be the search for the self—whether you call it soul or ego or the
smallest particle— some indestructible, nondependent pillar of
existence from which springs all of the world’s beauty and nonsense.
reporters and meditators are on quests. As the years pass, both will
likely realize, if they’re doing their work well—bravely,
wholeheartedly, applying themselves with diligence—that their quests are
in vain. Reporters will realize they can never seem to find a story
with a simple, discernible truth behind it, a clear right and wrong. The
story is always nuanced, multifaceted, changing. And yet with each new
assignment they set off after an ideal they know they’ll never find,
never nail down, and in that there is a great thing to be learned.
is no less great for meditators, this lesson, as they sit watching
their thoughts hour after hour, day after day. How they arise, hang
around for a while, fade away. Over and over. Looking and looking to
test whether the teachings are right; if it’s really the case that there
is no smallest particle to find, no soul, no ego, ultimately, to cling
to. When they have caught a glimpse of this emptiness they keep on
meditating because, like reporters, they’ve also learned the journey has
big difference of course is that while journalists may reach the end of
their days and be considered wise in the ways of the world, without the
dharma they’ll leave this world as ignorant as they came into it. Which
is why I must start meditating again. Why I pray to the buddhas that I
may sit my sorry backside back down on the mat.
Gerry Hadden was National Public Radio’s reporter for Mexico, Central
America, and the Caribbean from 2000 to 2004. His memoir of his NPR
years, Never the Hope
Itself: Love and Ghosts in Latin America and Haiti, was published in
2011. Now he reports for PRI’s The World Out of Barcelona. Hadden
describes himself as a longtime faltering student of Dzongsar Khyentse
Rinpoche, with whom he took refuge too many years ago to count.