Six days before sitting down on the Arts & Lectures stage with Pico Iyer, Joan Halifax was working in a remote village in Nepal, 16,000 feet up in the Himalayas. Admitting to feeling a bit tired, the 76-year-old Halifax — who Iyer described as one of the wise elders of our world — nevertheless enthralled the audience with her intelligence, compassion, and presence.
In a conversation that ranged from her latest book, Standing At the Edge, to the compassion deficit in Western culture to growing up in a segregated town in Coral Gables, Florida, to participating in the Civil Rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s to the urgent need to protect the natural world, Halifax, a slender woman with close-cropped gray hair and an easy smile, paused before thoughtfully responding to Iyer’s questions. After a half century of contemplative practice merged with social activism, Halifax embodies the clear-eyed compassion of a true bodhisattva.
As he does in every interview, Iyer effortlessly created space for his guest, and then allowed the conversation to unfold organically, as if two dear friends are catching up on one another’s lives. The overarching theme of this delightful evening was summed up by Halifax when she said, “You have everything to offer by your presence.” In the warp and woof, electronic distraction and tumult of these times, presence is an invaluable gift.