I wrote The Dharma of “The Princess Bride” because I wanted to address the myths and difficulties that modern people, especially those of us interested in living mindfully, face regarding relationships. I wanted to look deeply at friendship, romance, and family without having to come across as a “relationship expert.” True, I do hold a title as a senior Shambhala Buddhist teacher, a tradition that offers many tools for creating greater harmony with oneself and others, but I’m no relationship expert. I don’t think there’s any such thing, because a relationship is something that happens between (at least) two people, and an expert is a single person. Thus, the term “relationship expert” is actually an oxymoron.
At the same time, I wanted to address the cultural context of any modern spiritual practice, trying to balance playfulness and poignancy. I’ve always thought that when you meditate, you experience your mind much like a movie theater—complete with perceptions, narratives, and projections. And this particular movie, “The Princess Bride,” involves such a perfect quest for friendship, romantic partnership, and connection with one’s family heritage. At the same time, the classic film deconstructs our expectations of fairy tales in such an optimistic and loving way, which is exactly how Buddhist practice seems to operate—like an optimistic deconstructive of whatever you thought was “supposed” to happen.
Buddhism offers a series of meditation practices designed to prepare us for more loving and beneficial relationships, both towards ourselves and others. One body of techniques, Lovingkindness—also called Metta or Maitri—is a sort of heart yoga for stretching your mind gently into a default attitude of greater kindness toward the characters who inhabit your personal movie. Sometimes the thing that makes lovingkindness possible is a good sense of humor.
In the appendix of The Dharma of “The Princess Bride” there are written instructions for lovingkindness meditation that incorporate the characters of “The Princess Bride”—the grandfather, the grandson, the friends, Buttercup, the bad guys—into a playful lovingkindness practice.
Here is a guided audio version of that practice. Please enjoy your meditation, please enjoy the book, and have fun storming the castle!
Ethan Nichtern is a senior teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist tradition and the author of The Road Home: A Contemporary Exploration of the Buddhist Path and One City: A Declaration of Interdependence. He is also the founder of the Interdependence Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to secular Buddhist study as it applies to transformational activism, mindful arts and media projects, and Western psychology. Nichtern has taught meditation and Buddhist studies classes and retreats across the United States since 2002. He is based in New York City.