Sharon Salzberg – Metta Hour – Ep. 91 – Ellen Agler

Sharon Salzberg - Metta Hour - Ep. 91 - Ellen Agler

For episode 91 of the Metta Hour Podcast, Sharon speaks with friend and author, Ellen Agler.

Ellen serves as the CEO of the END Fund, a private philanthropic initiative working to see an end of the suffering caused by five neglected tropical diseases affecting 1.5 billion people. The END Fund actively supports programs with dozens of partners in more than 25 countries, with a focus on sub-Saharan Africa. Ellen’s first book, “Under the Big Tree: Extraordinary Stories from the Movement to End Neglected Tropical Diseases” has just been released from Johns Hopkins University Press with a foreword by Bill Gates.

In this episode, Sharon and Ellen speak in depth about Ellen’s work in the public health sector, how to put compassion in action, and maintaining balance in extraordinary circumstances. To learn more about Ellen’s work visit

Show Notes

Meditation Medicine (Opening) – Ellen shares the path that brought her to work with neglected communities suffering from preventable tropical diseases. She shares the impact that meditation practice has had on her life and how meditation itself can be a form of medicine, addressing the causes and conditions that lead to suffering. We look at how diseases that have been conquered and forgotten about in developed nations are holding back developing nations from thriving and growing.

“I feel like when you can solve one thing in your life, it can give you motivation. I have seen this over and over when people have a particular disease they are able to overcome or are given access to care, it gives them confidence and motivation, a boost.” – Ellen Agler

Circle of Influence (13:00) – Sharon and Ellen talk about the direct impact that organizations like the END Fund have on the world. They look at the growing feeling of helplessness and disorientation that comes when we overextend what we are concerned about, like global politics, and neglect acting within our own circle of influence. Ellen talks about applying mindfulness towards how we engage with our circle of influence and how that circle begins to grow and grow outward as we put in the work.

“The END Fund organization that I lead and many other partners have been working to scale up treatment for all of these diseases. Amazingly, in these last couple of years, we have reached the point where we are treating over a billion people a year. There are fewer people now at risk than there were ten years ago. Hundreds of millions of people no longer need treatment for these diseases like river-blindness and trachoma.” – Ellen Agler  

Coping With What Is (22:35) – We look at the trauma that can come with the kind of work Ellen does. She and Sharon talk about the difficulties faced by humanitarian workers and how contemplative and self-care practices can give workers and those they serve the ability to persevere.

Under The Big Tree (38:55) – Sharon and Ellen discuss some of the stories and insight found in Ellen’s book, Under The Big Tree. Ellen talks about the challenge of telling someone’s story with dignity, nuance and honesty.

“What inspired me so much were these powerful personal stories of people serving on the front lines, those who had these diseases and were able to overcome them, or teams inside governments who were fighting every day to make sure these diseases got treated.” – Ellen Agler    

Larry Brilliant talks about serving neglected communities and shares stories from his own humanitarian work on Ep. 166 of the Mindrolling Podcast 

Sharon Salzberg - Metta Hour - Ep. 91 - Ellen Agler

To love ourselves, we must know ourselves. To love one another, we must know one another. But our assumptions, distractions, fears, expectations, and personal sense of unworthiness obscure these kernels of truth. As William James wisely explained, “Our view of the world is truly shaped by what we decide to hear.”
Join Sharon Salzberg at 1440 Multiversity, April 12 – 14, and explore a gentle but thorough method to know yourself, connect with others, and stop your mind from getting in the way of the connection you yearn for. Find this and other transformative retreats here at  


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