For some time it's been on my mind to reboot this blog and resume posting regularly, but I've had a lot of trouble finding the time. The other day I had a realization, however, which I hope will be a game-changer. I write a lot, and just about every day. I correspond with people about practice. It occurred to me suddenly that the conversations I'm having with individuals are of general interest, as we are all heading in the same direction and we all struggle with the same things. And so I'm doing a little experiment here, which is to strip the correspondence of anything that would violate my correspondent's privacy, and put out the parts of the conversation that seem helpful, for everyone to consider. Let me know if you have any feedback.
Here's something that follows up on the blog I posted on Monday about spiritual practice and relationships with other people.
Yes!!!! I do think we are saying the same thing in different ways. Let's go into this a little deeper and see where we land.
I think I may have presented things in a way that confused the issue. In terms of our relationships with other people through practice, the place I'm suggesting that we look is on the process level, not the content level. For example, it is not the case, actually, that it would be torture for me to go on a bar crawl. You may be surprised to learn that I very much enjoy going to bars. Occasionally when I'm out and about I'll stop in and have some food, along with a gin and tonic (my drink of choice), or two if I'm feeling peppy. I'll sit at the bar where I can chat with the bartender and the other folks hanging around. I can't say that I've ever been on a bar crawl myself, but that's only because I've never been invited. The issue is not the bar crawl (that's the content); the issue is my motivation (that's the process). If I were to go bar-crawling in order to escape from my feelings, to avoid issues I have going on in my life, to check out for a while, and so on, then I would be abandoning myself--and the crawl is just a convenient excuse. If other people are there for similar reasons, then I will have no interest in participating because the process of self-abandonment they are doing will support the same in me, and I don't want to abandon myself. If I am participating in order to connect with others and to share life with others in a conscious way, however, and if others have the same motivation, then a bar crawl could be a fabulous thing to do, and lots of fun as well. There are no rules, other than the One Rule, which is that we need to be always paying attention. It's not about the thing; it's about the way we are with the thing, whatever it is.
I do not want to only engage in deep conversations with people. That would be awful! I love deep conversation, but there are many other ways to connect authentically than that. If I need to converse deeply in order to feel connected with others then I have a problem. A content level way of meeting our natural need to connect is never going to work--and besides, as you say, such an approach will be exhausting over time. I am not interested in talking only with people who share my interests and goals (with one exception, which I'll get to in a moment). As you say, that's boring. At the moment I'm having a lively and helpful conversation with a long-time conservative about the political situation. It's absolutely fascinating to learn about how she sees the world, and to have my own assumptions reflected by her opposing world view. The exchange has been delightful, and the reason is that neither of us is there to defend ideologies. We're there to learn, and we're open to what the other has to say. We are doing a process of connection together, in other words, with a content (the political situation) that tends to divide, and it's a ton of fun.
The exception is this, that I do not find it helpful to engage with people whos first priority is to maintain conditioned mind, when they are holding on to that priority (I say it that way because often people become identified only temporarily, and then become themselves again before long). I don't blame them for that orientation, I don't judge them for it (most are not even aware they are doing it, and so blame and judgement are irrelevant), and I do not think less of them for it, but the fact is that you cannot connect heart to heart with someone in an identified state. A person who is identified with conditioned mind is defended against connection, and it just cannot be done. Now, I'm not saying I will only interact with people who are centered all the time; if I did I wouldn't have any friends. Nobody I know is centered all the time, and that includes me. If someone is willing to look beyond conditioned mind, to let go of their defenses and be real, even a little, that's good enough for me. And my experience is that most people, if you get them one on one and create for them an open and centered environment, will in fact demonstrate that willingness.
The way you are holding boundaries with your family is EXACTLY the sort of thing I was trying to point to in my previous email--only more subtle and sophisticated. You have identified dynamics that support conditioned mind, you have named those dynamics, and you have refused to participate. Beautiful! That's what we all need to do, I think, in order to live in a world where our relationships with others support our deepest desire (and we all share this, I believe, though not everyone is aware of it), which is to be truly ourselves with love on this earth. I have conversations with people every day who are trying to disentangle themselves from the aspects of family relationships, intimate relationships, friend and co-worker relationships, that support our human habit of self-abandonment. It's difficult to do, but empowering to make the effort. We need to surround ourselves with people who want us to be authentically happy, to succeed in life, and to enjoy all life has to offer--who want what is truly best for us. If there are places within our relationships that are soiled by conditioned dynamics of the sort you outlined, we need to clean them up. That's what you're doing, it appears to me, and it's wonderful.
Thanks again for the conversation. I hope you're having lots of independence today! Be well.