As I think about us getting together – some of us regularly over a long time, some of us new – I’m wondering what we can say about the nature of this work together.
In just sitting quietly there is certainly a boost of energy of being with other people without having to socialize or interact. That’s a nice feeling. However, it doesn’t touch on the real dynamics of our ingrained reactions to others and our unseen assumptions about ourselves and life as intimately as dialogue does.
Actually it might be better to say “as dialogue can” because just participating in dialogue doesn’t guarantee that a particular person comes in touch with these hidden dynamics and assumptions. It feels to me that in dialogue, I’ve got two options. I can stick with what is safe, which typically involves sharing suggestions, strategies, describing meditative work, encouraging someone, being sympathetic, helping someone feel better. But the other option is to pay more attention to myself during dialogue. To listen to what comes up when other people talk. To notice and feel into reactions – negative or positive. To listen to the puzzlement that may come up in listening to others. To notice the questions that resonate in me.
I’m thinking now that this opening of deep questions is one of the most profound aspects of meditative dialogue. For me these may have to do with our mortality – the indisputable fact that no matter how well we may live, living comes to an end. These questions for me also revolve around wondering how in the world it might be possible to live harmoniously with others, given the deep conditioning of feeling defensive, of being guarded, of feeling isolated, of longing for something better.
When we come together in monthly dialogue or retreat, when I really listen to what other people are talking about, it seems to open up a whole unknown and maybe unknowable realm. This happens in so many ways, if I’m really listening to myself as I listen to others. This unknown space seems to bring up questions that invite and require listening, deeply honest listening. It invites giving more time and space to this listening. And the listening seems to move into greater openness and sensitivity in this body/mind, which seems to have a built-in concern that it’s going to be overwhelmed by sensation if it becomes too sensitive.
There are many ways in our lives that we are together with others, at least in the sense that we’re in the same location and maybe doing the same activity. But in sitting and dialogue we are together with others in way that it becomes clear that we don’t know who we are. We don’t know who others are. We don’t know who we ourselves are. And in not knowing, we wake up to listening right here.
In dialogue together, as in life, the energy may be mostly caught up in patterns of interacting – sharing advice, comforting, trying to feel connected – or there may be a shift in which it becomes more important to really listen to what’s going on in myself and others. When this happens, it feels like living in a fresh way. And if some reaction comes up in me, it can be seen honestly. The interest in honest seeing at that moment is stronger than the need to present myself as a non-reactive person. Life is so much simpler then. Energy isn’t wasted in trying to be something.
It might not always be obvious but when that kind of honest looking is the important thing, the sense of being so separate and isolated from the world drops away, maybe for just an instant, along with worry about the future. For that moment, life simply lives itself. And we may recognize that this is and always has been the natural state of everything.