Spiritual friendship: The power and challenge of meditating together

Insight Dialogue is an interpersonal meditation practice that merges mindful concentration with the teachings of the Buddha as well as mindful dialogue to support insight into the nature, causes and liberation from suffering. The retreat is held in the Vipassana style where the retreatants uphold noble silence within the community. The are opportunities to engage in mindful dialogue under the close guidance of the teachers, Bhikku Sukhacitto and Rosalie Dores.

I have had the pleasure of engaging in many different retreat styles offered here at New Life and most of them have been silent so far. I was hesitant to sit this particular retreat as I thoroughly enjoy silence and my own personal meditation practice. I was not so sure about inviting others into my meditation space but upon meeting the two facilitators I was immediately put at ease by their presence. I knew I wanted to learn from them.

Day one, we settle into the lovely forest hall. A large round natural building made of handcrafted mud bricks complete with a thatched roof and we sit in silent meditation. So far so good. We are then invited to take a walking break outside in nature. It’s quite amazing the amount of beauty you can find in nature when you take away outside distractions like talking, rushing to get somewhere, reading, eating, etc. Then we are invited to walk around inside the forest hall and stop to find a partner. I immediately notice my aversion to this activity but I realize that an integral part of any practice is noticing our aversions and working to overcome them. My heart is beating faster and my breathing becoming shallow. I find a partner and we sit down to meditate together. During the meditation, the teachers are gently guiding us with very clear instructions and their words bring me an immense sense of relief. I am able to regulate both my heart rate and my breathing. So far so good. The words still linger in my ears today..

Trust emergence
Speak your truth
Listen deeply

Imagine the difference in the way we could communicate with the world if only we followed these simple guidelines. But are they really that simple? We are invited to open our eyes and engage in eye contact with our partner. I want to stay in my dark silent bubble. I look at my partner and see the humanness in their eyes. The eyes tell many stories. I am feeling very self conscious of what they can read in my own eyes. My heart rate is on the rise. My breathing becoming shallow. At this moment I notice that I have a choice. I can allow panic to take over, my body to tense up and my thoughts race around in crazy circles or I can follow the guidelines.

So I decide to pause and I take a deep breath. I try to relax my body. I ask myself how I am feeling inside. The fact that I don’t have to think of clever things to say quickly is very comforting. In fact I am encouraged to take my time, to trust what is emerging and not to worry about how the words will sound but rather how they feel. So how do I feel? I don’t feel rushed. I feel relaxed. Above all, I feel encouraged and very supported by the process. I open my mouth to speak and not much comes out, which is perfectly fine. I am speaking my truth from my heart, I am letting my partner know how I feel while simultaneously letting myself know how I feel. How harmonious! Wow, is this really how it feels to be truly in the moment? Aware of both me and another at the same time?

I realize how much I usually only focus on the other person and that I don’t usually have a clue about how I’m really feeling. I constantly wonder how my words are sounding to another. Are they judging me? Am I speaking too fast or slow? Will they think I am crazy, stupid, smart or funny? Does any of this really matter? Is any of this based in reality? Or is it all based on stories in my head? How can I be sure? What is the truth? The only truth I can cling to is my own. I reset my focus onto myself. How am I feeling? What do I actually want to say regardless of how it sounds? Trust. Truth. Feel. Not over think. Hmmm, this insight dialogue thing may be onto something here.

After seven days, we are reintegrated into the community at large and they welcome us back with open arms. I am so grateful for everyone’s support. Upon engaging in regular dialogue with non-retreatants, I find that I can use the guidelines I learned in the retreat. When I take the time to pause, relax and ask myself how I feel then my truth has space to emerge. Not just junky words that I think sound funny. What a very useful tool in relating to the world!

Upon speaking with other retreatants I learned some valuable things about their experiences. One person who is particularly introverted and socially anxious reported that the insight dialogue guidance gave her the confidence she needed to engage with others in more comfort. Another person reported that they often long for genuine human connection, but didn’t know how to go about it until they learned of the ultra supportive guidelines. Weeks after the retreat, I am happy to report that a few retreatants still meet up in a group to practice insight dialogue. Overall, I feel the retreat was very beneficial to whole community. Even though I was experiencing difficulty and aversion at first, it is only through facing discomfort that we have the golden opportunity to grow!

by Marisha Schaefer

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *