Navigating My Community Role

The most confusing and potentially useful aspect of integrating Vipassana into my daily life is learning how to interact with the individuals and communities in my life. Before Vipassana I learned that being extraverted and personable were important skill when trying to accomplish a goal. Communication channels need to be open in any calibration and if people don’t like you they’re not going to want to help you. When building a team in the past the first thing I did was make a personal connection with each individual. I would share a beer with one person, talk about hiking and travelling with someone else, support someone listening to their current life drama and connecting to their emotional swings, and simply smile and make eye contact with the quiet one. I was a master at connecting with people because I’ve had such a diversity of experiences and interests.

Vipassana has made it more challenging for me to connect with the masses of people with no interest in meditation. All of my choices in the past were logical and easy to convey to a stranger. Vipassana is very confusing to explain. I appear either mystical and whimsical because I focus on observing the feelings inside of me, or I disconnect from people by explaining how 10 days of silent meditation have taught me to perceive something that they can’t relate to. Vipassana places such a heavy focus on my personal practice and making independent decisions that I’ve withdrawn a lot from my communities and from personal relationships.

Instead I seek out individuals who can relate to my path and I’ve met some wonderful people and friends. I’m convinced that the relationships I’m building through meditation will be the deepest relationships of my life, constantly resonating with truth, honesty, and love. This is a great gift of Vipassana.

But what about all of those other people I used to connect to? What about those superficial relationships with neighbors and colleagues that help the world go round? Do those relationships slowly become devalued because I’m on the great path of dhamma? Do I fake interest in their lives to make my own life easier? Do I confront them with the more meaningful life path of Vipassana? I know these are leading questions, so maybe they’re the wrong ones to ask, but the do express my current confusion.

I’ve always viewed myself as a proactive leader of positive change. The best tools I’ve had to promote change are my ability to connect with everyone and my willingness to step into difficult situations and provide direction. My practice currently seems to be drawing me away from both of these tools as I find myself focusing on my own liberating path rather than helping other individuals and my community. I’m open to helping people, but it feels like the need to buy into “my path” to receive that help and that doesn’t feel right.

It’s possible that in this early stage of my development of dhamma that I should be focusing on myself and that with time the best ways to help people will become more clear. There are many aspects of this practice that ring so pure and true to me, but this is one aspect that still doesn’t sit quite right. I hope that in time I’ll find solutions and not just settle into acceptance. I am willing to give this time. Time to go meditate.

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3 thoughts on “Navigating My Community Role

  1. Hi Ryan! Thanks a lot for sharing another amazing post. I’ve struggled so much with exactly this aspect of the path and here I’d like to share what I’ve come to understand that made it a lot easier for me to engage life fully.

    I used to always say “I meditate”.. now I say “I sit in silence for sometime every day.” I explain how just noticing my breath while I’m sitting calms my mind so that I can think more clearly. Then I go on and tell others how this daily practise made me a lot calmer overall (not compared to anyone else, but compared to how “I” was before). This less reactive way of life helps me navigate the challenges I come across and keep my mind balanced throughout my day.. which also helps me concentrate better when I’m working on something. I tell people that I am a lot more aware of what I am feeling at any given moment and that I can simply watch emotions come and go without having to react to them.

    In this way I found that I can connect to almost anyone I come across. I notice that when I use very clear simple words including emotions.. people understand right away.

    I’ve been interested in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction lately and it is adapted directly from Vipassana (Goenka) and it is taught in plain purely scientific jargon. Seeing the way they explain all this made it a lot easier for me to relate to others.

    Over the years I have come to understand that this path is actually a non-path. There is simply nothing extraordinary about meditation at all. It’s just a way of developing the non-reactive, observant part of the mind. After years of struggle and feelings of alienation amidst tons of friends, I am now fully immersed in my practise (that doesn’t even feel like one sometimes) and fully engaged in all levels of daily life with whomever I come across. What a relief finally!

    A mindfulness practise, in this case Vipassana, makes the fundamentals of life very obvious: We all want to love and be loved. We all struggle incredibly in life. We all die. Through the wisdom of impermanence and suffering, one is simply left with an endless awe for and humility before this incredibly beautiful craziness we call “life”.

    Lately, I’ve been finding it very rewarding to connect with others through our common human suffering regardless of where they are on their journey. On the other hand, just like you, I still feel truly fortunate when I am in the presence of others who can fully relate to my experience.

    This conversation reminded me of something I’ve read in “Cultivating Inner Peace” by Paul Fleischmann (an acharya in our tradition). I hope you find it helpful and relevant.

    “When you walk the path of peace, whether you take one step or a lifelong pilgrimage, you are revolutionizing human nature away from requisition, appropriation and consumption, toward gratitude, reverence and appreciation. Everywhere you look you will see life-sustaining gifts. All your possessions, even your thoughts, will appear to be a loan of precious heirlooms. Mythical saints and angels will seem to you to be rumor and gossamer when compared to the people you live with and love, whose bodies are molecules shaped by earth, plant, and sun, whose minds are the product of eons of human evolution, and who float around you in aquamarine companionship and care. Your own life and death will feel like tides.”

    Much love.

    1. ryanshelton7

      Thanks Cenk! There’s a lot of helpful thoughts in you post for me. I’m glad my thoughts are helpful to you also. That’s the point of this whole blog thing. I look forward to reading more of your comments.

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