Written by Dan Kaminsky
In a recent blog post in which I was writing with critical inquisitiveness about practices done at centers, among the many thought provoking responses to come in was the idea that when you are going to a center, you are entering into someone else’s domain and because of that should do what is asked without question. The responder likened it to going to your mother’s house. She likes things done a certain way, and in that case you don’t need to know the details, you just do it to be helpful.
I think this is actually a really important idea to tease out in understanding how to approach this tradition. If I were approaching my time at centers like I was in someone else’s house, then I think it would be easy to shut my brain off and do as I’m told to be helpful. However, I was approaching not as a passive visitor, but as an active resident.
I lived at centers for a long time either through sit-serve programs or through being on staff. So in some ways, it literally was my home. In addition as I first started getting active, at least in the centers that I spent time at, there was significant messaging that “this is your center.” The AT’s and staff were very open that we should utilize the center as our own for the benefit of the community and our own personal practice. This messaging wasn’t once or twice, but very consistent throughout my early years. Finally throughout my years of service, I was often empowered to make decisions and take action to further the task being worked on. In this way, it increasingly felt like I had some (however small) stake in the organization.
Back to the idea of my mother’s house, when I visit her, even if she has rules or processes that are radically different from my own, as a visitor I can easily adopt them without being critical. If indeed all I am is a visitor then when I get back to my own home I can choose which rules (if any) I’d like to adopt.
That is a very different scenario than if I am told by my partner or my roommates to follow certain rules, regulations, guidelines or philosophies. If it is my own home, then I think it would be right to question these ideas and engage in dialogue about them to work out an agreement that works for everyone.
This difference in approaches feels quite important to understanding why some people have been so able to easily shut off their brains and take what is useful, while others are more active in trying to promote dialogue. Vipassana has been my literal home. It has also been my spiritual home for a decade. Considering it has been a literal and figurative home for me helps explain my eagerness in wanting to be a part of these conversations.
What do others think? Should we all approach the centers as visitors always? Is it our home or are we guests? Is it our collective center to use, or should we only treat it as passerby’s?