I really didn’t mean to open up a can of worms the other day when I posted that bit about social relationships within the sangha, and my own orientation towards personal human connection. I’m really glad I did, though! The conversation that has ensued has been most interesting and helpful to me. I have talked with a number of people now about the issue, and these conversations have helped me to clarify what up until this point has been instinctual to me, and which I have not very well had the ability to articulate. There is a new possibility for the sangha which has opened up over these past days as well, which I hope to explore with you over time. I’d like to initiate a discussion tonight in group about social life and friendship, and the ways in which these things do and do not dovetail with spiritual practice, just to bring more people into the conversation. I hope you’ll be able to join us for that. In the meantime, here are a few things I’ve been looking at for myself….
The fundamental issue here, I’ve realized, is not whether a relationship is ‘social’ or ‘not social’. The most important question to consider in any relationship, it seems to me, is whether the relationship is centered or not centered. When I say ‘centered’, what I mean is oriented around awareness: around the effort to be present and aware, to be speaking and acting from authentic nature, as best we can. I say making an effort at being centered, rather than being perfectly centered all the time, simply because the latter is unrealistic, If we can only be in relationships where everyone is perfectly centered all the time then we will all be hermits. Any relationship, however, in which both people are doing their best to speak and act as their real and true selves is one that is good and that I would feel privileged to engage in. When I say ‘not centered’, what I mean is a relationship that supports identity, in which there is an unspoken arrangement that the people involved will not disturb each other’s conditioned survival systems, in which a ‘self’-creating dysfunction is embedded in the dynamic, and so on. As I’ve said previously, I don’t want to have any part of those.
If people are having centered relationships as best they can, it seems to me, that’s all practice demands. Apart from that, the degree to which a person is ‘social’, in the sense of spending time connecting with other people in various ways, is up to that person. It doesn’t seem to me that spiritual practice requires one level or other of sociability, in other words. For example, I have a friend who I trained with at the monastery, who has a dedicated practice that involves at least as much commitment and determination as mine, and perhaps more, who is way on the other side of the spectrum in terms of sociability from me. I’ll bet she has several dozen people who she considers to be close friends. When she got married a few years ago she had something like 250 people show up to celebrate with her. I’m not going to speculate as to how many people would show if I ever were to get married (god forbid 🙂 ), but I think I can guarantee that we wouldn’t have to rent some huge venue, as my friend did. That’s not me. That’s not me partly because I’m just not put together that way, naturally, and that’s not me because I have different values than she has.
It really comes down to what a person wants to prioritize in their life, and what they want to put their time and energy into. I choose to put a significant amount of time and energy into solitude, and through solitude into my relationship with Life Unfolding in the simplest and quietest way. This is just the thing that I most care about. Other people have other priorities. For some people, their practice is all about relationship and the people they have in their lives, and that’s great! There’s no should here, do you see? The amount to which a person participates socially with other people is just the form of the thing. The essence of the thing, and this is always the case with everything, is the person’s relationship with the thing, and in this case the person’s relationship with relationships with other people. If a person’s relationship with other people tends to create identity and has the unconscious intention of meeting ego-needs, then that relationship will produce suffering. If a person through practice has learned the difference between a conditioned self and authentic nature; if they have learned to speak and act from the one and not the other, at least two a significant degree, and if that person decides that they would like to have the presence of a bunch of other people in their life, that’s a wonderful, beautiful thing, and I see no problem with it.
To say the same thing in a more personal way, no matter what kind of relationship I have, and this includes my relationship with Kathleen, I do not want to bring ‘Dave’ into the relationship. Dave is the person I believed myself to be for many years, but who is not the person I am in fact at all. Dave is the unhappy, isolated, self-hating identity that I assumed was my authentic nature until practice taught me otherwise. When I left the monastery some years ago I decided to call myself David rather than Dave, despite the fact that I had been Dave since adolescence, to help me remember the difference between the two. No one in my life needs to be in relationship with Dave. As best I can (and I do not do this perfectly) I only allow people to be in relationship with David. I am in relationship with Dave, myself, but I am the only one. It is my job on this Earth to end Dave’s suffering, and that work continues. No one else need be a part of that, however. A centered relationship for me is one in which I am David, not Dave, and that is my practice in relationship of all kinds.
So there are a few more thoughts. What do you see? Let’s get into this and things like this tonight if you want to!