This shift to an expressive, reflective and interpersonal approach to meditation has nourished and enriched my own practice.
By: Brad Parks
For many years I regularly attended ten-day silent meditation retreats in the Southeast Asian Vipassana tradition. Although there were sometimes as many as 150 participants gathered together in a large mediation hall, the experience was intensely solitary. Just a few feet away from each other — (something quite unimaginable in the present Covid19 era) — we nevertheless barely interacted on any level, since even the act of making eye contact with others was discouraged. The resulting solitude was powerful and effective, with the understanding that each of us would learn to explore a variety of internal states with considerable focus. Every day or two we would have the opportunity to speak for ten or fifteen minutes with one of the teachers at the retreat.
At the end of the ten days, I would realize that I had virtually no idea what the other meditators were feeling or thinking or how they were dealing with the challenges of our shared project. Although I was able to observe my own inclinations to judge others and to imagine what they were like outside of the retreat setting, I nevertheless assumed that their experience must have been more or less like mine, approaching their meditation with the same internal language, attitudes and intentions. After all, hadn’t we all received the same instructions each day and weren’t we all members of the same species?
But as time went on, I felt the need to actually communicate with my fellow “yogis” so as to better understand the similarities and differences in our experiences of meditation. As a consequence I was drawn to the teachings and practice of Recollective Awareness as introduced and taught by Jason Siff and, more recently, to Linda Modaro’s Reflective Meditation through her Sati Sangha. In these practices, individual practitioners are encouraged to take some time after each sitting to reflect on and journal their personal experience of that sitting in their own language. When possible, a teacher in one of these approaches will “inter-view” or dialogue with the meditator in order to draw out and deepen the qualities and dimensions which appeared in the sitting. This shift to an expressive, reflective and interpersonal approach to meditation has nourished and enriched my own practice.
Listening to others share their journal entries or verbally articulating their experiences in meditation has made me aware of how differently each of us understands, describes and navigates our internal worlds. It has been a consistently engaging lesson for me to discover the range and expanse of meditation experiences which are personal, unique and often so different from my own. That has been both humbling and inspiring. I am much less inclined than I used to be to “prescribe” the “right” approach to meditation when talking with others and I am more open to learning about fresh ways to encounter the rich tapestry of my inner world. Although I cherish and appreciate the essential importance of silence and solitude in meditation, I am committed to maintaining a direct and honest communication with others as a way of understanding the world we share and our place in it. We are not simply individuals separate from others, but are deeply social beings with a strong need for contact and connection. Meditation is one of the most transformative ways of discovering and exploring these connections. I am deeply grateful for having been introduced to these teachings.