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Connection as Dharma Practice

Connection as Dharma Practice

In my early years of Buddhist practice, I fell in love with the silence, solitude and seclusion of retreat. Protected from the roller coaster of human relating, I could drop deeply inside of myself and find peace. I specifically dreaded the concluding moment when the bell was rung, noble silence was broken and yogis were invited to connect with each other. The sensation this invitation provoked was too much for me, I wanted to bolt from the room. What happened to my serenity and freedom?

The Buddha taught that friendship is not just part of, but the whole of the spiritual life. But how do you begin when in the face of intimacy your fears, insecurities, doubt and judgment are activated? We start by taking on relating as a practice. We can apply the skills learned in our meditation practice to the act of connection. Begin here.

  1. Cultivate connection to an embodied anchor within (ie the rise & fall of your breath 0r the felt sense of your feet contacting the ground, the alive sensation in your genitals works too). When you go to interact with another, maintain 10% of your attention in that anchor. Notice how it shifts your experience to stay connected to yourself as you connect with others.
  2. Get curious about the sensation that arises in the face of connection – heat, buzzing, tension etc. Explore what happens if you allow the sensation to be there, without making it wrong, or merging with the story your mind creates about it. Can you allow for tension in your chest (or judgment in your mind) while moving into connection? You can bring all parts of yourself along without losing yourself in them. 
  3. Practice verbal vipassana. Name more of what you’re feeling on the inside, to the outside. “Wow, I’m feeling a lot of anxiety right now,” or “My mind is super judgy tonight!”. I recently taught with a Tibetan Rinpoche who shared about feeling contracted internally while simultaneously smiling and exuding joy. It wasn’t because he was bypassing his feelings – it was because he welcomed them and didn’t see their presence as a problem. Naming our experience has the magical power of loosening its grip on us, not to mention creating more good humored human intimacy with those around us. 
  4. Make others the object of your meditative awareness. Notice them with the same attention and curiosity you would notice the nuances of  your own breath. When resonant, share what you see. We all long to be seen. And sometimes the greatest antidote for anxiety is to take your attention off your spinning story and place it on another being. We quickly discover that we’re not alone in this human experience.

Set your intention to practice relating, in the same way you set your intention to meditate. Do it deliberately and imperfectly, with the spirit of discovery and kindness towards yourself. I no longer need to bolt from the room when the proverbial bell is rung. I invite you to join me on this spiritual path of connection.


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