Relational Meditation

thumbnail
Daniel Johnson, modified 6 Years ago.

Relational Meditation

Posts: 401 Join Date: 12/16/09 Recent Posts
Hi Everyone,
I've been doing this thing lately that is pretty interesting and maybe somewhat unique. I'm not sure exactly what it is or how to describe it, but it is like relational meditation. I've practiced a number of different kinds of meditations that can be done in pairs or groups. (One of these is the social noting practice which is popular in the pragmatic dharma community.) I'm starting to think there is an essence to these relational styles of meditation which can be distilled into a coherent practice, yet somehow it also seems somewhat new and not well defined so far.

I think it's a lot like vipassana with two or more people and the object of awareness is the relationship. It is a practice of awareness and noticing and insight.

I've been doing different variations of it with different friends and we've been finding it to be pretty profound in the depth of insight that arises. I'd love to share it with all of you, and I'd be so curious what others in this community would think about it.

It's kind of difficult to describe, but I think this is the essence of it.
It is somewhat conversational in practice, with a certain amount of back and forth, but no set structure to who says what and when. Generally, one will make comments in the following ways:
* Basic satipathana of self: noticing/noting of one's own experiences. I notice my body sensations, my thoughts, and my emotions.
"I'm noticing that I am _______ right now." etc...
* Noticing the other person: I notice objective physical observations about you.
"I'm noticing that you are ____________ right now." etc.
* Noticing the shared experience:
"I'm noticing that we are _________ right now." etc.
* Noticing the way relationship changes:
"When you said _________, I noticed I felt _________."
* Noticing our judgements, guesses, intuitions, and projections about the other:
"I am imagining that you are ____________ right now."
* Inquiry into the other's experience:
"Are you _________ right now?"

This practice makes me think of two things:
1) The Enlightened Sangha - I forget who said it (Thich Nhat Hahn?). Someone said that the next Buddha would not be a person but an entire community. I think there is something really interesting when people are getting enlightened together in real time.
2) Presence squared - similar to social noting, there is a really interesting way that it is easier to be present when someone else is present with you. It is like it is more than just presence + presence, but rather presence x presence.

Anyway, I'm totally loving exploring this thing and would love to talk more about it with any of you or practice it with anyone out there (possibly on skype). Let me know what you all think and if you're interested.

Some practices which I think are different forms of relational meditation:
Social Noting
Circling
T-group
Enlightenment Intensives
... possibly many more?

I think there is an interesting potential in trying to distill these practices down to an essence which is consistent with the principles of insight meditation.

So many thoughts on the topic, I'm curious what you all think.
matthew sexton, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Relational Meditation

Posts: 313 Join Date: 1/14/14 Recent Posts
Over the last 10 years I've been working on a physical/emotional/cognitive/social practice.  Long story short, a small group stands in a circle, we hit a ball around to each other, like beach ball, we just try to keep the ball aloft, this is the physical part.

Cognitive part: we use *very* simple rules to regulate speech while the ball is flying around.  The point of the rule is to require awareness of what was said just before the ball gets to you, and to require you to verbalize in response, cognizant of the rule.  If you are not listening, you 'drop the (cognitive) ball'; feedback of non-awareness is immediate.  For (a simple) example if someone hits the ball and says 'Monday', the receiver should reply with 'Tuesday', the next person should reply with 'Wednesday'.

Emotional part: we watch for ever-more detailed awareness of the physical/emotive content of the person that is hitting the ball and respond to that content by mirroring (physically, emotively, cognitively) it when we field the ball.  As skill advances, we expand our awareness (mindfulness) to our own reaction to the transmission, and express that when we send the ball to another person.  In a sense, this is *kind* of like Mahasi-style noting, in that it requires awareness of internal experience and spending enough brain power to name that experience with one word.

I developed the practice to help me become a better improvisational actor.  Improvisers will recognize the games from the classes that actors and improvisers do, however, I take the 'games' to a kind of gymnastic/marathon level. emoticon  I just wanted to become more perceptive/expressive/responsive on the improv stage, and on the stage of real life.  After teaching this practice for hundreds of hours, in any context I could, I was pleasantly surprise to notice a dramatic reduction of situations, in real life, where I partook in unhelpful reactive behaviour.  I mean, life had become much better for me! emoticon

This unexpected upgrade of my life experience led me to try to figure out why spending time hitting a ball around in the county jail would help so much out in real life: while dodging careless auto drivers; while getting penned in by inconsiderate shoppers in the super market; while fielding questions when hosting a party; while having my view blocked by dancers at a concert; when getting hit in the face by careless or malicious beach-ball players; when being surprised by dishes clattering onto the kitchen floor behind me; when an aggressive drunk on the street lunges towards me, etc etc.

My research led me to a bunch of reading, to a Goenka retreat, then here to Dho and MCTB, and a whole lot more sitting. I think that the ball game did help, and it's because the ball game consisted of a hell of a lot of paying attention to present moment events, and a continuous stream of examples/experiences of impermanence and non-satisfaction, and having to let go of the idea that interactions are manageable/controllable/successful without being permeable/inclusive/non-controlling of what is happening both inside and outside of me.


Edited for accuracy.
thumbnail
Daniel Johnson, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Relational Meditation

Posts: 401 Join Date: 12/16/09 Recent Posts
Matthew, thanks so much for your response. I apologize that I didn't respond sooner, but I forgot my password to this site and it took a while to reset it.

Anyway, your practice sounds really interesting. I think I don't totally get it without seeing it in action, but it sounds very similar to what I'm talking about. I think you'd be really interested in the practice I've been exploring with others.

I'm also curious if anyone else has any experiences to share on the topic.
thumbnail
. Jake ., modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Relational Meditation

Posts: 698 Join Date: 5/22/10 Recent Posts
Hmm, very cool both of you!
I think to really get what you are both talking about in practice I would need to do it, but very intriguing. Daniel, what you describe sounds more informal to me (perhaps that's just your description though, could you articulate whether there is more structure to your practice?) I think the informal version of what you describe, anyhow, is basically interpersonal maturity, which I take to mean, the capacity to explicitly differentiate my emotional reactions from my perceptions of others, then include their reports of their emotional reaction and physical perceptions, then to reference the meta-level, and to let that whole understanding evolve (i.e., a "conversation" lol!). The meta-level is when one of us, in the midst of a difficult interaction, steers the conversation to the interpersonal dynamics themselves ("OK, let's clarify *how* we are talking about this together, and only then return to the conversation itself..."). So yeah I love it and would like to hear more!

@Mathew, your exercise sounds like great training! I kind of lost track of what it would look like after the first or second rule; it sounds like something I would need to see in action too.

If I think of more to share that relates to your initial inquiry Daniel I will add it later but just wanted to share appreciation for what you two are considering here.
thumbnail
Daniel Johnson, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Relational Meditation

Posts: 401 Join Date: 12/16/09 Recent Posts
Ugh. I wrote a response and then it got deleted.

I'm not sure if it is very formal or structured, but that is similar to how I practice vipassana. I'm not sure if vipassana is very structured or formal. You just sit down and notice your experience arising from moment to moment. This is basically the same thing, except you do it while also relating with another person.

It is kind of like the interpersonal maturity that you talk about, except it is more about the noticing what's happening right now, and less about the content of the conversation.

I'd love to do it over skype with anyone who wants to experiment a little. I think it's still somewhat experimental.