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What Do You Tell Them?

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What Do You Tell Them?
Answer
12/13/08 3:53 AM
Forum: Dharma Overground Discussion Forum

So your family and friends now know you're a practicing Buddhist. They'll either quickly forget that fact, ignoring it, or they'll be curious and start asking questions. After their initial reaction, which is sometimes to think you're weird (or a member of a cult) one of the first questions that comes up is "Why? What good does that do you?"

What do you tell them?

RE: What Do You Tell Them?
Answer
12/27/08 6:23 AM as a reply to Chris Marti.
For me it depends a lot on the context. First off, though, I try to hide most of "this stuff" under the rug like a looney-toons character. If it gets out, however, it just depends on the person and how well you know them. The less I know the person's predisposition, the more vague I am. For example, I may say "because it makes me happy." Hard to argue with that. However, when my brother found out (a philosophy/rhetoric PHD), we started discussing the ideas in that context, drew parallels and just chatted about the world views without much of a "right or wrong" attitude.

Oh, and if it's someone I have to work with or any other situation where their odd interpretations may make life difficult, I'd be really vague or deflect it with a joke all together. Example: my boss. I'd be willing to tell him it's because "I'm a chubby chaser and the buddha was ROUUND." But maybe that's inappropriate as well =P.

RE: What Do You Tell Them?
Answer
12/29/08 9:24 AM as a reply to Chris Marti.
I don't know. From what I can gather most people are fairly happy not to examine "absolute reality". Many people wouldn't recongnize such a thing. This doesn't make sense since all figures take place on a ground, but there you go. Meditating is really boring, and some other mystical practices are really weird. Keep in mind that most Americans have no avocations or hobbies. Trying to explain why you like to do anything besides watch TV or buy fancy electronics and appliances and other shit you don't need can probably in some circles diagnose you as insane. Consider that you can buy dozens of books on "tantra" at any bookstore but they are mostly just New-Age marketed sex manuals. That, and consider also the relative faithlessness of attendants at even the major retreat centers. Yes, this is a fairly pessimistic assessment.

RE: What Do You Tell Them?
Answer
12/29/08 9:45 AM as a reply to Chris Marti.
At least you recognize it as a pessimistic assessment. ;) At times, I've had a similarly cynical position (though always more so when in the dark night). I remember at one point talking to Daniel about how I don't know how I could be in relationship w/ my current wife without her being a fellow practitioner and understanding what I was doing. At that time period I really thought I needed those close to me to understand what I was doing w/ meditation. His response was somewhat surprising, and though I can't remember what he said specifically, it was something along the lines of, "those close to you don't need to understand what you're doing, especially when you get to a certain level of maturity in your practice."

At the time I didn't really understand what he meant, now I feel like it's starting to make more and more sense. As realization progresses it literally becomes more integrated and down-to-earth and there seems to be less of a need to have other people understand it (unless of course they're interested). For me, it's just become part of the ground of my life, so normal that I almost never find the needed to tell people, who just aren't that interested, in it. I sometimes wonder if I'm just become hyper-normal, but actually I think it's the normalcy that people can really relate to. I carry a lot less resentment, frustration, and arrogance regarding "Vince the meditator." In many ways this is a relief, but it still doesn't change Nathan's observations about the general lack of interest in this stuff. I guess that's just the way it is.

RE: What Do You Tell Them?
Answer
12/29/08 10:18 AM as a reply to Chris Marti.
I used to have a real burning desire to communicate what I was doing with my wife or even my older children. That's a relatively common but also an immature urge I now believe. They don't care. Really just don't care - not in a nasty or angry way but in a neutral "I've got my own stuff to deal with" way. That was hard to adjust to but yeah, that's the way it seems to work.

So Vince, yes, as I progressed in my practice it became obvious that sharing it with those around me was pretty much pointless and I now wait for at least five separate inquiries before I'll even talk about it with someone who seems the least bit curious. I never, ever, bring it up or volunteer anything, even if a related topic arises (karma being a common one, as is Eckhard Tolle since Oprah Winfrey recommended his most recent book).

Has anyone ever asked any of you why you practice? What do you tell them?

RE: What Do You Tell Them?
Answer
12/29/08 10:58 AM as a reply to Chris Marti.
I've never felt compelled to tell people that "I am a meditator"--rather, the issue is trying to get anyone--usually my financee--to understand why you are trying to find "alone time". "I am having really really nasty vibratory phenomena and need to sit and concentrate for a while so I can get into low equanimity and calm back down" doesn't really translate: in another tradition this would be "Manifestation through Da'ath into Geburah is causing Klippoth phenomena to make me feel awful"--see what I mean? Have you ever tried to get someone to turn down the volume on a TV in 400-square-foot one-bedroom apartment?

Every person I can think of who has asked me about meditaiton in a social situation always harbored some desire fro me to respond in terms of some naive model they had about practice. Somewhere in the section on Magick Daniel warns about different models or reality running into each other, and in a way this is an example of that. I'll be the first to admit that I don't understand why people are totally satisfied with a life that consists of working to line the pockets of fascists in suits (who themselves were forced into the role from childhood) then coming home to watch TV. Don't get me wrong, I'm not on a renouncer trip here.

RE: What Do You Tell Them?
Answer
12/29/08 11:15 AM as a reply to Chris Marti.
I think it is more productive to ask, "How do you respond to honest questions from someone who doesn't necessarily have the model to accept a response?"

There are people who think meditation is like therapy, just cheaper, and there are even people who think it is devil-worship--just ask the internet. Sadly, while either or both would be awesome for many reasons, it's not so. It can be easy to deem yourself a "technical meditator" and forget that other people, even (maybe especially) those who don't practice have many preconceptions about meditation. It is very easy to forget that the model you operate on (probably founded on just a few concepts, the four-stage "vipassana jhana", the basic vipassana injuction, concentration and a meager handful of other things) is, if simple to you or me, alien to many people. Keep in mind that the idea of silence and sitting still is alien to our culture.

RE: What Do You Tell Them?
Answer
12/29/08 11:35 AM as a reply to Chris Marti.
I guess I have a different angle on it, Nathan. I'm happy to let people use whatever model they have "up there" as an explanation of what I'm doing. Usually I tell them it's a way to relax. If they ask me more about meditation I tell them the simplest things I can and let it go at that unless pushed. That's a pretty common understanding and answers most questions about the practice. In my experience telling them about even simple models of enlightenment is the fastest way to get them thinking you're pretty whacky. And yes, it's all very different from what we grew up with and what the vast majority of people deal with every day, so it's expected that they won't easily relate to it. You really, really have to want something different, like we did, to get anywhere near an accurate or detailed explanation of what we're doing. As for silence being alien to people, I sometimes mention Thoreau. That can work for the more literate ones ;-)

RE: What Do You Tell Them?
Answer
12/29/08 12:31 PM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Oh, I'm not even talking about models of enlightenment here necessarily, I just mean I feel like most of the time people ask those questions they're doing it expecting a particular answer that I don't think I could give truthfully without lapsing into a lot of strange mixed metaphors about concentration making a safe home that you can tune into, etc. Saying something like "clarity" or "relaxation" doesn't always feel honest for me, partly because those imply a "real world" practicality that isn't there.

You could probably conjugate most of these verbs with a form of "not" and still end up having the same thing going on--this can be frustarting to express.

On the other hand, i can say that metta practice improves my mood and makes it easier to deal with people and that the other "protective" practices have effects like this.

I also tend to think that something like this would be hard to explain. It's kind of a question like "why do you read newspapers" or "why do you follow football" or "why do you exercise"--if there isn't a tacit (i.e., unexpressed) shared understanding already present, it'll be hard to get anything across.

RE: What Do You Tell Them?
Answer
12/30/08 12:05 PM as a reply to Chris Marti.
The vast majority of people who ask me about meditation (all six out of seven of them) aren't expecting a detailed answer. They're looking, I believe, for reassurance that I'm not weird or they're just being polite because the subject came up somehow. So saying "It relaxes me" does no harm. If they're really and truly interested in the topic (and it's obvious that they are because most drop the subject after one answer) I point them to another source like a general interest book on the subject. I've had only one person ever come back to me after that.

This reminds me of the stories I've heard of Zen masters making prospective students jump through hoops in order to be allowed to practice in the monastery. There's no right answer to this question but it points to the nature of this enterprise and where the ultimate responsibility lies for human spiritual progress.

RE: What Do You Tell Them?
Answer
12/31/08 2:01 AM as a reply to Chris Marti.
"I just like to do it".

The same response is given to people who question my motives for not eating meat, for listening to my kind of music, for reading the books I read, for dressing the way I do, and so on. This response is always accepted, because the question is really about preferences, and the answer is in terms of personal preference. Any further discussion is then based on the mutual understanding that we're discussing a matter of preference, or taste.

Cheers,
Florian

RE: What Do You Tell Them?
Answer
1/1/09 6:02 AM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Joseph Goldstein has some thoughts on all of this:

http://meaningoflife.tv/video.php?speaker=goldstein&topic=complete

RE: What Do You Tell Them?
Answer
1/1/09 8:07 AM as a reply to Chris Marti.
That's a nice interview. Thanks, Chris, for posting the link.
The "why meditate" bits start at 32 minutes, for those who don't want to watch the whole thing (recommended, though).

Cheers,
Florian

RE: What Do You Tell Them?
Answer
1/1/09 12:44 PM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Author: adammorse


I'm actually writing under my husband's log in, so hello all, this is Megan writing, not Adam. Adam showed me this discussion thread and it comes so perfectly timed because just today we had a heated discussion (okay, argument) about his meditation practice. We've both been moderately interested in Buddhism and meditation for a couple of years now, but have taken different approaches to it. While his interest has developed into a more intense and dedicated sitting practice, my interest in Buddhism has remained just that: interest. My decision thus far is to develop awareness through the activities that I love: cooking, reading, hiking with my dog; my conclusion is that life is too short to spend so many hours sitting on a zafu.

But, the argument. Whenever Adam sits lately, it's on the tail of a frustrated or irritated mood. Understandable, right? But when he retreats like this, the irritation and the sit become inextricably linked in my mind, and my response runs along the lines of "he's not paying attention to me" or "he's so irritated he wants to get away from me." Which of course is painful. And when we discussed that today, it was clearly painful to him that this pursuit of loving kindness results in tension and pain between him and his loved one.

But I imagine that Adam will be able to incorporate his practice into our lives with an increasing normalcy, like you, vjhorn. Your comments were illuminating and encouraging, and remind me of the inherent selflessness of a true Buddhist. And I myself aspire to an acceptance of his occasional absence from the family. I most certainly hope he doesn't fall into the dangerous and misleading thinking that there are meditators and then there's everyone else (lining fascist pockets and whatnot). Isn't that "us and them" mentality precisely what you are trying to shed in your practice nathan28?

RE: What Do You Tell Them?
Answer
1/2/09 12:32 AM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Hi Megan, welcome to the Dharma Overground. (To avoid confusion, I think it would be best if you set up a login here for yourself.)

The kinds of tension you describe sound very familiar to me. Family life and solitary pursuits are not easily balanced and integrated. Some thoughts:

There are several meditation "postures": sitting, standing, walking, and reclining are the traditional four. You mentioned hiking (no talking during walking meditation, though).

At night, our daughter loves "being quiet" for a few moments and "saying good wishes" - after the bedtime story and talking about the day's events, of course! We also "smile at the new day" with her first thing in the morning. Kids tend to enjoy such little rituals, and while short (a few moments), they are examples of how Metta practice can be integrated naturally into family life. There isn't even any need for Buddhist terminology. emoticon

When I manage to get up early, I can meditate without my family feeling "left out". Ditto for the time on the commuter train or bus, and for the lunch break.

Also, after reading Daniels book, I got really enthusiastic about my great spiritual quest. I meditated like there was no tomorrow, which resulted in me causing my wife grief similar to what you've been experiencing. I made quick progress in my meditation, and plunged into the "dark night" (see Daniel's book) around last Christmas. Really, really bad timing! I've slowed down a bit since then, tried a more balanced approach to the three divisions of the Noble Eightfold Path (everyday life, concentration, insight), and I like to think my practice and family life are more integrated and natural now. emoticon Even finding a graceful mode of practice takes practice, it seems.

Cheers,
Florian

RE: What Do You Tell Them?
Answer
1/2/09 1:59 AM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Hi Megan,

Welcome. So far as a I can tell, there are many people who have a very dedicated relationship to meditation and who have amazing partnerships with those that don't share their interest. Though I've seen many people struggle with this as well, I don't think that struggle is a necessary one. Particularly if one looks at meditation like any other skills, such as skill in an athletic endeavor, in music, in academics, etc. The difference of course, being that skill in meditation is an almost purely internal skill, it doesn't really have much of an external correlate (besides sitting on one's ass!). That being said, I suspect that's one of the reasons it's so difficult for both people in a partnership where one is actively developing that skill and the other doesn't really have an interest in that particular skill. It's difficult for the meditator because in a sense, they have nothing to really show for their effort, and it's difficult for the other person because they don't really see the improvement of skill, because it's largely happening inside the meditators subjective experience.

The other issue, I think, is that there are a lot of wacky states and profound insights that arise during meditation, and initially these seem like such a huge deal (and they are, in a sense). From a meditator's perspective, it's very difficult not to be able to share these insights with those closest to them. It's one thing to feel really clear and high after a good hike, and share that with your partner. It's another when you have an experience where the entire universe strobes in and out of reality a few times. emoticon So, I think that's another reason people struggle.


RE: What Do You Tell Them?
Answer
1/2/09 2:07 AM as a reply to Chris Marti.
So, I guess I'm sharing this with you, because I suspect what I would be looking for (by and large) would be some form of understanding from my partner. Obviously, that doesn't have to equal you doing the same thing he is doing, but it could be in the form of asking questions, being interested, and really trying to understand how and why this discipline is important to him.

From the other side, I think it's really helpful to try and set up a network of support outside of your partner, that way you can get some of your needs met regarding practice, from elsewhere. There are often times, when I share with my wife, that I probably can't be as much support to her on certain things as one of her other friends could be. There's also the issue of understanding that not everyone is interested in meditation, and that there really isn't a problem with that. It's so easy to get evangelical when one is so inspired oneself, but it often comes across as arrogance and narrowness. Some of my most fulfilling and meaningful relationships are with people who are into meditation.

RE: What Do You Tell Them?
Answer
1/2/09 3:44 AM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Good points. However, there's a wider frame of meaning and purpose of which meditation is just an expression. The other partner may be expressing that same wider passion in a different way. I don't believe deep intimacy is really possible or plausible without total sharing in some form or manner. Of course, technical details may and should be omitted at times (often enough), and in fact these details are only important when one is new to them. But what certain realizations point to, what they discover and unveil is certainly not something you'd keep for yourself forever, right? Of course, the discovery needs to be interpreted and metabolized to produce a balanced account and embodiment, but ultimately one will share everything by being authentically who s/he is in body, thought, and action. It's impossible to keep oneself for oneself, and meditation is not the point, not the meaning, not the purpose of meditation anyway.

Scientists and musicians and ballet dancers and nurses and soldiers also have partners who most probably can't get all the details of their respective occupation - and perhaps understand fully it's hazards - but here we are understanding each other even when chances are slim. From this basis, a relationship can be viewed as a platform for moving beyond one's obsessions, while pursuing the discipline nonetheless.

RE: What Do You Tell Them?
Answer
1/2/09 5:39 AM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Hello, Megan! What you describe is almost identical to the spats and "discussions" I used to have with my wife. We couldn't get on the same page about my desire to practice and she has little, repeat no, interest in Buddhism outside of what I'm doing. You two start from a better base of knowledge. What finally fixed our problem was a very long and honest discussion between the two of us - mainly consisting of her calmly telling me what you posted here. I think she was quite right and most of the problem was me. Once I was able to actually listen and process the criticism I agreed to a somewhat more limited meditiation schedule using a more structured and predictable schedule. The schedule alone cleared up any naggin sense she had about me using meditation just to get away from her and it's actually made me a more responsive partner and a more dsisciplined practitioner. She's now so accepting of my practice she's been suggesting I go on long retreats ;-)

Meditators get carried away sometimes, as I did. Read Florian's comments about that, too. So it can help when a partner smacks us upside the head (figuratively, of course!) and points out the obvious.

Good luck and best wishes!

RE: What Do You Tell Them?
Answer
1/2/09 5:42 AM as a reply to Chris Marti.
"... a relationship can be viewed as a platform for moving beyond one's obsessions, while pursuing the discipline nonetheless."

Hokai, that is perfectly said - you must have some experience ;-)

Once my wife and I achieved a common understanding, even though she's not planning on becoming a practitioner, my practice was enhanced and I was more aware of my obsessions.

RE: What Do You Tell Them?
Answer
1/2/09 11:31 PM as a reply to Chris Marti.
I'm really glad you said this.

I'm being critical and I hope that people don't take this personally, but I think there is almost an obligation to give anyone who asks about our practice a little boost in understanding -- or at least have the failure be on their side, not ours.

There's a lot of ways to talk about meditation and one of them is probably going to resonate with them. Relaxation, focus, discipline, centering, maturity, wisdom, acceptance, bliss, exploration, etc. etc. I usually try to see where they are coming from and then talk to that from the part of my experiance that touches on it.

It's very hard for me not to turn it into "everything that I know" because I get excited about this stuff and I want to use the conversation to help me establish my own thoughts, but that is always recipe for disaster. Most of those ideas are non-essential and really aren't related to the other person's questioning... it can be very alienating to others.

But most of the time there's a little nugget of common interest that can be the foundation for a conversation. If I can find that, it's usually a great discussion.

I'm realizing that what I'm talking about is a more focused topic than "so, you're a buddhist?". I can really understand gently avoiding those discussions because it is a big ball of wax, with a lot of assumptions brought in from the other. It can be a pain to deal with that.

But I do think these off-hand questions can lead to very important conversations if there is a way around the first hurdle. And it is amazing to hear about other's spiritual experiences and investigations. There's a lot of common ground.

The best "technique" I know to find that common ground is to ask them questions.

RE: What Do You Tell Them?
Answer
1/5/09 5:12 AM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Reading my earlier comments here, I realize what I meant to discuss was the questions people would ask me about going on retreat rather than practice. If I said, "I am glad for a chance to go on retreat but the general attitude at those centers can be very disempowering for lack of a better word and I want them to stop eating peanut butter and be a little more upfront and straightforward about things" the response I'd expect would be "but like how is that about inner peace and healing?"

"my response runs along the lines of "he's not paying attention to me" or "he's so irritated he wants to get away from me." Which of course is painful. And when we discussed that today, it was clearly painful to him that this pursuit of loving kindness results in tension and pain between him and his loved one."

My fiancee asked me if she wanted meditation to be "my thing". Of course not, going on retreat and eating nothing but peanut butter and oatmeal and being short-term celibate sucks. My problems are more about trying to find quiet time and still balance all my other obligations. If someone wants to sit next to me that's fine as long as her cell phone is off.