Alone with Others – Paramananda
Meditating on Zoom
in my front room
of a rectangle of light
sitting alone in their homes
feeling a sense of connection
absorbing and radiating
affecting each other
like tiny particles are said
to affect one another
over vast spaces
by modern physics
or lovers conquering separation
through the hearts imagination
in ancient tales.
As the seasons turn and we move towards winter many of us might well feel a certain amount of trepidation in these strange and difficult times. The disruption to our lives brought about by the global pandemic seems to go on aon with no clear end in sight. One of the many consequences of this situaation has been a sense of isolation compounded by the lack of physical contact with our loved ones and face to face contact with our workmates.
For me personally it has meant my normal routine of spending regular time on retreat, where I enjoyed time in close contact with others in supportive conditions, ceased. I found myself instead taking classes and leading retreats on-line. I have never really taken to on-line communication I am not even that comfortable on the phone, perhaps because as a child my family did not own one. To make a call meant a walk to a phone box, if indeed you could find one that worked, so it was only used for important and urgent reasons. So I was somewhat dubious about the possibility of conducting classes and retreats through the ether. And the first few times I attempted to do so I did find the experience strange and quite stressful. Strange to be sitting in my front room talking to others, I could not really see, a problem exacerbated by my failing sight, the faces of others on screen were merely blurred indefinable shapes to me, stressful as the technology, at first, seemed unreliable and difficult to use.
In addition, I thought that such a way of working would not suit my particular style of teaching. For many years now I have liked to work in a spontaneous and unplanned way. I like to walk into a shrine room not knowing what I am going to do beyond saluting the shrine than take my seat and see what happens. This is because over the thirty odd years that I have been teaching, I have come to trust what I would call an embodied sense of what is needed. By this I mean that on some less than fully conscious level it seems that something appropriate will emerge if I just tune in to the situation and my own felt sense. Of course sometimes I will have something on my mind that I want to share, never the less in the main I just try and trust in the situation to provoke some response in me.
At first, then, this approach seemed far harder to trust in an on-line situation where there is no one else there to tune in to and in addition its not so easy to just sit there for a while and see what comes, for while I am quite comfortable with short periods of silence when I am sitting with people such silences feel much more awkward on-line.
Never the less after a few sessions the anxiety about the technology vanished and I started to become more relaxed about this way of teaching. What began to arise in me was a increasing sense of being with people through this medium. In time I found myself looking forward to the weekly classes that I have been doing and becoming increasingly moved by us all coming together to practice. As I began to feel more relaxed it also seem to me that trusting in my own felt experience remained an effective basis to teach from. It seem that something was coming back through the ether and I was reminded of the Metta Sutta where we are encouraged to radiate thoughts of loving kindness to others as if such ‘thoughts’ could reach people at distance. I realised that these classes where a great support for me and felt that we where creating a community which at this time, in particular, is so important. While I am still looking forward to a time when I can sit with others in person, I have grown to greatly value the time I spend sitting with others in this alternative way.
So I would like to encourage you to give these on-line classes a go,if you have not done so yet. And in particular I would invite all of you to join Bodhilila and myself for the ‘Heart of Practice’ retreat we will be leading from Sunday. Let’s come together and offer one another support in these strange and difficult times and enjoy practicing with one another.