I slipped off my shoes and walked deliberately down the hall towards my nametag. I coyly smiled at some people as I walked past the gathering in the bookstore, grabbed my nametag off the wall, and entered the sanctuary space. I found a cushion a little off to the side and awkwardly close to one of the pillars in the room. I took a seat with my feet crossed underneath me, and waited for the session to begin.
Immediately I heard a woman behind me half-whisper to her neighbor “you think he has cats? Geez, check out the dust-bunnies on those socks!” I looked down at my upturned foot and, sure enough, it was covered in an absurd amount of cat hair.
The two older women giggled and talked about my furry foot without the slightest reservation. Unabashed, the man next to them joined in too as they told cat stories. I considered breaking the awkward bubble of angst growing inside of me by simply responding to this invitation to talk. Instead I sat in silence and pretended to be unaware of their banter; my annoyance growing on par with their exuberance, which I decided was inappropriate for a meditation sanctuary. A sea of distance washed out between us.
Finally, the session began. Just my luck, I hadn’t been here in a while and I discovered that tonight was the “wildcard” discussion night. The practice leader introduced our topic: the importance of community support for your meditation practice. I felt a sinking in my stomach, and I began dreading the impending small group discussions this was sure to include.
After the opening meditation and some lecture on the topic, we were told to form into groups of three to discuss two questions: (1) how well supported in your practice do you feel by your community, and (2) what can you do to cultivate a deeper, more-meaningful sense of community support?
As is often the case in my warped, gemini life, things weren’t at all as I’d forecast them. Once I got into a group and started talking, I couldn’t shut up. I enjoyed the release of tension and the feeling of connection. Why did I always make it so hard? I told them, in the course of my now almost desperate ranting, about a thought that had come to me earlier in the week and how I now thought it related to the topic of community:
Some days prior, I stumbled across a random tarot card generator on the internet and it gave me some insight. Afterwards, I was pondering things on the toilet, the bathroom being the location of much of my best thinking, and I considered the power of tarot cards, medicine cards, horoscopes, and the like. It occurred to me that people’s skepticism about these things was misplaced, because they misunderstood them. People tended to think of them as some ridiculous paranormal chicanery when in fact their usefulness wasn’t paranormal at all. The problem is that they are often held out as an external force that is supposed to magically predict our futures, when in fact their power comes not from inexplicable energies beyond our understanding, but quite simply from our minds. They provide a stimuli for the mind to use to make connections.
Our minds are meaning-making machines, and the meaning that they generate, naturally, stems from our beliefs and from our needs, and so tarot may resonate with some people because their minds draw connections between the card and their lives. Indeed, you can derive a personally meaningful connection from anything if you’re open and aware of the thoughts it produces in you.
In the group discussion, I said that community can play a similar role. I’d noticed it in this meditation group and at church. By talking with others about these topics that we don’t often have the opportunity (or the courage) to talk about more broadly in our lives, we give ourselves more ammunition with which to make meaningful connections throughout our lives. We gather anecdotal information that will trigger our minds to reconnect us with these topics. Specifically, by talking about meditation and awareness with a group, and by hearing about other people’s experiences and teachings, we are more likely to be triggered by something during the normal course of our lives that brings us back to a recognition of awareness. We might see a flag blowing in the wind and be brought back to that metaphor for our awareness that we heard in group. We might see a cat hair stuck on our sock and suddenly be filled with memory and insight.
Four years ago, the balance tilted in my belief system and I was struck by the power of awareness and connection. A large part of that shift was because of the power of coincidence. Having been exposed to new ideas, I became more aware of those concepts and I began to see coincidence everywhere. I began to feel more directly how my beliefs, choices, and perceptions shaped my reality, and I began to exercise control over that. I realized that coincidence was important because of the meaning that I brought to it. I realized that if I was paying enough attention, if I was mindful enough, everything I experienced could be seen as a powerful reflection of myself and my beliefs.
By choosing to interact in a spiritual community, by putting yourself more in that context, that spirituality reflects back on you more throughout your life. Community exposes me further to topics that are ripe for connection, and by doing so, its power more easily ripples throughout my life and helps keep me awake more than I can on my own.
By sharing our beliefs in dialogue, not only do we spread them to others, but we give them the chance to spread through our own lives and become lived experiences. We begin to manifest them in our lives. We exercise more deliberate self-control and, by extension, control our realities. We wake up to ourselves and become exponentially more aware as we give ourselves more and more opportunities to connect.