Leanings (written 2018)
I think of myself as an introvert. Someone who goes inward, goes solitary, to re-energize. This does not mean I do not seek out, need in my life, appreciate and love people. Nor that I do not like to be in crowds or groups, though I admit to an habitual preference for one on one and small groups, or to an arrangement where solitude within the crowd is unremarkable...a retreat, a lecture, a quiet gallery or library, as opposed to a party, a dance, a concert or a reunion. But at the same time, no label fits exactly. Introverts are no more all of a kind than are all horses or all apples or all days. These are only words for ideas, after all.
In practice, for most of us, the support of others, whether in person or from afar, is essential. It is also true that everyone is responsible for his/her own practice, which may seem contradictory. Still, in too much isolation, it is so very easy to see oneself as special: the only being in the world who struggles, who faces adversity, who feels things deeply, who makes mistakes, who gets confused, who loses heart, who has to begin again and again. It's easy to make these mistakes because of the nature of experience. The way it is easy to think of the sun going down and coming up, rather than the world turning towards and away. That's the way it feels in our experience, after all. Collected data, a sharing of experience, gives us a wider lens.
Mindfulness and the process of being present in the moment is an individual activity. But reading about it, talking about it, sharing the experiences of others, allows individuals to see where there is commonality in experience. Yours is not the only mind that wanders, not the only mind that resists ongoing efforts to bring it here, not the only mind with strange and even embarrassing or frightening thoughts over which you feel you have no control, and which you certainly don't remember choosing. Your mind is a human mind, and it shares characteristics with other human minds. When you engage in practices that interrupt its undisciplined flow, it responds in ways that are similar to the way other human minds respond under these circumstances.
This is one good reason to cultivate community with others on this journey. Another is that, introverts included, we are members of a social species. Company on the journey is uplifting and motivating.
By all means, keep private journals if that feels appropriate. Sit in quiet and solitude. Read and listen on your own to teachers, to guided meditations, to techniques and suggestions and stories of those on spiritual journeys. But share your ongoing journey too. Into my third decade of practice now, I can confirm that the meditation group that gathers weekly here, the bookclub that meets monthly, the various online groups of practitioners I belong to and the others who gather at the retreats I attend, all provide me with a framework and a source of energy in my own practice. I encourage each person as you seek to shape a way of living that is mindful, kind, harmless, peaceful and happy, to stay alert to the role others play in your own journey. All day long in our lives in the world, we are bombarded with other messages and priorities. Pulling away from those may feel uncomfortable. Balance can be found in a circle of companions who share your world view. Listening to your own inner wisdom is essential, yes. But notice where you hear that wisdom echoed in the world. Move closer. As you find support in sharing your practice, others will draw support from you. Imagine one leaning pole and you see something precarious, but if you picture a circle of such poles leaning toward one another, you have the basis of a shelter: a home, stable and strong.