In addition to these four boxes – each of the boxes has a conscious and a subconscious element to it – the things we are aware of and things we aren’t. This is like adding a third, three dimensional axis – conscious and subconscious – to the table.
The table is an oversimplification because things don’t fit neatly just into one box, the boundaries are a lot more blurred. And most importantly, every single box is interacting with every other box in every moment, both consciously and sub-consciously.
For this, you can imagine a thread that connects every 3D box with every other 3D box. It starts to become an incredibly complicated, living, three dimensional spider’s web.
Not only that, but we are constantly interacting with things, and everything we’re interacting with also has the same complex table/web of activity going on, with the same blurred boundaries.
So if you’re interacting with another person, they have their own sphere of activity that has all of those things going on, that is deeply interconnected and complex.
And every single part of your experience is interacting with every single part of their experience.
So for example, your inside-inside (thoughts, emotions etc.) is being impacted by their outside-outside (body language etc.). As well as their outside-inside (heart-rate etc.) is being impacted by your inside-inside (emotions etc.). All consciously and sub-consciously.
Every single part of your spider web has just connected with every single part of their spider web. It has just got exponentially more complex.
Not only that, but there is also a table, or spider’s web, that holds the relationship between the two of you. You create a collective experience that exists separately to either of you as individuals. For example, people will start mirroring each other’s body language, their heart-beats start to sync up, they will have shared emotions, they will create a shared language etc.
It’s a collective experience that doesn’t belong to either of you, but every part of this also connects in with every other part of each of your individual experiences. Exponentially more complex again.
Just imagine what that looks like with 10 people.
As you can imagine, this is totally overwhelming and we can’t process all that information, so we filter out most of our experience. A lot of it we don’t allow in and a lot of it stays subconscious – our brains don’t process everything that is happening in our bodies and hearts. It would be too much for us to process.
Part of this is that we create very strong habit pathways. Ways of interpreting information, behaving, responding to things etc. We do this both as individuals and within our relationships – there will be habits and ways of being that are ingrained between the ways we interact with things also. Like collective conscious habits between you and another person.
Going on retreat allows us to disconnect from all this.
Most retreats are set up for us to just deal with the inside-inside element of our experience as much as possible. This is super useful for rest and recovery. It allows our bodies to process the overwhelm that every day life can bring – to deal with the backlog.
It is not however, that useful for helping us to enjoy richer and more fulfilling lives, or even be able to cope with life better.
It’s a bit like dealing with a problem by going and hiding under your duvet. It will help you recover and calm down from any sense of panic and overwhelm but generally the problem is not going to go away, you still need to come out and deal with it at some point.
As soon as we return back into life we will get pulled into the same patterns again, unless we can change how we interact with those pathways.
We can do this by starting to bring elements of these interactions into a retreat setting. This allows us to reshape those habit pathways and form new ways of being in relationship with life, each other and ourselves.
An example of this is shared inquiry – by practising together and sharing what is happening in this moment in a safe place, we are relearning ways of being with other people. We are practicing things like deep listening and opening to more authentic ways of being, that can transform how we show up in our relationships with people.
We can also choose where to put our attention, for example, by choosing a topic like sharing things we feel grateful for it will mean that we are more likely to notice this and talk about it with other people outside of a retreat setting.
Interacting with other people and our environment is actually the only way we can know ourselves, so by bringing this into the retreat setting it can give us an opportunity to go deeper into our practice and our inner worlds. We exist only in relationships with things, so by developing more beautiful connections, we are changing our entire way of experiencing and being.
Seeing things from other’s perspectives and connecting with other people’s experience can also help us move forward a lot faster and avoid getting stuck in our same inner patterns.
We can also use a retreat setting to look at our lives from a different perspective. To consider what our intentions are for life or what challenges we face that we might like to overcome. By creating a shared space for discussing these things when we are in a safe, supportive and calm environment it gives us an opportunity to rewire ourselves to be moving from a more centred place.
An example of how we might do this is by doing an exercise where people can explore what values are most important to them and how they would like to manifest this in their lives. Different meditation practices and shared exercises can help us look at this in different ways.
Unless your objective with meditation is to completely detach from life and reality, then it makes sense for the setting in which we practice to include some of the ways in which we relate to our environments and each other.
Life is infinitely complex and rather than trying to solve the puzzle, we can focus on being in the experience and cultivating joy and healthy connections that allow us to be present in our lives.
I have written a blog post of how we can apply values to spiritual practice here.