The Inside-Outside and
This post looks at how our inner and outer worlds interact and what the implications of this are for meditations, retreats and our wider lives.
The table below shows a simple way of describing the experience of our inner worlds and our outer worlds and where they overlap.
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.
The table is an oversimplification because things don’t fit neatly into one box; the boundaries are blurred, and most importantly, every single box is interacting with every other box in every moment, both consciously and sub-consciously.
If you imagine a thread that connects each box to every other box, then make that 3D, that’s how I like to imagine the sum of our experience. It’s like an incredibly complicated, living, three dimensional spider’s web of energy. Some parts we are conscious or aware of and lots of parts are happening with us having no idea about them.
Whenever we interact with another being, everyone is bringing their 3D energy spider’s web to the interaction.
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.
Your souls will be having a conversation on a very abstract meaningful level, while your bodies are giving each other lots of signals and that will be impacting on each person’s emotions etc.
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 stays subconscious – our brains don’t process everything that is happening in our bodies, hearts and souls. 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 in us and the way we interact.
Meditating and going on retreat allows us to disconnect from a lot of this interaction. This is super useful for rest and recovery. It allows our bodies to process the overwhelm that every day life can bring.
It is not however, that useful for helping us to connect better with our experience, 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 and habit pathways in our spider’s webs again, unless we can change how we interact with those pathways.
One example of this is by concentrating on certain aspects of experience and reshaping how we process that information. For example, by concentrating on impermanence we can change the way we relate to our experience.
Another 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 practice setting.
Interacting with other people and our environment is actually the only way we can know ourselves, so by ensuring we are bringing this into practice or 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 changing our 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.
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 selves, our environments and each other.
We want to be able to cultivate the habit of being able to sit with experience and not needing it to be any different, while also learning to connect with new parts of ourselves and process reality differently or awaken new aspects of experience within us.
It is between this balance – of accepting things as they are and healing and deepening our experience – that awakening happens.