Saturday 7 February 2015

Listening to others, listening to myself

I went to another meeting. Once again, nothing terrifying happened. I think I was right that putting myself face to face (or rather side by side) with other people is something I need to do. I didn't actually talk to anyone or anything as bold as that. There's no hurry. What I did do is listen to the people who spoke, and watch the people in the room, and notice my reactions. And that was illuminating.

Here's what I noticed: my reactions to being there swung wildly back and forth between thinking it was a good idea to vowing I could never come back. And that was just in the five minutes or so before the meeting started, when I was just sitting in a chair, waiting. Also, I was watching people get settled, deciding who I thought was interesting and who wasn't. How hilarious is that? Apparently I know this sort of thing about people on first glance. I didn't know I did that! I caught myself thinking all this, and realized I was reacting to everyone else because I was nervous, and it's way easier to decide who's great and who isn't based on appearances than it is to just feel nervous, isn't it? So for a couple of minutes, I was just uncomfortably nervous. And I survived.

The meeting started when someone read a text, and I once again reacted strongly to the words. Oh, I could argue with that text! But I looked around, and I could see that lots of people seemed to be sitting politely but not getting all caught up in the words, so I thought maybe I could do that, too. I just ignored it, thinking maybe that's not for me right now. No argument required.

Then some guy talked. I managed to stop myself see-sawing between thinking "I belong here" and "I am never coming back" and actually listen. And he said some things that really helped me. Yesterday, Primrose wrote what I thought was a great post about being willing to change, and how that seems to have to include getting connected to other people. I loved what she had to say there. The speaker talked about such similar stuff, so it really resonated with me. Then a few other people spoke, and at different points, everyone said something that struck me deeply. One woman talked about Carl Jung as having said (quoting roughly), 'If you find spirituality in the second half of your life, the first half was worth it.' At that, both me and the young woman next to me teared up and caught each other's eyes for a moment, and smiled. Hard to say why that was so powerful, because the words don't cover it. Words matter, but this is about way more than the words. The experience of sitting listening with people is where the power comes from. I'm not much given to certainty, but I feel sure of this.

A number of years ago, I used to do some serious Zen meditation, but I decided sitting meditation wasn't for me. I spend enough time alone in my own mind, so silently observing my thoughts any more than I do can send me into a spiral that isn't so great for me. More recently, I have tried to listen to the various meditation gurus that get talked about on sober blogs, but they just make me angry. And yes, I know that anger is all about me, not them, but that doesn't stop it from happening. But I try to use the zen training in my own way. For me, it's better to watch my thoughts while I'm out walking or biking, or when I'm sitting in a classroom. It's a kind of meditation in action, and it suits me better. Seeing how I react in real time, that's what I've been trying to do.

And on that score, I think the meeting was good. Because just listening and paying close attention to my own reactions showed me how wildly I do react to what people say, or just the way they look, how quickly I jump on some opinion in my mind, even while I seem calm and balanced. And I could see that when I get uncomfortable, I am very, very quick to interpret my discomfort as disliking someone or something. It's easier, right? If some person or event is annoying and that's why I'm annoyed then I have a kind of equilibrium. It's false, though. And when I caught myself getting annoyed--as I did about a hundred times in the hour--instead of falling into believing that the person talking was at fault, I was able to notice my reaction, and accept that I was feeling uncomfortable, and then try to open my heart to my own discomfort and to the person speaking. And in that openness, sometimes I felt connected. The speakers were uncomfortable sometimes, too. And sometimes they were funny, and everybody laughed. More than once most people were in tears, as was I. Whatever was happening, we all seemed to sit in it together, sharing a little bit of human connection on a rainy Saturday morning.

While I was there, I realized that today I am 13 months sober. It was nice to quietly share that in person with people who would get it. And I did feel like I was sharing it, even though I didn't talk to anyone. So that's my second meeting. I still don't know my way about in all this, but I think I'm OK with that. I'm paying attention, anyway, and sitting with other people. And maybe that's enough.

Thanks for reading. Peace and joy to you. And love.