Transformative practices and isolation

“How to get people in meditation?” Mark answers at 3:04: “The long game is sorta of… just to be like… so like fucking awesome and clearly so much fun and having such a great life… I think the best motivators are just sort of become one of the shiny happy people, become ridiculous successful so that people do whatever you do.”

I think meditation is awesome and totally incredible in a million ways. Same with therapy.

I have managed to get exactly 0 people into meditation and about 6 into therapy.

Mark’s answer is about letting them come, letting them see how much insanely better life can be, and reason themselves into doing what is unblocking that. Foot-in-the-door, over door-in-the-face.

I *fear* that this approach might fail. I hold this fear for 3 reasons:

  1. I don’t believe you can shift the position of many people through reason.
  2. Both of these proposals lead to a better life in expectation
  3. 2nd and further order effects

With regards to the first one, part of the blog is arguing for that, and I touched on it here.

The second is that at any particular point in time, and for any particular person they might actually get worse, or be going through a valley in search of the next local optimum, and thus it is not clear to the outsiders how this is not worse. (Related: dark night.)

To talk about the third one I want to cite a study from memory, with the promise I’ll find the original source later. The study had three people watching a movie at the same time, and alone. Two watched a shitty movie, one watched a good movie. Afterwards they got to sit around a coffee table and talk. Then they had their happiness measured. Take a moment to guess the outcomes and why.

The people that saw the shitty movie were happier – presumably because they could connect over the shitty movie. People bond over negative experiences. This explains a bunch of social practices. (Like hazing, which Cialdini to my recall in Influence said was only about commitment and consistency effects, I think this is what is going on.)

It is hard to take 2nd and further-order effects into account and not just quit. Being healthy for example. A noble enough goal: eat healthy, exercise. And so you figure out a healthy diet and exercise and focus on those and keep trying to keep on the mark.

And one year goes by and you realize that eating healthy is almost impossible because no one even know what that is and that focusing too much on it and on exercise damaged your social support network which happens to have an even bigger effect on your health. And you played by the rules and did the best you could and feel cheated on and torn and angry and rebellious.

It is not clear to me that just engaging in these practices – whilst everything around stays the same – ends up to be that beneficial in the long run. Part of it – for me – has to do with loneliness and connection.

Loneliness and Connection

I have, in the past, used two metaphors before to explain how the “bad side” of therapy and meditation (and a bunch more things) feels like: one is that I feel like I’m climbing a mountain and I have to climb and that the worst thing in the world is to one day be on my death bed and be thinking about how I could’ve climbed further and didn’t. The problem is that as I climb there are less and less fellow climbers.

The second one is through venn diagrams. The more I climb, the more circles delimit my area, the lonelier it gets. And I don’t want to be lonely, and showing only one part of myself at a time. I want to show all, at all times, and to have it belong and connect and to connect through it and to touch and feel touched in all the facets sequentially and in parallel.

I suspect that the partial emphasis I’ve had thus far on bridging communities and discourses and communicating is an attempt to work through this dialectic.

And I really care about all this, like, really care about it – it cuts to the bone. And I have no solution and no way to negotiate between these drives yet and it hurts. Like an impossible trade-off. How do you choose between your two children?


3 thoughts on “Transformative practices and isolation

  1. In Buddhism, Sangha (community) is one of the “three jewels” (essential prerequisites). De-traditionalized Buddhism, and the mindfulness movement, tend to drop that one. This tends to have results similar to what you describe (loneliness, difficulties of motivation, dark night, inability to discuss what matters most with people around you, etc.).

    Unfortunately, finding a suitable community is difficult. Dropping Sangha was not just a random mistake made by the mindfulness folks. Many meditators mainly practice in isolation because they find they can’t connect with available groups, even after trying.

    There’s no great solution to this, as far as I know. Cyber community is better than none, and it may be easier to find than a local one. Starting a group oneself is an option if one has the energy. Tolerating the imperfections of a not-perfectly-suitable sangha is another.

    The explosive growth of mindfulness meditation may lead many more people to discover this problem, and maybe that will gradually lead to solutions. At some point, MBSR proponents will probably discover the need to agitate for, and to provide, better on-going support structures, for instance.


  2. I suspect that part of the problem is that the dominant (Western) worldview is still individualistic throughout. I’m not sure where this is coming from. (Maybe from becoming an open society, maybe from the Enlightenment, maybe from Descartes and the rejection of scholasticism, maybe individualism is a default stance to understand oneself.) (One of the things I like about the Dark Enlightenment folks is their emphasis on humans as social animals, and having recently dabbled into micro-sociology I’m very excited about how they treat the social as the level of analysis.)

    My doubt is whether practice without community is better (whatever that means for the practicioner) than no practice. If Sangha is an essential prerequisite I’d interpret that to be a leaning-no answer.
    And yet I can’t ignore the benefits practice has given me.

    “Cyber community is better than none.”
    Yes. These have saved my live in various ways.

    “Tolerating the imperfections of a not-perfectly-suitable sangha is another.”
    My usual strategy. Having various “sangha”s, one for each part. But I cannot get rid of the sense-that-more-is-possible.

    “Starting a group oneself is an option if one has the energy.”
    This is the strategy I aim to pursue for the next 6 months. Let’s see how that goes. Hopefully will give me interesting experiences and material.

    “The explosive growth of mindfulness meditation may lead many more people to discover this problem, and maybe that will gradually lead to solutions. At some point, MBSR proponents will probably discover the need to agitate for, and to provide, better on-going support structures, for instance.”
    I desperately hope so. It’s difficult for me to believe that there aren’t (many) more people running against this particular wall.


  3. Hello Silver V.
    You are not alone! We have been watching you – you are on the right path. We will get in touch soon. In the meantime go ahead with your group and learn as much as you can.

    A Friend


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