It's been awhile since I posted. A rough couple of months, both positive and "negative", but regardless, quite busy. I have a long stock of emails to catch up on, and many letters to write, not to mention phone calls to make to concerned godparents, friends and others who haven't heard from me in a long time. Due to a burnt hand side from an unfortunate teapot incident earlier this week, this is the most I can do for my "regular writing practice" - type on the computer, and so here for a few days I will get my need to write taken care of by typing instead of handwriting each morning. And bit by bit I will chip through the wall I put up around myself in the chaos post-Tallahassee and reconnect with my vibrant communities.
Last night, in Milwaukee visiting my good friend from college, Amy, I broke through a realization about a subtlety of teaching I hadn't yet understood. Combining teaching, and the business of running my own business, with being in a new and powerful relationship, the last year-six months of time have been spent putting extraordinary priority on things other than my sustaining friendships. This isn't a big surprise, but what surprised me last night was that also I have dropped something I didn't realize was a priority, because I have more ambivalent feelings about it - hanging out with people in larger social situations. "Sangha", or, community, is one of the three major components of taking a Buddhist vow, and I was surprised, though also not surprised, to find out last night that I have slowly seeped away from both my literal sangha (the folks with whom I meditate) and also my larger, more ambiguous sangha - folks who used to call me up for drinks every couple of weeks, the people I'd have over for a clothing swap, the friends from whom emerge closer friends. For instance, for years before Birdfarm and I began getting together for dinner every single Monday and really cementing our friendship, she and I would sort of hang out at the same gatherings. And this is typical - usually this is where the deeper friendships I tend to prioritize over all other social interactions usually emerge from, for me. Both because Birdfarm and my other closest friend in town, Becky, are moving within the next year, and because Laine's and my relationship has settled down (literally - he moved in two weeks ago), and, come to think of it, because Erika has now moved out (the third closest friend in Madison), it is time for me to begin reconnecting with a larger pool from which I can sort of harvest closer friendships, for one. Not that Birdfarm and Becky will be replaced, but I will need some closer support, in town, down the street support. As they have been. And, also, and this was the truly surprising component, with the lack of a larger social group or groups, I have felt a kind of loneliness I never really recognized before in my life, though I am sure I have recognized it. Social friends are sort of a safety net, a place in which you can invest your questions, joy and hurt, and I think I sort of turned (understandably because I was so busy) most of that aside to focus on the friendships closest to me. Becky and I have talked about this a lot for her side - needing to focus more on the friends closest to her, and not "waste time" in some ways on less deep friendships. And I agree that those close friends are still a first priority. And yet, to rescind myself entirely of all those other folk, with their diverse understandings of me, compassionate and yet exterior perspectives, although it seems to simplify my life, also kind of hollows it out.
When I had the flu for two weeks a couple of weeks ago, I really sat down and considered my priorities, and how they had tumbled apart as incidental result of spending all my time on the top three priorities: work, my relationship with Laine, and taking care of myself. Mostly in that order, so that even with all my energy focused on those three, I became quite ill and had to quit everything, top priority or not, for two weeks to recover. I realized how all my eggs, in many ways, were in one basket. And that's when, discussing this realization with Amy last night, I realized that another nuance was in place, totally unnoticed until now. My job is extremely social. And at the same time, very intimate - the content of the classes is quite personal, even if someone writes the rare blatantly fictional piece. And so I think in some ways I tricked myself, or, more gently, misunderstood teaching as taking care of that kind of larger social need. And certainly, it does drain some of those same energies, so by that mark, it is working the same muscles. But it isn't about me, and I don't reveal much of myself teaching (for professional reasons), and so although it uses the same muscles, it doesn't restore me the same way more casual social interactions do. Honestly, before in my life, I had NEVER thought of more casual social interactions as "restorative". NEVER. Yet, now I realize a certain amount of them in my life *is* restorative. Certainly depriving myself of them entirely for fear it would drain me has had the opposite effect - *not* having them is draining.
Like an elimination diet, now I am adding back in these interactions into my life, and slowly finding that I am hungry for them, again, a big surprise, and a delightful one. This might be a new development in my life, or it might be a noticing of something that's been true for so long. Like the wheat and dairy allergies I winnowed out a couple of years ago, it can be hard to tell what changes more - your self, or your perspective. Regardless, it feels good to realize my need for groups, and also, to recognize my resistance. Amy pointed out that she has begun making a general deal with herself that when she is invited to hang out in a social situation, she says yes 3 out of 4 of the time (I have a few other friends who have set the same general guidelines). She says what she realized when she started saying yes is that, in fact, often these things are uncomfortable, awkward, but also, somehow, something she needs. Like working out when you are out of shape. Because she's saying yes more (she had gone through a period of isolation a bit like mine last year) she's noticing that when she says no, sometimes, she thinks it's what she needs, but after a night alone she realizes she only said no because she was avoiding discomfort, not because she really needed time alone. Then, sometimes, she just really needs to be alone. These nuances are difficult to discern at first, but I feel like with practice I can learn to tell the difference between my real needs and my social fears or anxieties. As soon as she talked about this, I realized how much I have learned to avoid the social interactions around meditation time at my center, coming late, leaving asap, not wanting to have awkward chit chat. I have rationalized this by keeping myself busy, and/or gossiping with others that of course no one wants to do that kind of thing. And yet, I realize that when I think about it, I get kind of a sick, lonely feeling, that I am not reaching out or allowing myself to be a part of the larger sangha. What appears on the surface to be a protection (from boredom, from anxiety), is in fact not protection at all, but isolation. Again, sometimes this is true, sometimes it is not. Learning to distinguish that is a new, and good-feeling, desire.
Off to give myself some downtime between the now-weekly commute between Madison and Milwaukee, before my evening classes. As things slow down, I am letting myself slow down. And, as Dancingwaves noted on her livejournal, it is surprising how easy that can be.
Shout out to Birdfarm, who's in Iran for the next couple of weeks. I miss her much and can't wait to hear all the stories!