The Next Buddha is Sangha

“‘But-’ [Milo] started to say, and it got no further than that… In the instant between saying the word and before it sailed off into the air he had clamped his lips shut-and the ‘but’ was trapped in his mouth, all made but not spoken.”
– The Phantom Tollbooth

When I’m listening, I’m almost always planning what the next words out of my mouth will be. I try, rather unsuccessfully, to be more present while communicating, but it wasn’t until my first day of Insight Dialogue practice that almost infinite layers pasted over possible mindfulness.

Each month, just for a couple of hours, I sit again across from this other person equally invested in trying to be mindful, the bell rings and it’s my turn to listen – insightfully – while they talk. Thinking I knew what to expect, I saw myself as Milo. Expectation: a chattery mind busy with silent responses and agreements. Reality: a busy brain factory creating almost tangible words and trying to push their way through my body and out my lips.

Insight Dialogue, like Insight Meditation, is not about being a great communicator but rather about equipping you with a new, and very common anchor: conversing. So back to the breathe I go. I watch my mind during silence, even a bit while listening – during factory breaks. When it is my turn to talk though, week after week, my mind is off like a teenager who just got her license. (What is this “breath” I hear about? I don’t think I even breathe between sentences..)

Formal insight meditation has always been a way for me to bring more peace into my day-to-day life. But for years bridging the gap between insight on the cushion and insight in “real life” has seemed to trickle: sometimes forwards and sometimes backwards. When Gregory Kramer, the developer of Insight Dialogue, came for a weekend course at New York Insight it ended up being a beautiful practice to bridge that gap with others who are trying to do the same thing.

His student, Bart van Melik, is now our NYI teacher of Insight Dialogue. About his own foray into Insight Dialogue and teaching it, he says: “For a long time I was wondering…how can I observe my mind calmly while doing something as complex as talking to someone? The answer came during a weekend workshop of Insight Dialogue… I was blown by how mindful and concentrated I was while talking with others. I could observe lots of habitual experiences arising within me: from being shy to the stressful wanting to be seen in a certain way. I could see how I create a certain sense of self while being in relationship: sometimes the ‘I’ was the calm one, other times ‘I’ was the interesting one. However the most significant experience is how connected I feel when meditating together. Seeing how we as humans share these universal experiences. The shared human experience allows for the natural arising of compassion and joy for others.”

In the Phantom Tollbooth, Milo caught that little “but” right before it escaped his mouth to bring sound back to the Silent Valley – a town that had given sound and speech so little regard, so little thought, they overused it. For Milo – a little bored boy who thought that everything was uninteresting – his journey brought him to such a point of presence that between thinking the word but, and speaking it, he could act with complete mindfulness and eventually restore sound to all. For me – a person who already thinks that everything is interesting – Insight Dialogue has challenged my practice in ways that are both exhausting and exhilarating. I hope to be able to see some of you at New York Insight’s monthly practice group on the second Sunday evening of every month.