Trying to arrive at the ideal meeting is just like walking on an endless road - it's the infinity that inspires us to accept the challenge. We can't give up, since there is no other road. We do know, however, that our efforts to review and improve our performance will definitely be rewarded. Sometimes, we can't help but feel it's our persistence, rather than the degree of perfection achieved in our meetings, that is so valuable and significant to us.
- Kobayashi (plant manager for the Sony Corporation)
Rain and Roses
- A report on community workshops in Portland
Count Leo Tolstoy once noted that one of the most exciting aspects of writing a novel is the fact that he, the author, could never be sure how it was going to end. Indeed, many writers have testified that characters seem to take on a life of their own and run off with the plot in completely unexpected directions. The development of the workshops in the Portland community was no less a surprise to those who put them together than to those who participated in them.
The basic motive for the entire enterprise was sincere, even if at first a little misguided. We started out with definite and specific goals in mind. (You've spotted our mistake already, haven't you?) We wanted to see our efforts on the understanding front immediately rewarded with obvious, visible improvements in the community and programs of the mission.
Proceeding on these shaky premises of expectations, we took issue with a number of items: continual use of foggy concepts, vague language, lack of discrimination ("It's in the flow", "Satsang is everywhere") and fragmentation between the various aspects of our daily lives. The first demon we went after was communication or rather miscommunication. In our premie subculture, we freely use words and phrases about which we have some agreement. Examples, such as "love", "completely freaked out", "in my mind", "in the world", "truth", etc. are easy to come by. We wondered if anyone else found any meaning in them. After a little discussion, we found that definitions for these often used words were pretty much up for grabs even among ourselves.
Beyond the particular mavericks of our premie vocabulary, we also found that we had a rather sloppy attitude about the rest of the language. We consoled ourselves remembering that we were not alone in our struggle. Finer brains than ours had grappled with this task. Confucius, among them, said if there were anything that he would do to improve the state of China, it would be to correct the way people use language. To give us the benefit of others' insights, one person in the group had a sheet of quotes printed up containing advice from such distinct quarters as Henry Ford, John Locke, and Aldous Huxley.
Talking about talking led us quite naturally to the other side of communication, listening. Social science told us that we hear about 20-25% of what we listen to. The culprit - simplistically defined - is the noise going on inside the mind during the communication process. So we set up a series of listening workshops to help us find out how much we actually hear what's being said to us. We discovered that the social scientists were right. In some cases, ten or fifteen minutes of discussion n were necessary to agree about the content of a one-minute speech.
On The Spot
By this time, the workshops were in full swing. People stayed on for hours after the sessions and talked (and talked and talked) shop. Many issues came up, good and bad. At every turn, we did our best to throw any issue back into the group for a decision. We quickly developed a preference for this approach. We no longer had to rely on the decisions of a few people which always required them to convince everyone else of the wisdom of those decisions. If the group as a whole could deal with its own problems, then the understanding of everyone in the group would be raised considerably.
Now we geared up for the major assault of the campaign: concepts. In our first "concept" workshop we went through the group and gathered as many different understandings as possible of the following terms: satsang, service, meditation. We left no room for debate; we just wanted to see "where everybody was at." A secretary recorded the remarks, which to no one's surprise were all over the lot. Satsang ranged from "a spontaneous occurrence" to "the attempt to share the experience of Truth through words." Service was both "performing actions from a place of love," and "the act of performing selfless actions for the benefit of all humanity through Guru Maharaj Ji's direction." Meditation was "whole life and omnipresent," as well as "surrender of the mind to four techniques." Some had to wince and swallow hard, but no one's idea was turned away. Then the bomb was dropped: "Which concept is the right one?" The answer, of course, was none of them. Concepts were revealed to be relative, subjective, and tentative but, on the other hand, just about all we have to work with until we can get beyond them.
(Here, someone attempted to clear up the problem by citing verbatim a definition directly from the mouth of Maharaj Ji. Everyone realized that was no solution, since we listen to and read Maharaj Ji anyway and still come up with different interpretations.)
No Company Line
Following the first "concept" workshop we were in pure virgin territory. There was no longer any "company line". All we wanted to do was explore our working concepts, suspend our attachment to them and look at them to determine if they are doing us well or ill. Actually, we all wanted to and didn't want to. It was apparent that when we sat down to look at our concepts, we tended to hide behind them instead of giving them a good airing. In a kind of mutual compact, we had implicitly agreed that, "I'll approve whatever you think and never ask you about it if you will do the same for me." It was time to do some inside digging.
We had to dig pretty deep and do some determined probing before coming up with any nuggets. But when we hit pay dirt, we unearthed pure gold. We saw our concepts and saw beyond them. We started with the simple question, "What does practicing Knowledge mean to you in your everyday experience?" Everyone naturally said, "Meditation, Satsang, and Service," but when it came down to actual experience, "practicing Knowledge" meant vastly different things to people, even though many of us had been living together in the same community for two, three, four years. After all of us had seen our separate concepts (or had them shown to us) it was clear that we would not be able to hold on to them much longer.
We emerged from that workshop with a glimpse of how concepts could asphyxiate us and with the exhilaration of getting some of the suffocation off our chests. The good feeling did not come from the thought that now, at last, we were free of concepts forever. It was more like the good feeling at the end of the first leg of a journey when you never thought you'd make it and somehow you did.
It seems as if the next step is to bring more of ourselves willingly into the open, while doing away with the laborious process of probing. Possibly some nightly satsangs will be replaced with "rap" sessions of small groups of five or six. Whatever the changes are, it is obvious that we have passed some important place of no return. At the very least, we have opened the door of our ideas a crack and very, very slowly are perceiving "what is."