I’m feeling a little uncomfortable this past day or so. What I’m noticing right now is how nice it is to be in small more intimate settings, one-on-one with someone familiar, rather than being in larger settings where I don’t really know others. I tend to stay within the circles with which I am familiar so that I don’t too often come up against this uncomfortable feeling. Last night I was staying with a dear friend of mine and he and his wife invited me to join them and their kids at a neighborhood potluck that was happening at the home of a neighbor of theirs. I went and it turned out that there were approximately 30 people and I thus found myself in a situation where I needed to be social and interactive with people I don’t have much history with. I don’t exactly know what I’m writing about here, but I guess I’m curious about what it is that makes me uncomfortable in larger social settings where I don’t know many people. I guess a big part of it, at least right now, is that I don’t like being fake, and I am having a revulsion almost (I know that is a strong word) at what I like to call “the shell” – the outer personality that we all use to keep our inner world and experience more protected and less exposed. The larger the group, the more difficult it can be to simply be real and connect with others on a more honest or truth-based basis. It’s not necessarily linear with larger groups being more difficult for I find sometimes that simply having 3 people rather than 2 can entirely change the quality of interaction and keep everything on much more of a “shell” or “surface” level. What I’m saying is that my tolerance is getting lower and lower for what I like to call “blather,” or conversation without real personal exposure or meaningful substance.
I also have enough practice and experience to know that I can be perfectly content within almost any form of setting if I am feeling grounded and am attending to my experience. This leads me to think that there is more going on here, because there is something happening within myself that is having a harder time simply being grounded and with my own experience within certain settings. Actually I just had the thought that perhaps I simply don’t like the feelings that come up and therefore am actually not interested in attending to those experiences. I guess perhaps I have the syndrome that only classifies nice, calm, easy, gentle, happy feelings as those worth experiencing, while the uncomfortable, anxious, intense, dark or aggressive feelings are decidedly not spiritual and thus not worth attending to. The truth as I have come to learn it is that ALL feelings are part of our experience, and if and as we allow them all (and not just the nice ones) to be there, we are actually being true to the moment, to what is, to the truth as it is appearing, to reality.
I’m honestly not in the mood right now to explore why the discomfort has been arising, and I’ll chalk that up to avoidance a little, but there is a curiosity rearing up a little so I’ll just wait to see where this goes. I’m invited to another gathering tonight – similar situation – which I would honestly really not prefer to go to, but perhaps I should go to just study this feeling a little more, to put myself in a situation where the uncomfortable feelings could arise again and this perhaps lend a little more insight as to what is really going on here. Hmmmmm? Or perhaps just stay in and watch a movie and go to bed early. If only I had popcorn and chocolate ice cream I think I’d have the necessary fuel for full-on avoidant evening.
I went to the other gathering tonight, as a test case really, to study this. It was a wonderful experience and I’m so glad I went. Several things happened while there which helped shed some light on this. The first came through a conversation I had with a man named Dogen, I liked him very much and we connected in a pleasant way. I realized in that conversation that it’s asking too much for complete strangers to actually have a deeply meaningful conversation as the safety and trust hasn’t had a chance to develop yet. So it’s not that people are just shallow and surface oriented, but rather that in many cases, it’s simply that the relationship hasn’t developed enough yet for people to connect in a more meaningful way.
The second insight came in a conversation with a woman named Hope. I had been hanging out by the food table, engorging my discomfort on salad and cookies, when she walked by. I complimented her, saying something like “ that’s a lovely red Christmas sweater your wearing.” It was just a friendly compliment which I think came from my lips because earlier in the day I had been telling a friend about my friend Dorrwin who died almost 10 years ago who used to regularly pass out simple compliments to strangers passing by on the street, or to wait staff, etc. Hope kind of lit up from the compliment and we struck up a conversation, but we talked about discomfort at parties and how we deal with it. It was actually meaningful, but ended up veering off a little when the questions starting broaching back into more ordinary waters. What I realized in that conversation is that we are all just people, just simply people and we all have our difficulties in relating with others, and in sharing on a more personal level, me among them. I had to begin questioning why my expectations of others were so high when even I am not always very capable of meeting the high standards that I set for others. We’re just people, and as such deserve to be given more latitude when we aren’t manifesting as realized beings. In other words, I learned more about having compassion for oneself and others.
The hostess came up to me to make sure I was comfortable and we had a brief but wonderful conversation. When I asked her to explain the symbolism of her having an upside down Christmas tree hanging from her living room ceiling, she shared with me many of the trials that have arisen in her life in the past year. Again, we are all simply people and I am no different.
I honestly don’t yet understand what really makes me uncomfortable in unfamiliar settings with unfamiliar people, but it wasn’t at all difficult when I was present to the experience rather than simply being identified with it. Being present with it enabled me to learn from it rather than succumb to it, and also helped to engendered a deeper sense of compassion for myself and others in our unique and collective human experiences.