Self and Other

It has been a long time since we have seen people we care about. For weeks we have been social distancing, but last night we had a birthday party.

We signed up for a time to sit out on the lawn with some friends of ours, while we got to spend time with my friend Aaron who turned thirty. All around us were runners and walkers on the street, and we secretly wondered to ourselves how we were being judged. Undoubtedly on either camp of the coronavirus war, there are those who advocate for distance, and those who demand for closeness. Who knows when after all this we’ll discover how right or wrong we were.

My wife and I for a vast majority of our time have been each other’s only company. Suddenly we had other people to entertain, and all at once our echo chambers exploded, and we found ourselves giving long, thirty second monologues about the most esoteric topics. Anything from the power of taste buds in roasting coffee, to conspiracy theories, to noisy house music played at 9:00 in the morning. It seemed clear to me that we had all forgotten what it was like to have conversations, to give and receive information, or to build the space between it with the proper scaffolding.

All that we had were tangent conversations.

Meditation has made me bring into question this typical relationship between two people when they have conversations. I mean, who really is the person that they are looking at when they look at me? Are they seeing an other, an object? Or are we really expressing simply an intuition of ourselves from the mirror reflection of someone else’s gaze? What does it mean to listen to somebody?

I come from a Quaker background (though I do not practice now) and the gentle calm and quiet of the denomination still lingers in my psyche. Perhaps meditation is not too much of a stretch, and neither is the attempt to build a better structure for listening.

Even with all my work in meditating, I was still a painful interlocutor for yesterday’s events. Granted we were drinking a lot and eating a lot of vegetarian food. By the time we arrived for our appointed round from 6:00 to 7:00, my friends had likely been drinking for four hours, and how much depth are we likely to get from that?

Still there is a fundamental difference that I could gauge between reading my books and the feedback of conducting conversations. It’s got me thinking about the state of the conversation when all this has moved on, and likely we will gather regardless of whether COVID-19 is alive and well or not, because the public will be tired of the story we’ve told ourselves concerning the virus.

The party showed me that I need to recognize myself as an object in space, as an object of someone else’s gaze, rather than the subject attempting to sound smart or get everyone’s attention all the time. Following the breath, or in this case the words, as well as following the eyes, even if I do not believe in the self that is there. I have to get back into the meatspace, the non-Zoom conversation. It was riveting to be in the same 30 feet as someone I knew and loved. Now I just have to get better at it.

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