New Zealand is blessed next month with the arrival of Gregory Kramer, an American practitioner and teacher of Insight Meditation.
Gregory is also the co-founder and director of the Metta Foundation, Portland, Oregon, a center of Buddhist practice in the Insight Meditation tradition. He has developed a practice that takes meditation off the mat and into interpersonal relationships, as outlined in his book Insight Dialogue.
One review of this work from Joseph Goldstein, author of Insight Meditation and One Dharma states:
In this pioneering work, Gregory Kramer breaks new ground in applying the Buddha’s teachings to our lives, relationships, and meditative understandings. This book will be of tremendous benefit to all those seeking freedom in their daily lives.
Gregory teaches Insight Dialogue at retreats and workshops extensively throughout North America, Australia, and Europe. The Yoga Lunchbox recently caught up with Gregory to find out more about Insight Dialogue.
You teach a practice called Insight Dialogue, what is this?
Insight Dialogue is an interpersonal meditation practice. It is based upon traditional Buddhist insight meditation, and involves cultivating the same qualities of mindfulness and calm concentration.
These qualities are cultivated while in relationship, while speaking and listening with one or more people, and as such, the keen and settled mind can gain insight into the nature of suffering and ease, identification and freedom.
The topics of the dialogues are intended to invite the meditators into direct experiences of impermanence and selflessness, love and compassion, the suffering that comes with clinging and the release that comes with letting go.
The wisdom of selflessness and the compassion of the shared human experience become immediately present. The integration with our lives is revealing, challenging, and liberating.
How did you develop this process?
The practice began with a colleague, Terri O’Fallon, when we were exploring online dialogue practices together in the early 1990s. I subsequently developed it as a weekly group practice and then a retreat practice. Over the last fifteen years, this retreat practice has been maturing and gaining depth. It continues to surprise me with insights and enigmas, and has shed light on the Buddha’s teachings. I now see how profoundly relational they were, which has been nearly completely overlooked in modern Buddhism of all schools.
How did you personally make the leap from meditation on the mat to applying meditative process to relationships?
Like everyone, I sought greater integration of deep meditative experiences into my life as a householder. I am a father with three sons (now grown) and know how easy it is to get lost in the constructing mind and frantic heart. The leap came about from my early work with Terri. It has been the long hard work of methodical development and rigorous integrity to the Dhamma that has been the real challenge.
Also, I have to say, it is sometimes a bit challenging to be out on the frontier of Buddhist developments. People who have not experienced Insight Dialogue cannot quite understand how this can be such a rigorous and profound practice, nor how deeply rooted it is in the early Buddhist teachings. So the leap is one thing; the consistency and dedication to development is another. The latter has been more difficult.
Do you think that spiritual practices tend to ignore ‘real life’ – life off the mat or the cushion, or beyond the retreat?
To some extent, yes. I also believe, however, that most teachers recognize and try to address this problem. The gap is not in the desire, but in the method. Relationships have been nearly completely separated from deep meditative practice. As a result, insight has been confined to intra-personal practice. So there is always a gap between deep practice and relationship. So the problem comes up of non-integrated practice because we spend nearly all of our lives in relationship, and we are essentially relational beings, social animals. That is a huge gap, isn’t it?
You use a six part process that sounds deceptively simple:(1) pause, (2) relax, (3) open, (4) trust emergence, (5) listen deeply, and (6) speak the truth. Isn’t this just the way we’re meant to relate anyway?
Sure. But aren’t we also “meant” to be loving, aware, generous, and compassionate?
What you say is useful: we are tapping into something native, something basic to the human experience. But like so many qualities natural to our intelligence, we have lost contact with the mindfulness of the Pause, the ease of Relax, the mutuality of Open, the flexibility and mystery of Trust Emergence, the receptivity and compassion of Listen Deeply, and the courage and deep presence of Speak the Truth.
Put another way, we NEED practice.
Insight Dialogue retreats provide a clear and deep practice opportunity, together with the support of a teacher, meals, time away from everyday demands. So under extraordinary circumstances, we can do extraordinary work. This is precisely what we bring home to continue with our loved ones and work mates. This can gradually become natural…. again.
Why do you think it’s so tough for people to relate like this?
Well, consider the pain and confusion in your own life. Do you long to be seen and appreciated? Do you have some fear about being exposed or hurt? Are there tangles in your heart? Welcome to the human race!
Just as the Buddha’s teaches about our craving for sensual pleasure, we also crave relational pleasures. We crave existence, including relational existence, which is being seen socially. But life is complex. We poke our heads out; we get hurt. We reach out to others and sometimes we are grasped and sometimes we do the grasping. It all hurts. This wanting, this fearing, it’s not petty psychological issues. Everyday, the heart feels this as life and death. Our brains are wired that way.
So we construct personality traits that help keep us safe, that help us get “fed” by others, and this craving, this hunger, drives us through life.
This is not just people who are seriously dislocated; this is all of us, except perhaps the enlightened ones among us (and some would argue even this point). Hunger, craving, is part of being born into a body, part of being born into a social frame.
We can’t get what we want? We hurt.
We lose what we have? We hurt.
Wherever there is clinging, there is pain.
But we don’t know this. Doesn’t all this wanting seem natural to you? Maybe even good, fun, the stuff of real life? Well, that is a root delusion the Buddha teaches us about.
Do we need to remain stuck in this “normal suffering”? So that’s where it comes from.
Maybe we need to ask, “Where is it going? Can it change?”
I’d say, “Yes.”
You talk about interpersonal suffering – what is this?
Everything I said above is a pointer to the causes of interpersonal suffering, which is hunger, craving. The suffering itself has a thousand names.
Loneliness, fear, envy, jealousy, anger, hatred, social anxiety… the list goes on. Read any novel, any history: this is what it is about.
Look at the one-on-one interpersonal level next time you’re with someone. Do you want to be heard? Are you? When you visit a family member, are there old hurts still chiming up in the heart? Can you spell “d-i-v-o-r-c-e”? Interpersonal suffering is all around us.
And it gets more subtle than this, when we look at how the self, the “I” is built moment by moment. Here is the root cause of suffering: creating the self, believing in “me” and trying to fill the hole of all my wants. Moment by moment we sustain this world built up of a lifetime (or more than one) of patterns of ignorance. Can we see through this to something more beautiful? Is there a possibility of something we might call freedom?
When, in a moment, the mind is still, and that mind, that heart, is present with another,and both minds are resting in spaciousness,open, luminousan echo of the freedom that has never left us might be heard.
See what I mean?
Finally, something on a larger scale – what do you see when you look at the world?
I’ve been speaking about the interpersonal, one-on-one, or oneself with small groups. The aggregate of this craving can be seen throughout our culture.
What drives the incredible explosion of communication technologies, bandwidth consumption from text messages, to chat, to facebook or myspace, twitter, blogs, mobile and land line phones, and so on?
It is the immense web of both hunger–the social urge, and compassion–giving to each other the temporary food to fill the hole. It is directly related to immersion in television, alcohol consumption, overwork. it is directly related to corporations and governments out of control. It is human beings that drive these institutions. It is our hungers as individuals that drive the pressure of our commercial and national appetites. So this is where the work has to begin: in our own hearts.
But it does not stop there. This is not about self-satisfaction. The Buddha spoke of effacement, not attaining selfish bliss.
The diminishing of social dysfunction must occur at the level of personal and interpersonal effacement.
The brilliance of lovingkindness must replace the oppression of our profound hungers and the patterns they have built in our hearts. There is great joy in this. It is a turning towards our brilliance. It is an awakening of the heart of compassion that is latent in each of us.
But it won’t happen without intelligence, without profound Right View. it won’t happen without work. Fortunately, when we meditate together, this work unfolds with our own highest aspirations AND the irreplaceable power of each other’s opening heart.
Gregory will lead two retreats and deliver two free talks on Insight Dialogue during his time in New Zealand. He will be assisted on the retreats by Mary Burns, a psychotherapist and meditation teacher who has been studying with Gregory since 2004.
Auckland, free talk and experience of Insight Dialogue
31 March 2010, 7 – 9 pm
Mt Albert War Memorial Hall, corner New North Rd and
Wairere ave. (Bring sitting cushion/mat. Chairs provided)
Bella Rakha, Oratia, 5 day retreat
1 – 5 April (Easter plus day before)
$320, plus teacher Dana
Contact Viv: email@example.com
Wellington, free talk and experience of Insight Dialogue
8 April 2010, 7 – 9pm
The Home of Compassion, Rhine St, Island Bay
Riverslea, Otaki, 3 day retreat
9 –11 April
$ 195 plus teacher Dana
Contact Caz: firstname.lastname@example.org ph 04 389 4831