Monday, February 20, 2012

Coming soon to a society near you

Six women from around the globe. Three intimidatingly unstable sets of bunk beds. One room. More ominously, one heating vent. Two weeks of living together, sharing a bathroom with another dozen women.

Don't watch for it on TLC or Bravo. It was too boring even for The History Channel to be interested.

The thing is, the people in question were advanced meditation practitioners who'd come together, with many others, to contemplate what it takes to have an enlightened society. So at the very least, there was a heart commitment to kindness, to living mindfully, to realizing that the sleeping conditions that make you comfy will have an impact on five other sentient beings. (Or more. One of the men in the male dorm pointed out that if we messed with the thermostat we would also affect the men's dorm.)

We never messed with the thermostat. We did, however, have daily discussions about the door between the sleeping room and the locker room. The woman whose bed was under the heating vent preferred that the door be open to let the heat out. The people at the other end of the room preferred that it be closed to keep the light out. Once I collected enough blankets to last a sherpa a lifetime (I ultimately had one fleece blanket under me, two over me -- each folded in half to double it, and a heavy cotton blanket over me, on top of long underwear and fleece pajamas), I was willing to go in any direction.

We tried different things each night. Meanwhile, the woman in the bunk below me moved her mattress into the middle of the floor because the structure swayed so much each time I moved. The woman in the bunk over the world-class snorer wore earplugs, so I tapped her on the shoulder each morning to wake her up.

Through it all, there was no eye-rolling, no whining, no one asserting their needs should take precedence. No whispering behind other people's backs or building and tearing down allegiances. There was a situation. We were sharing a room at night. Could we find a level of happiness where everyone was content and no one was miserable?

Yes, we could. Without cat fights or hair pulling. I don't know what went on inside anyone's head, but in the real world kindness prevailed.

It would make a boring TV show, but it made a pretty good world.

After I got home from the retreat, I tried this at the Stop & Shop -- assuming that everyone there had essentially good intentions even if their behavior didn't convey it. I let the woman who walked past me to the front of the line at the drug store do it. It's harder not to whisper under my breath or mentally call people names, but it's a practice to work on.

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