I’ve been ruminating today on my past life; the life I led as a Buddhist community member in North America as a younger man. This was sparked off by seeing some old community newspapers online, seeing a list of old names and seeing again their young faces. The rekindled memories held in them a mark of sadness.
I wasn’t great at making friends.
I’d put my social ability at the time as slightly below average. I’d had a normal childhood with the average close and casual friendships, but in my late teenage years I began to feel more distant from most people. I was a serious meditator with a high I.Q. , so the things that mattered most to me were uninteresting and unknown to most. I was so hard core and focused on my esoteric interests, that even within my own community when differences arose I’d have no inclination to go along to get along. These ideas mattered. I was arrogant, but for a reason. My experiences and understanding were beyond even that of some of my teachers.
I remember at one meditation group after party I approached a group of chatting strangers. They were relatively new to their practice, with some casual daily meditation practice and a few readings as compared to my years of in depth study, living in a monastery, meditation centers, and on several long term solitary forest retreats of up to 11 weeks, and having met and studied with several famous senior teachers. I opened my mouth to make an earnest correction to the casual banter and it was if I had dropped a fart bomb. All the air was sucked out of the casual conversation, no one said another word, and the crowd dispersed.
Those ideas were very important to me.
I had one close friend at the time, who was also hard core, and was an admired leader in the community. Our discussions usually focused around meditation and post meditation practice, Buddhist philosophy, and stories about his teachers. I had a great time hanging out with him, and we laughed often. Sometimes we’d butt heads. Eventually that friendship dissolved, and I never really knew why.
In the old days of that community the students would often get together for parties and were widely social. It was a social club, and people would meet and say hi in restaurants and clubs. By the time I was involved the younger students didn’t have that feeling. One teacher noticed this and tried to rekindle that old feeling and get the newer students to be more social. I remember after a talk by that teacher, people gathered in the coat room and a party was planned. It was a group of the younger hipper girls and guys. I wasn’t invited.
The older students didn’t socialize with the younger ones. People tend to age segregate. The younger students were also cliquish. And I somehow just didn’t put out a cool and friendly the-guy-you-want-to-know-and-hang-with vibe.
So I spent today going through what happened between me and the people I met, and trying to notice what other friendships did form around me. It’s confusing.
But one thing that sticks out is that with all my focus on mind training, I had necessarily neglected social training. I was a tad socially inept. Not aspergy or anything, but the fact that I’d been spending my late teens and early twenties in relative social isolation due to my meditative pursuits coupled with already feeling isolated through my interests and most people’s inability to understand what was important to me added up to a self perpetuating isolation.
I won’t go into how I transitioned out of that period of life here. But I’m telling this story for a reason. In looking back I see that I had come to a point where I really needed some social training. I wasn’t getting it naturally in my environment through play. I needed things to be pointed out to me so that I could practice. I needed to learn the values and skills involved in being a friendly social charmer.
We now have mens communities that teach men social skills relating to women. This is a big help to a lot of guys.
I now realize a lot of guys need help even at a basic level of dealing with other guys.
Perhaps after leaving the monastery and entering the broader world I should have worked harder to find other commonalities with people to bond over. Perhaps I needed to learn more skillful diplomacy when ideas clashed. Maybe I just needed more face time practicing social charm in the company of the socially charming. But I think by that point I needed more than all the above. I needed to catch up to speed with the social skills my peers would have been developing in college. I needed guidance and tutelage.
It’s very easy to live an isolated, atomistic lifestyle; going to work and coming home to the TV. Is this a modern social condition? For all men who know what I’m talking about – you’re not alone. Being social seems to be no longer the given in our communities it once was, and for some of us seems to take some effort.