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Going for Refuge - Questions and Answers Tuscany 1986

by Sangharakshita

... good thing if we did have more of these. I find it difficult to say whether we should or
should not, definitely, because this is something, I think, which can only be decided by the
centres themselves.
I must say, to be quite frank, I've had one or two little reservations about communication
exercises more recently, in the context of a mixed retreat or mixed course. From time to time
I have not been very happy about the results - for reasons which, no doubt, I need not go into.
So I think one needs to exercise caution in this particular respect, because, you know, the
communication exercises really do work; they do have some effect, as I'm sure everybody,
practically, knows or has personally experienced.
Uttara: Bhante, do you see them being used, say, within a beginners' course, or would you
think you should leave them out of a beginners' course - say, at the end of a course when
people have been ...
S: What kind of course are you thinking of?
Uttara: A meditation course ...
S: If it's a meditation course as such I don't think you should introduce communication
exercises. I am not so sure that they go together all that well. I won't be very certain about
that. But perhaps one could wind up with something of that sort. But, again, that needs to be
carefully considered. You've had a meditation course; would it not be better to end up with a
really good meditation? Because, if you introduce communication exercises then, it's
something very different. If you've got [4] a general retreat, with a bit of everything - some
Puja, some meditation, some talks, some discussion - well, by all means have two or three
sessions of communication exercises, too. But if it's just a meditation course, I'm very
doubtful whether you should have communication exercises too at the end.
Ratnaprabha: Bhante, this follows on from what Uttara has just said, and also what you were
saying earlier about teaching meditation. My so far very limited experience in Cambridge,
where there has only been the time and facilities for one class a week, is that people seem to
like to be able to drop in and drop out, regulars like to be able to attend as well as beginners,
and if one just simply followed the format of a cycling course in, for example, mindfulness of
breathing, I don't think it would fulfil the demands of a lot of the people who come. And it
seems that a lot of variation is required. What we have tried is sometimes having discussions,
sometimes short talks, sometimes introducing a bit of devotion, sometimes having
communication exercises - in a way just to keep up people's interest.
S: Yes, it would seem as though perhaps sometimes one has to follow a path of very irregular
steps. But I think you have to be very careful you are not just keeping people happy and
amused and entertained, in that they are really getting somewhere. You might consider it
would be more worth your while just to forget about the people who drop in from time to
time and, if you've got four, say, really serious people, concentrate on them. You might
consider that a better thing to do.
But in the long run, or in the end, it is the man on the spot that has to decide, in the light of
the situation.
Vessantara: Bhante, my impression is - I don't know whether other Order Members would
confirm this - that, whereas in the early and mid-seventies communication exercises were
very popular, within the Movement - say at Pundarika we did have communication courses
and weekends, a lot of people used to come and get a lot out of them - now, at least at some
centres, you only have to mention that at the regulars' class you are going to do
communication exercises next week and the numbers drop quite dramatically.
S: Ah. That's interesting.
Vessantara: It's as if they aren't generally as appreciated as they used to be.
S: Perhaps they are not as necessary as they used to be - possibly?
Vessantara: Well, you'd think that people would really enjoy human communication, even if
they are not absolutely necessary. You'd think they would quite look forward to the
opportunity; whereas it seems that people fight rather shy of them. At least that is my
information.
S: And [they] prefer meditation?
Vessantara: Well, they seem to prefer almost anything, meditation, or Puja or a talk, or - I
don't know whether other people have ...
S: I just wonder - and this is only a wondering - whether there is enough in the way of
explanation and discussion of the exercises, or whether it is not that simply the exercises are
laid on and that's that. I used to talk and explain quite a lot. I've even done that here, haven't I,
in earlier Tuscanies - I think I've actually demonstrated once or twice. Not so much
discussion, but with at least [5] quite a lengthy explanation of each stage and so on, or a
comparatively lengthy explanation.
So perhaps there isn't enough of that element, but the exercises aren't put sufficiently within
context. I don't know; this is just a sort of speculation. It could be so.
Uttara: On communication exercises - I personally [... ] mentioned about doing them in
courses and other classes; I have become very wary of actually doing them at all, especially
for people who are even intermediate, because they can be quite a frightening experience for
people who ...
S: I do know, by the way, that they are often done on the women's retreats, and the women
seem to enjoy them very much and get a lot out of them. But this is just women among
themselves. And sometimes they are done at Padmaloka on men's retreats, aren't they, and
they seem very popular?
Uttara: Yes.
: Surata's leading them seems to be very popular. (Voices agreeing.)
Uttara: I think it's just because, over the years, in taking communication class and being quite
sensitive to the people and seeing the looks in people's faces as they were doing them, it
seemed that it was, rather than having a positive effect on them, it has actually frightened
them, because to be suddenly confronted with another human being, so I've been quite wary
of pushing it upon people, and really trying to emphasize the ...
S: I did notice some years ago, and I drew attention to this fact, that many people conducting
communication exercises were making the little sessions too long, and that that was
introducing strain. I used to keep them quite short, and very gradually lengthen them. I
usually started off with five minutes. But I did discover that some people were having
15-minute sessions, which is far, far too much.
Padmapani: Bhante, I remember that in the old days, at Keffolds and Pundarika, what you
used to do - I don't think people do it so much now - was that you used to actually watch
whom you put the person with.
S: Oh, yes! That's quite important.
Padmapani: - and move people around as appropriate. What you tend to get sometimes is
people just having a communication with someone they want to have a communication with,
which can be a non-communication.
S: Right, yes. Or you just get, by pure accident, two quite blocked people together. What I
most looked out for was that: that you didn't get two people together who were quite blocked,
and both of whom found communication difficult. I used to allow people to sit with
whomsoever they pleased, to begin with, but I very quickly changed them all around. But I
think you have to allow people to sit with whom they please to begin with, because they've
got all these ideas about personal choice and not being told what to do - but I don't think you
can just let people sit with whomsoever they wish, because in a way it defeats the purpose of
the whole exercise.
Paul Tozer: Connecting up with what Uttara and Vessantara were saying, I get the impression
that people are very scared of communication exercises, and that that's [6] the reason why if
you say you are going to do communication exercises next week only half the people turn up.
S: But they do enjoy them in the context of a retreat, so who are those people who don't turn
up? Is it regulars or Order Members or Mitras or - what about all of you? Would you think it
wasn't so important to turn up the following week, if it was communication exercises? Maybe
people don't think it's much to do with the Dharma, so they can give that a miss. Maybe it
isn't just that they're terrified of looking somebody else in the eye - or eyes, I should say.
Uttara: It wasn't everybody who was scared, it was just some people who definitely looked as
if they were finding it very difficult.
S: I can certainly remember that, in the old days at Keffolds - this was on retreat - there were
a few people who absolutely refused to do them, and one or two who really were terrified;
used to sit rigid with terror. Including one person who in another group, outside the FWBO,
was teaching a kind of communication exercise. I remember him very well. He left in the
middle of the retreat; he couldn't take any more.
Alan Pendock: I wonder if people have a chance to almost like chicken out if they know it's
going to be next week, and - My experience is that I feel nervous, for instance, when I start
doing communication exercises, if I know it's going to happen, but once I get into it I really
enjoy it. I see that quite often in other people. They're nervous to start with, but at the end of
the session they sit round talking for ages afterwards; it's really quite broken the ice. And I
wonder whether that has something ...

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