Being There: Waking Up from a Virtual Life

A Conversation with Tara Brach

Rich Simon

By Rich Simon We’ve all become so used to getting our needs for information and social life met online–email, videos, ipods, skype–that we sometimes forget how irreplaceable the actual experience of direct human-to-human contact really is. Although we’re as fond of the lulling pleasures of cocooning as the next couple, one evening a couple of weeks ago, my wife Jette and I did something very old-fashioned. We got in our car, and drove the entire five miles to a Unitarian Church in suburban Maryland to hear a talk. Admittedly the talk was by a special soul: Buddhist therapist-–and Symposium keynoter–Tara Brach, whose book, True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart, has just been published.

Once we got there, we were still startled to discover how many other people had the same idea that night. There we were, over 500 of us, all taking in Tara’s extraordinary presence—soft, evocative, and penetrating all at once. Although Tara’s many videos are wonderful to watch , there is something about experiencing her directly—the way her gentle voice fills the room, her ability to make it seem that, somehow, she is talking just to you, the way her breath seems to be so completely synchronized with what she is saying, feeling and thinking—that transported all of us. It also became very obvious that being with Tara in the round, so to speak, was a vastly richer experience than watching her at one remove in her onscreen simulacrum. (Although you can watch Tara in the accompanying video by clicking here or on the image below.)

As I sat in the room listening to Tara, I was viscerally reminded of our deep need to gather in the presence of other members of our “tribe,” how it seems to fill an ancient need, embedded in our biology, encoded in our very DNA. As a species, we are just not made for a life of nothing but “virtual” connections. Rediscovering the palpable heft and depth of a “live” gathering of my fellow mortals, even as we sat silently in mediation, was both exhilarating and deeply touching. My head and heart seemed to buzz for days after that uncharacteristically bold foray out into the non-virtual world that night.

Much as we might try to find substitutes for it, to fully realize our corporeal, breathing reality as members of our species, we need a hearty serving of the real McCoy from time to time. And whatever we call the Symposium each year, the power of being part of a flesh-and-blood tribal gathering—even one in a luxury hotel in downtown D.C.–is, in some sense, always the central theme of the meeting. But this year, our focus on helping each other navigate through all our virtual distractions is stated directly in our title–The Therapist’s Craft: Healing Connection in a Digital World.

Increasingly, part of the role of therapists in our culture is to wake people up from the semi-conscious slumber that the isolating routine of our virtual lives can lull us into. Those of you who have been to the Symposium before know that one of its great paradoxes, like other gatherings of truly kindred spirits who delight in hanging out and learning with each other, is how much we feel more uniquely ourselves as individuals when we are part of a truly connected group.

We hope that, no matter how “mature” and “individuated” you consider yourself, you join Tara and over 3,000 of your real life, in-the-flesh colleagues in a few weeks in rediscovering again what a difference it makes to be schmoozing and luxuriating in the actual presence of your professional tribe.

The Therapist’s Craft:
Healing Connection in a Digital World

March 21-24 · Washington DC
Savings End Midnight, Monday February 25th
Learn more here.

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One Response to Being There: Waking Up from a Virtual Life

  1. Sharon Kelly says:

    Rich I love your discription of daring to go out into the dark night! My husband and i did something similar recently when we went to the New Hope Vineyard to hear some live music. I know it seems like a simple thing but it is easy to slip into “staying in” and not being open to connecting with others face to face. The venue provided small round tables for chatting with newly aquainted table mates and mutual appreciation for the lovely music. There was something energizing about “going out into the dark night” and bumping into other travelers. As you discribed, I too felt immensely energized by the actual “experience” for days afterward. Looking forward to lots of face to face encounters at the upcoming symposium!

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