After 30 years of wondering what happened to my childhood friends after my family moved to the US…
… I located a recently-created Facebook page with the elementary school that I attended in my native Spain. A dozen old friends and I have been re-living our childhood communally by sharing old photos and filling each other in on the names, events and mishaps of the past. I’ve observed two things that stand out for me so far: (1) my memory is rather selective and plays tricks on me with the details; and (2) an inordinate amount of the people I knew are still living, 30 years later, in the same neighborhood as where I grew up.
The latter is flabbergasting because I’m attuned to a different societal model: you reach 18, you go off to college and away from your parents and your background, and there ensues a diaspora of classmates and friends. Some might return to where they grew up; others will live in the same general part of the country; and yet others will settle a hundred, a thousand, or ten thousand miles away.
The fact that there is such high concentration of former classmates in the old neighborhood has me wondering: what if I had been one of them? What if instead of getting this wild hair to move to the U.S., my family had instead opted to remain with the tried-and-true and had moved at most to a different section of the city? Surrounded by the familiar and known, what choices would I have made that wouldn’t have stretched me the way moving to a different country and culture did? Would I still be living in my old neighborhood, my old building, perhaps even my old apartment?
In yoga and in Buddhism there is the concept of samskara — which means many things to many different people, but which to me boils down to “conditioning”: the tendency for me to think as I’ve always thought, follow the patterns I’ve always followed, choose as I’ve been shown, react automatically. A beautiful woman walks past me, and it doesn’t matter if I was reading or concentrating on something unrelated: my eyes follow her. Samskara. Conditioning. I do it without thinking, because it’s what I’ve always done.
So, the question arises: if my former classmates kept living in the same neighborhood because it was the familiar and the known and only baby steps can be taken outside of that frame of reference, what invisible walls have I placed around myself that I can’t see? What if two decades ago someone had shown me a different way of thinking or doing or perceiving? Would I be flabbergasted by the thought of the life that I live today?
And more importantly, are my baby steps to expand into new areas cheating me of a more radical way to see my invisible walls — my patterns — and move beyond them?
I don’t mean “nothing” in the sense that I’m going to leave everything the way it is. I mean “nothing” in the sense of being still and doing nothing. Meditating, in other words.
Maybe clearing the slate of my mind on a daily basis might not give me the perspective on myself that a wise personal coach would have. But it would tell me exactly what I need, in language I can understand, and present it in bite-size amounts. “You’re wasting hours on Facebook” could sound harsh coming from someone else, and prompt me to create excuses and rationalizations. On the other hand, a meditation-induced insight (for instance, that clearing old projects or belongings or memories so that in a pristine environment there’s the space for the learning and discovery that brings fulfillment to my heart) sort of dissolves the Facebook addiction on its own.
So, why meditate, reason number 501: clearing the slate of my mind on a daily basis so I don’t remain an unconscious prisoner of the familiar and the known.
The importance of breaking my conditioning is something that my childhood classmates living in my old neighborhood will remind me of every time I log into Facebook from now on.
Oh, wait, I wasn’t supposed to do that anymore….