Open Practice is a Twitter hashtag and now also a website: www.openpractice.me But what does this mean!?
About half way through my first retreat, after spending 3 days right next to the most sublimely annoying cough—well I say it was a cough, it was more like being chained to an infinite loop of someone trying, not quite hard enough, to dislodge a fishbone—I moved my sitting spot to the other side of the meditation hall. Alarmingly, meditation didn’t become any easier now that I was further away from The Cough. I continued to struggle with a deep existential ache. Truth be told, I just wanted to go into the toilets, away from all these people, and cry. Yet I, and everyone else stuck at it, just watching our breathing and attending to our hearts.
As the retreat came to end and I began to survey the great mountain of emotion I had grappled with, a bittersweet and poignant bond formed between me and my fellow retreatants. In the whole wide world, only these people could begin to understand what I’d been through, yet I’ve only spoken to one out of the 60 of them! Settling into my seat on the train back home, suddenly my newly opened and tender heart felt thrust into and overwhelmed by a starkly sober and unforgiving world; in that moment, opposed to practically every thought I had had on retreat, I wished to be back with my friends in the meditation hall. Then, as the train was pulling away, I caught a glimpse of a familiar face on the platform, with her still and collected composure contrasting against the noise and bustle of the station, a fellow retreatant briefly held my gaze and silently spoke more words to me than all the chatter of all the people on my 2 hour journey home.
Leisa Reichelt, in her now famous 2007 article espousing the wonders of Twitter, uses the phrase “ambient intimacy” to describe the quality of relationship cultivated by consuming a stream of 140 character tweets from the friends, peers and heroes you choose to ‘follow’. Ambient evokes the idea of perhaps a lingering aroma, not fragrant enough to be a talking point, but noticeable never the less. Equally, Twitter infuses the air with a similar pitch of stimulus; contrary to the expectations of other forms of communication such as emails, phone calls and letters, there is no pressure to reply to every tweet, not even an expectation to read each one. This allows for a whole new order of expression where we’re legitimately allowed to communicate the trivialities making up the reality of our day to day lives that would otherwise be completely unworthy of writing home about.
Ambient intimacy does not of course just apply to Twitter but also to many other environments; working in an office, family life, train carriages and, as I suggested above, retreats. Not all communication is literal and not all relationships are explicit. In fact, one could argue that implied and non-direct communication is an essential factor in relationships.
In 2009, a popular and passionate blogger named ~C4Chaos wrote an article outlining a concept he termed Open Practice. It was essentially formalising an approach of journaling, openness and sharing that he’d already been undertaking with regard to his spiritual journey. Let me outline his bullet points from his blog article.
What Open Practice is:
- A matter-of-fact reporting of empirical subjective experiences. From this perspective Open Practice is an experiment. I’ll be playing the role of the ”subject” of study. Readers play the role of science researchers who are gathering data points of subjective experiences. These data points can then be compared with religious, spiritual, psychological, and medical literature and used for further research on the “science of enlightenment.”
- Active learning. A good way of learning and embodying a practice is to talk about it and be proficient with its language and terminology. Creating a journal of my practice is one way of active learning.
- Open-sharing of techniques. I believe that there’s no one-size-fits-all awakening technology. We groove with what tickles our fancy. Meditation techniques that work for other people don’t work for others. I’ll do my best to document the techniques that work for me and share it with others.
- Increasing serendipitous understanding and meetings. One thing I learned in my years of blogging is that open-sharing leads to targeted serendipity–attracting other people who are openly sharing knowledge and information. This is a beneficial feedback loop that results in adding to our understanding of concepts through healthy dharma discussions and meeting other people online and offline, which then could lead to other serendipitous discoveries. Trust me on this. It’s the law of karma.
- Inspiring others to pick up a practice. Hopefully, this would inspire people to question religious dogma and explore the deeper dimensions of the mystical core of their religious traditions. “The kingdom of God is within.” The doorway is practice and the fruition is Grace.
What Open Practice is Not:
- Bragging about attainments. This is not about showing off and proclaiming how good we are in our practice. There’s no place for our delusions of grandeur here.
- My teacher and method is better than yours. See open-sharing of techniques. But if you really think and believe that your method is the best, don’t tell. Show and prove it.
- Useless lemon-eating debates based on parroting and hearsay rather than experiential knowledge. If you’ve read this far, then this should be self-explanatory.
How Do I Take Part?
If you just want to listen in, then just head over to www.openpractice.me However, if you want to tweet your own #openpractice then you’ll need a Twitter account, it’s very easy, just go to Twitter.com and they’ll tell you what to do. Remember that all tweets are public, but if you want your tweet to show up in the stream you must include the #openpractice hashtag somewhere, anywhere, in your tweet. You can also keep up with the #openpractice tweets from your Twitter client (like Tweetdeck, or your iPhone app, by doing a search for ‘#openpractice’). A great thing about this is that you don’t have to be following anyone to see these tweets, which means it can actually be a serendipitous way of meeting new people.