Sample from the Summer 2005 Issue of Integral Yoga Magazine

An Interview with Gregory Kramer, Ph.D.

Dr. Kramer offers participants in his Insight Dialogue workshops the opportunity to experience meditative awareness of what happens when we retreat into our habitually well-defended and lonely “constructed” selves. Through silent and guided meditation, and which takes place while communicating with others, participants get the chance to access an awareness that is not infiltrated with hunger and longing. Gregory describes how dwelling for even a moment in this unconstructed intimacy transforms our sense of the possible.

Integral Yoga Magazine: We tend to think of mindfulness meditation as a solitary practice.

Gregory Kramer: I think there are good reasons for this. Our contacts with others bring about such strong reactions. Just looking at someone, if you feel they may really see you, brings up wanting, shrinking. While meditating with others , we tend to be more aware of the judgments that come up: “What should I say to you? What will you think of me?” And we haven’t even gotten to talking to each other yet! [laughs] So, I think there is wisdom in being silent and finding mystical truth within.

IYM: Can relationship itself be an essential part of our spiritual practice?

GK: Over the last ten years, I’ve been exploring meditating with others. This began as an exploration of bringing consciousness to dialogue. But, what inspired me was the tremendous amount of suffering that comes up between people. So, in the meditation retreats I was doing, I saw that the same dynamics that unfold internally, are unfolding in the between of relational practice and that the suffering could be relieved.

IYM: Is relational practice part of your Buddhist tradition?

GK: Because my root tradition is Buddhism, I went to the earliest teachings, the Pali Sutras. The first noble truth is about suffering. The second noble truth concerns craving and this is what I was seeing as the origin of interpersonal suffering. Buddha talked about the three basic hungers: survival of self, the fears of self (nonbeing) and the urge for pleasure. My understanding of the interpersonal nature of these hungers is that the hunger for pleasure is also the fear of interpersonal pain-loneliness. A lot of relationships are based on the fear of loneliness. The hunger for being, is to be in the eyes of others: “Look at me, validate me, make me be.” That can become egoism and, in its extreme, narcissism. The hunger for nonbeing is the hunger to escape, to be invisible. It is the fear of intimacy or being discovered in our unworthiness, inadequacy. Ultimately, it is the basis of our addictions.

The third noble truth is that the cessation of suffering is brought about by the cessation of the hunger. You can think of this in terms of our interpersonal life: “When have I been with someone with no hunger to be pleasured by them, no fear of pain or no need to have them validate me?” What kind of freedom that is! If you think about it , aren’t the hungers what keep us from love and compassion? Because if I am hungry, you are food! In the absence of hunger, what arises naturally, without effort, is love and compassion. If I am not fixating on me, I can be present with you.

IYM: IYM: How do we achieve that?

GK: Well, the fourth truth is about the path, the way out of suffering. Now, if we construe the spiritual path as primarily an individual, solitary endeavor, then it follows that we construe relationship as outside the path. If we make the switch and say, “My whole life is my path,” that means my relationship with you and everyone is part of the path. Why would I leave out the deepest stillness, the mystical, the parts that reveal where I am fabricating delusions? Why would I leave that out of my spiritual path? Together, we fabricated a lot of delusion, so let’s get to work [laughs].

IYM: Okay! How?

Read the rest of this article in the Summer 2005 Issue of Integral Yoga Magazine.