Investigating Our Experience in Community

An 11-minute mindful awareness practice to discover how our community shapes us.

Previously, we used the “A” in the R.A.I.N. acronym to practice accepting or allowing what arose for us while considering our experiences within community. This week we are using the “I” in that framework to investigate further. That is, we’re applying some mindful awareness to our experiences in order to really investigate, to explore what we might learn about how our communities have shaped and formed us.

With the help of our breath and a simple visualization, we’re going to call to mind a community and ask ourselves some questions about the aspects of that community. This will help us look into what we know and explore what other queries we might have. Let’s begin.

Investigating Our Experience in Community

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Investigating Our Experience in Community

  • 11:49

Follow the Practice:

1. Settle in, noticing your body in the space you’re in. Notice the position of your feet on the floor; sense into the way all of this feels to be resting in this moment. Take a few deep breaths to invite a calm focus.

2. As you breathe in and out, let’s bring a particular community to mind. Let’s look at the physical details of the structure of that community: a place where we have lived. Imagine driving up to that place, or walking toward it. See if you can vividly call to mind the physical dimensions of that community—the aspects that mark this community as the one in your memory, in your lived experience. Perhaps there is a collection of buildings, or you might already be, in your mind’s eye, inside one of these buildings.

3. Now, let’s get curious. What are these buildings like? Who do we find within these buildings, as members of this community? How do we know those who belong? How do we know the people who don’t belong? The goal of this practice is to really expand our focus of awareness to take into consideration the physical surroundings of the communities in which we’ve lived, which we know. Stay with the details you’re noticing and take a few deep breaths.

4. Observe what comes up for you as you sit with this reflection on being in community. We’re looking at the physical environment by which we define our community, homing in on the physical characteristics, including the detailed way the buildings looked: how would you characterize their level of upkeep? How about their color or other attributes?

5. Now, let’s consider the range of people in this space. What are they like? How do you know who belongs in this community? Just allow what comes up for you when you think about who belongs or belonged here. How do you participate in creating a sense of who belongs and who doesn’t? Do members of this community wave to each other, speak to each other with certain language, share in activities together? Or are you finding it’s difficult to sense into who belongs and who doesn’t in this place? Are there different identities that arise? Was this community racially distinctive and/or racially diverse? See if there are particular characteristics that come to mind when you look at the members of this community—those you would identify as belonging to it. See if there are ways you can imagine what it would be like not to belong here. How would you know if someone didn’t belong?

6. Let’s explore even more deeply now the boundaries around this community: What do we know about how this community came to be constituted in the manner it has been? Perhaps we know some of the history around how this community arose. See if you can call that forth. And if you can’t, that’s OK, too. Simply notice areas you may not know much about but may wish to investigate further—what could we bring more curiosity to? 

7. Let’s take our investigation further: How did we, as individual players, come to be in our particular community? What were some of the structures and experiences that led us to become members of this community? Was a family member already a member? How about our education or income level—did those things afford us the opportunity to belong here? As we breathe in and out, let’s notice again that we are exploring a mindful reflection of the material, structural aspects of a particular community that we’ve experienced. We’re allowing any thoughts, emotions and sensations to arise. We’re coming into deeper consciousness about these experiences. With kindness, with as little judgment as possible, we simply want to notice what arises. What is there to be known?

8. Let’s explore the quality of our sensations around how your heart feels: Is there an open quality, a sense of constriction, anything else? Let’s ask ourselves: do we feel safe here? Do we sense we need to toe a line in some ways, or be someone we don’t necessarily feel comfortable being? Whatever is arising, with gentle and kind awareness, allow the spirit of inquiry and investigation to help us know our experience more deeply.

9. And now let’s pause and gently allow this visualization to dissolve. Let’s return to our breathing as we sit and rest in awareness. Sensing into the quality of the heart again, if there is any distress that’s arisen for you, bring kindness and self-compassion here.

10. When you’re ready, if your eyes have been closed, gently open them and invite a conscious re-engagement with your post-meditation experience. Hold with kindness what you’ve been reflecting upon.

I invite you to continue coming back to this kind of investigation of what it means to be in physical community. What are the lessons you carry about what kinds of communities are desirable and not, where you feel safe and not? What do you find are the places to be avoided? What have you gained from those avoidance behaviors, and what have you possibly also missed out on? This meditation is an opportunity to inquire more deeply about how some of those habits and conditionings might actually be calling themselves into awareness—ways that might be to our benefit and possibly to the benefit of the broader world going forward.

As you continue practicing over this week, investigating more deeply experiences of being in community, allow yourself to look at a number of different types of experiences. Next, we’ll complete this arc of inquiry that we’ve begun by learning more about relating to these experiences with non-attachment. We’ll learn more about touching into the joys and struggles of being in community and how to do that better with compassion.

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About the author

Rhonda Magee

Rhonda V. Magee is a professor of law at the University of San Francisco. Also trained in sociology and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), she is a highly practiced facilitator of trauma-sensitive, restorative MBSR interventions for lawyers and law students, and for minimizing the effects of social-identity-based bias. Magee has been a visiting scholar at the Center for the Study of Law and Society and a visiting professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley.

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