June 10th, 2009

I somehow became a heavy participant in the Meetup website and network.  I’d become aware of it when they started a local Buddhists meetup, and my first reaction, I’ll admit, was kind of skeptical.  Why do we need a website to set up in-person meetings with Buddhists?  I meet lots of Buddhists on Sunday mornings at the temple.  These things aren’t hidden.

But then the Buddhist Meetup came to Still Point for a visit, and I got to know them a little bit, went to their meetups at a Chinese restaurant in Dearborn, and then one of them invited me to a party.  This young woman is kind of a Meetup maven, and guests at that party had met her through several different groups.  I joined the International Meetup for a few outings after that, and when their organizer had to move on to other things, and was looking for volunteers to organize, no one else stepped up, so–boldly going where others fear to tread–I stepped up.  I get to meet interesting people, and I get to choose where we eat, so it’s a win-win.

There’s an interesting lesson in human psychology in the way a Meetup group runs.  Look at the numbers: Right now the International Meetup has 360 members, individuals who’ve joined the website and get the mailings about new events.  When I announced a meeting at a local Lebanese restaurant, 26 people left a “Yes” RSVP (and didn’t change it before the meeting).  At the actual meeting, there were 13 people total.  I’ve come to expect this kind of ratio, and if I can avoid being frustrated by it, I can learn an interesting lesson.  In any individual, there’s a discrepancy in these three points:

  1. Willingness to click “Yes, I’d like to join this group.”
  2. Willingness to click, “Sure, I’ll be there next Wednesday.”
  3. Actually going.

Of course, people’s lives are complicated and they may have good reasons for missing.  But it’s enough of a trend that I think it shows something deeper about our minds.

I’ve heard that psychological studies show that we have very different kinds of thoughts about events that are near in time than events that are some time in the future or the past.  We tend to think of distant events in abstract terms, and near events in concrete.  If your brother asks you to babysit his kids next month, because it’s a month away, you’ll think about gratitude, family togetherness, learning experiences, childhood.  If he asks you to do it tomorrow, you’ll think about car seats, diapers, Disney DVDs, apple juice.

This could be the reason between the discrepancy between the things we say we want, and what we actually practice.  It’s typical that personal ads will say “I like long walks,” but you don’t see many people taking long walks.  It’s the same principle: when your romantic relationship doesn’t exist yet, it’s far enough away that when you think about the long walks you’ll take with your honey-to-be, you think in abstract terms: intimacy, relaxation, charm.  When it’s an option for tonight, you think in more practical terms: the shoes you’re going to wear, your tired feet, the bad sidewalks in your neighborhood, the TV programs you could be watching instead.

I have a theory that meditation practice allows us the space to remember what we really want from life.  We realize that it’s not that difficult to get out the door.  We remember that, a few weeks ago, we really wanted this, and we’ll make the stand and do it.  It’s just a theory, but I think if you try it, you’ll be glad you did.

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