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It used to be that, after each issue of Tricycle hit newsstands, we'd receive a great deal of feedback and comments from readers in the form of letters to the editor. Some of these letters would then be published in the following issue. Since the rise of the Tricycle Community online, however, we don't receive as many LTEs as we used to. On tricycle.com, readers can simply leave comments directly on the articles themselves. Due to this change, the "Letters to the Editor" section of every issue is now comprised of both traditional LTEs (snail mail and e-mail) and comments left on tricycle.com.
This is a good thing for several reasons. For starters, it means that a lot more reader feedback can be published and read. It also makes Tricycle more of a two-way street. You can write anything you want to on any article/video/post/discussion on the website (unless, of course, it's really nasty; mean-spirited comments do occasionally get deleted), and Tricycle editors will read it. The other cool thing is that, in addition to being able to write online-comment "LTEs," community members can now enter conversations with each other. This kind of dialogue happens all the time on blog posts, community discussions, magazine articles, and Tricycle Retreats. However, this is the first time that I can recall it happening on a "Letters to the Editor" page.
In "Tired of Hiding," a Fall 2011 letter to the editor, Tereasa Lenius wrote the following:
I read the Letter from the Editor (“Only Connect”) about nonstereotypical members of your online community. I am not a member. But I have considered it numerous times. Fear has kept me from joining. The vast majority of my life has been spent as an outsider. I grew up, and still live, in a very small town in northeastern Iowa. Everyone here is Lutheran, and they regularly attend church.
The effects of peer pressure led me to go to church, but I never felt comfortable there. I have, however, felt comfortable anytime I’ve read a Buddhist book. I’ve wanted to be able to declare, “I’m a Buddhist!” But I’ve never felt that I could actually do that. Where I live, there are no Buddhists that I know of. And even if I found a group, I probably would feel too nervous to go there. I am so afraid that I will feel unwelcome because I am not the usual kind of person that they see. I also worry that I will come across as ignorant in Buddhism (as well as in level of education).
Last year, the Dalai Lama gave a talk at the University of Northern Iowa. I was lucky enough to be able to attend. During the week leading up to his visit, there were several Tibetan monks who created a mandala. I went several times to watch. During those visits, I overheard many people there who seem to be the kind of people that I would expect to be a part of your online community. They were extremely well educated, obviously wealthy, and very well-traveled. I am none of those things. My life experience has made it clear that it’s very hard for someone like me to fit in with people like that. I want to join a community. I want to find a teacher. I am so tired of having to hide that I’m not a Christian.
Fear is a powerful thing. It has kept me on the outside for a long time. I have decided to make this a year of change. I’ll be 43 this week, and I will be starting college in August. I’m scared to death. But I’m not going to run away. I feel that having an actual teacher to guide me would help me deal with all the craziness of my life. I would have a place of balance and calm. I am so glad that you are asking the question about those of us that are “different.”
Today—on the Tricycle website—she received a very thoughtful response from David Andersen, a Buddhist and clinical psychologist.
In response to your heartfelt letter, I felt compelled to offer some advice (I am both a Buddhist and a clinical psychologist). Your letter was remarkable for its honesty and humility, traits that will stand you in good stead in whatever life path you choose. I also want to write that the difficulties you describe—your reluctance to openly engage in behaviors that might disappoint or anger others and your wish not to experience criticism and disapproval—are common to us all. As you gather the courage to begin your Buddhist practice (a practice that will help with these issues), I would suggest that you also begin psychotherapy. I make this rather impertinent and unasked for suggestion because the problems that you write about are problems that psychotherapy is meant to address. My experience as a Buddhist, clinical psychologist, and someone who is very familiar with the psychotherapy outcome research literature, allows me to write with great confidence that adding psychotherapy to your Buddhist practice will very likely result in your working through these issue successfully. Lastly, on a practical note, you may not know that college provides easy and inexpensive access to therapy. Most, if not all, colleges and universities provide free psychological services to their students.
Here we have an emailed LTE that was printed in the magazine, which was read by a subscriber, who then went to tricycle.com to respond on the article online. It's fun and gratifying to see the ways in which the magazine and the online community are mixing up together.
Meanwhile, what do you think of Tereasa's letter and David's response?
Send letters to the editor here. Or leave a thoughtful comment somewhere for us to find!
Image: from the Flickr photostream of marcus_jb1973