An article in the San Diego Jewish Journal about attending a week-long silent meditation retreat. In the following excerpt the writer describes the clarity of observation during a walk outside:
On this walk, I noticed things I usually would have missed. I heard how a brook sounds different when you listen to its melody upstream vs. downstream. I watched how snow really falls: what seems like only a few flakes observed horizontally is a load of white when you look up into the sky. I became quiet enough to hear an animal bustling in the spongy snow covered ground. Finally, I figured out that snow was more air than water. It took an enormous amount to quench my thirst.
This was far more than a lovely stroll. I actually experienced what seemed like a merging with the quiet and serenity of wintertime. To say this memory is one of my most vivid is an understatement. It ranks in intensity and depth with the birth of my son.
October 28, 2006 | Meditation | Permalink
L.A. City Beat reports on war veterans who are trying meditation as a means of recovering from combat trauma:
“I’m having to deal with the reality that I saw a lot of bad things. I’m having a tough time dealing with the civilian casualties,” says Stinzo, 31.
“I feel like Americans, although they seem to be informed by the news, it’s not a reality to them. I feel like most of these people in America feel like it’s watching a movie, and when the movie ends, you leave and you’re back at your normal life,” he adds. “I don’t want to tell people I’m an Iraq veteran, because immediately I’m bombarded with questions, especially the question of having to kill somebody. It’s very frustrating, and it makes me very angry inside.”
September 16, 2006 | Meditation | Permalink
Meditation Blog has moved from our old location (meditateny.com/blog/) to a new URL (meditationblog.com).
While visiting the east coast in August for a wedding, I attended a week-long silent retreat at Springwater Center. I'd worked and volunteered for a year at Springwater a few years ago. While I'd lived in New York City subsequently — only an hour's plane ride away — I'd only been back once since. So it was wonderful to see the place and the people again.
Silent retreats at a Springwater are a remarkable thing. First, there's what's missing — cell phones, deadlines, commutes — and all the other stresses of everyday life. Second, there's nothing added. All other meditation centers that I'm aware of adhere to a particular religious or spiritual system. As its brochure notes, "Springwater is without rituals, ceremonies, or beliefs of any kind." That open, quiet space fosters an awareness of this present moment, which we're so often overlooking when absorbed in thoughts about the past, the future, and ourselves.
Toni Packer led the retreat. At age 78 she's less physically mobile, but her talks were as crisp and clear as ever. Packer directs four retreats a year and participates in others as a fellow retreatant. Four others in attendance — Wayne Coger, Stew Glick, Sandra Gonzalez, and Richard Witteman — also lead retreats at Springwater and elsewhere in North America during the year.
Here's an excerpt from Michael Atkinson's preface to Packer's book "The Wonder of Presence." Atkinson, an English professor at the University of Cincinnati, gives an in-depth description of what a retreat is actually like at Springwater. It's a lengthy excerpt, but an informative one:
Leaving the two-lane highway that leads away from the tiny village of Springwater, a dirt road takes you past a sprinkling of houses, turns into the woods. and winds its way toward the center itself. Fifty yards from a gravel parking lot partly sheltered by the surrounding woodlands, high on the hillside, is a large, modern, wooden building, with great glass windows looking south. Entering a reception area, where racks hold shoes and invite you to leave yours, you find someone from the staff there to greet you. Neatly printed white sheets of paper on a bulletin board give you your room number and job for the retreat, and you find your way to the room and roommate with whom you will spend the next week, stow away gear, make your bed, and return to the main floor of the building to connect with old friends or to meet with new faces, an activity that continues through a serve-yourself dinner of soup and bread at five o'clock. As the conversations continue, most are mindful of the silence that will ensue after the orientation at seven.
September 4, 2006 | Meditation | Permalink
Paper Frog links to a Slate.com video interview with Joseph Goldstein, who has been teaching at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts for many years. Robert Wright, the interviewer, who obviously has an interest in meditation, isn't afraid to ask the probing, naive, or self-interested questions. It's a good watch, particularly if you're new to meditation, or have questions and concerns about it. While Goldstein's approach has a Buddhist flavor to it, the interview contains a lot of insights.
Here's one exchange I like, as taken from a transcript of the interview, in which Goldstein elaborates on the difference between detachment and non-attachment:
Joseph Goldstein: ...This could be clarified by the distinction of two words which often get confused. You know often people understand in Buddhism that there's a great value on detachment and that sounds a little grey. You know just to be detached from everything.
Robert Wright: Right.
JG: That's not what the teaching is about. The teaching is about non-attachment. Detachment implies a sense of withdrawal.
RW: Withdrawal from?
JG: From whatever.
RW: Including joy, including...
JG: It's like a pulling away from. Non-attachment doesn't imply withdrawal it simply implies not holding on. So that's a very different experience, it's a very different mind-set. That's really what we're practicing.
Technical note, watching the interview on a Mac, I was only successful using the Real Player option.
June 26, 2006 | Meditation | Permalink
The Krishnamurti Foundation of America is accepting applications for a month-long summer program for college and post-graduate students. The course will take place from July 1-28, 2006 in Ojai, California. Here are some further details:
The Krishnamurti Foundation of America is pleased to announce our second Krishnamurti Summer Study Program for college and post-graduate college students. This is an exciting four week in-depth program that will introduce the life-changing teachings of J. Krishnamurti.
The goal of this program is to help students to discover for themselves a new perceptual understanding of life based on fresh insights and self-knowledge gained directly through dialogue.
We have structured the Krishnamurti Summer Study Program as a traditional college course to enable students to apply for college credit from their own particular colleges, if they wish. The program begins July 1 and runs through July 28, 2006.
Each day students enter into penetrating dialogues; we watch videos of Krishnamurti in dialogue with many serious explorers of the mind, and we read from selected writings. In addition the group takes hikes into the beautiful valleys and mountain trails that surround Ojai and visits the lovely beaches of Santa Barbara.
The cost of the entire program is $1300 which includes all meals, a room in Besant House on Oak Grove School's campus, all books and other materials, and all transportation within Ojai.
If you know any students that might be interested in this unique program, please tell them about it. For more detailed information, and for application guidelines, please go to the KFA web site:
I like what Mark Lee, the executive director of the KFA, has to say about the program:
Show me where you can penetrate into the mystery that is yourself, without the benefit of a gimmick, a device, a method, or some step-by-step program that claims to make it easier? Many courses are available to help improve you, promising empowerment, transcendental energy, rejuvenation, and all manner of remediation for the body and mind. However the truth is we really don’t know how to “see” ourselves, or how to get to know who we are directly. This points to one of the qualities of what Krishnamurti talked about, direct perception of who we are, without the interference of experts, or authorities.
June 3, 2006 | Meditation | Permalink
"Can anybody meditate?" is the title of a chapter from Jon Kabat-Zinn's deservedly bestselling book "Wherever You, There You Are." It's a good question to ask, as many people think they don't have the temperament for meditation, have tried it briefly only to give up, or simply see it as an esoteric discipline without application to their lives. It's unfortunate, because meditation is a simple way for everyone to access life fully and deeply. Here's the rest of Kabat-Zinn's chapter:
I get asked this question a lot. I suspect people ask because they think that probably everybody else can meditate but they can't. They want to be reassured that they are not alone, that there are at least some other people they can identify with, those hapless souls who were born incapable of meditating. But it isn't so simple.
Thinking you are unable to meditate is a little like thinking you are unable to breathe, or to concentrate or relax. Pretty much everybody can breathe easily. And under the right circumstances, pretty much anybody can concentrate, anybody can relax.
People often confuse meditation with relaxation or some other special state that you have to get to or feel. When once or twice you try and you don't get anywhere or you didn't feel anything special, then you think you are one of those people who can't do it.
But, meditation is not about feeling a certain way. It's about feeling the way you feel. It's not about making the mind empty or still, although stillness does deepen in meditation and can be cultivated systematically. Above all, meditation is about letting the mind be as it is and knowing something about how it is in this moment. It's not about getting somewhere else, but about allowing yourself to be where you already are. If you don't understand this, you will think you are constitutionally unable to meditate. But that's just more thinking, and in this case, incorrect thinking at that.
True, meditation does require energy and a commitment to stick with it. But then, wouldn't it be more accurate to say, "I wont stick with it," rather than, "I can't do it?" Anybody can sit down and watch their breath or watch their mind. And you don't have to be sitting. You could do it walking, standing, lying down, standing on one leg, running, or taking a bath. But to stay at it for even five minutes requires intentionality. To make it part of your life requires some discipline. So when people say they can't meditate, what they really mean is they won't make time for it, or that when they try, they don't like what happens. It isn't what they are looking for or hoping for. It doesn't fulfill their expectations. So maybe they should try again, this time letting go of their expectations and just watching.
April 21, 2006 | Meditation | Permalink
The New York Times reports on a landmark agreement that was reached after years of negotiation to protect 15-million acres of the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia. The Nature Conservancy describes the deal:
The Great Bear Rainforest is part of the largest coastal temperate rainforest remaining on Earth and supports some of the oldest surviving cultures in the Western Hemisphere. Its preservation is one of the most compelling conservation visions of our time. Today’s agreement — and the unique partnership between industry, environmentalists, governments and local communities that made it possible — marks a watershed event for both conservation and industry.
While Western researchers are exploring the effects of meditation on physical health, Alan Wallace, a leading Tibetan scholar and one of the Dalai Lama's translators, pointed out that when faced with physical ailments, Tibetans traditionally turned to doctors or healers, not to meditation. The purpose of meditation, added the Dalai Lama, is not to cure physical ailments, but to free people from emotional suffering.
While meditation has recently been gaining attention in the media as a result of medical research proclaiming its health benefits, it's good to have a reminder that meditation goes beyond stress relief. In the act of being aware, deeper forces are at work. Awareness grounds us in what we can call reality, life here and now, rather than in mental abstraction.
A Voice of America article on the Dalai Lama's visit to D.C. includes this excerpt:
Mind and Life Institute chairman Adam Engle compared meditation to exercise, saying a healthy mind is as important as a healthy body. "So, in the same way that you've got a myriad of physical exercises to help your body, there are a myriad of mental trainings. And this is not well known. Most people, when they think about meditation, they think about turning your body into a pretzel and zoning out somewhere," he said. "But it is really just a word for mental training."
Meditation is often presented as a form of mental training in which the mind applies its focus on an object (the breath, a sound, a mantra, a visualized image). On this site we would like to offer an alternate view of meditation as a kind of mental un-training. Instead of focusing the mind on an object, the mind can be left to rest as it is. Paltrul Rinpoche (1808-1887), a Tibetan meditation teacher, describes this poetically:
All you practitioners, male and female, who wish to realize the faultless and correct point of view, should let your mind rest fully awake in a state of unfabricated emptiness. When your mind is quiet, then rest in that quietness without trying to fabricate anything. When it doesn't think, then rest in that non-thinking. In short, no matter what takes place, let your mind rest without fabricating anything.
Don't try to correct, suppress or cultivate anything.
Don't try to place your mind inwardly. Don't search for an object to meditate upon outwardly. Rest in the meditator, mind itself, without fabricating anything.
One doesn't find one's mind by searching for it. The mind itself is empty from the beginning. You don't need to search for it. It is the searcher himself. Rest undistractedly in the
"Have I now grasped that which should be observed?" "Is this the right way or not?" "Is this it or not?" No matter what takes place rest in the thinker himself without fabricating anything.
No matter what kind of thoughts occur, excellent or terrible, good or bad, joyful or sorrowful, don't accept or reject, but rest in the thinker himself without fabricating anything.
I recently watched the documentary "Wheel of Time" by the indefatigable German director Werner Herzog. The film depicts the pilgrimage of hundreds of thousands of Tibetan Buddhists to the spot in Bodhgaya, India, where Siddhartha Gotama, more commonly known as the Buddha, was said to be enlightened. A side trip in the film covers the occasionally perilous journey of thousands of Tibetans to circumnambulate Mount Kailash, which is regarded as holy. In Bodhgaya the Dalai Lama leads the assembled monks and laity for several days in a ceremony called the Kalachakra initiation. The Dalai Lama is interviewed briefly for the film, and is his usual genial, insightful self. However, the Bodhgaya gathering itself appeared to be steeped in the rituals, tradition, and hierarchy of religion. The display evoked a spiritual striving that seemed at odds with Paltrul Rinpoche's words that, "One doesn't find one's mind by searching for it."