This will be my last post for a week as I’m going off to Northern California to a six day meditation retreat where I won’t talk, read, email, text message or any of the other ceaseless noise that creates the constant buzz of my life.
I know it doesn’t make any sense for someone who writes a blog about religion to say this, but I’ve always felt private about my own religious beliefs and practices (or lack of). Still, I feel compelled to briefly tell you what I’m doing and why.
Last year, my godparents took me to a retreat organized around followers of a former Zen Buddhist named Steven Gray who had some kind of awakening experience and now goes by the name of Adyashanti. His organization holds these retreats a few times a year and the program is six days of silent meditation broken only by short question and answer sessions with Adyashanti.
And just like it doesn’t make sense that I don’t like to talk about religion even though I love hearing about it, I also really get kind of freaked out being in groups of people pursuing spirituality. I won’t bore you with the flashbacks from my youth but let’s just say I have a lot of issues with the whole idea of a guru.
Still, I have practiced meditation on and off since I was three, and my world view if it had to be defined would most likely fall in the Advaita Vedanta tradition, which teaches an understanding of the world in which everything is one (basically). I like Adyashanti’s take on life–he’s very simple, with no rules and not a lot of structure. But really, I was lured by the idea of being able to be private in my own being for a week and regain a sense of my awareness that seemed to have slipped away sometime during the last two graduate degrees, three cities, four jobs, and all the movement of my life of late.
I’m going back this year because that week of silence was really challenging and felt so vital to the state of mind I want to be living in. Adyashanti really pushes the idea of ending a sense of self, which is a small thing to say but a crazy battle to experience in your head during hours and hours and hours of meditation. I sadly did not eradicate my ego or awaken to some state of unity consciousness whilst there, but I did feel really reconnected to a more serene, innocent state. It’s amazing how much closer you feel to divinity by turning your cell phone off for a week.
There, that’s all I’m going to say to you. It’s already too much. What is exciting about all this is that I’m giving you a present in my absence: Alex Pincus. Alex is an principal in Bureau V, an architecture studio in New York, and is currently designing an installation for Whitney Museum. He has architecture taught at Columbia and Penn.
Alex and I met in an anthropology class on born-again religion taught by Susan Harding. We both, it seems, decided not to be anthropologists but we still share a love of observing and recording the world around us and a particular interest in religious practices. We’ve travelled throughout this country as well as many others together, putting our minds together to try and figure out how belief and meaning define so many lives.
And it continues — this Saturday, I’m taking Alex’s wonderful parents, Ann and Ron Pincus, to the rodeo at Angola prison down here in Louisiana, where murderers cum born-again Baptists will ride bulls and sell leather crafts and give thanks to Jesus for saving their souls. We always have so much to talk about when it comes to God. Anyway, Alex is considered one of the rising stars of the architecture world because of his creative and analytical gifts and I hope you will be as excited as I am to hear what he thinks about religion.