A Week of Silence

This will be my last post for a week as I’m going off to Northern California to a six day … Continued

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.

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  • B-man

    Claire,Have wonderful week of silent meditation. I don’t think there’s anything more healthy that a human being can do than what you are about to do.And thank you for posting about it. Buddhism in general, and Zen in particular, seems to be appearing more and more on these “faith blogs”, and that gives me hope for this country. I believe organized religion will ultimately fade away as humanity continues to evolve toward spiritual enlightenment. But that will happen one being at a time until a critical mass across the globe is reached. Your participation in this meditation retreat, and your posting about it, is helping that evolution. Blessings to you.

  • Priver

    Good Luck with your retreat! Some of those retreats can be absolutely wonderful, even if it’s just your sense of well being that comes from turning off the electronic stuff.It does take a lot of guts to post what your beliefs are on such a site as this that tends to bring out the worst in people. I’m glad you did.And I can understand wariness of a ‘guru’. It’s best to be skeptical of anyone who claims to have all the answers- but it is still possible to take what works best for you and leave the rest. For what it’s worth, I think you’re doing the right thing.Blessed be.

  • Kimberly

    Dear Claire,What a tremendous gift to give to yourself – the gift of absolute silence!Just remember one word – the most important of them all…love.Best wishes,

  • sursum cor

    Claire-Remember:“You don’t have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body.”May you find rest in your soul and healing for your body. Peace and blessings.

  • Tommy O

    Enjoy your week!BTW…

  • Paganplace

    *with a big cheerful wave.* By the look of things out there, you may have picked a good week for it. 🙂 Transcendental meditation… It’s all fun and games until someone loses an I. 🙂

  • Cecilia

    My understanding is that Adyashanti and Eckhart Tolle are both talking about non-duality. They each have different personas and a different delivery, but the message is the same. Thanks for sharing your personal journey.

  • spiderman2

    fate wrote “France is poor? Italy is poor? The Vatican is poor? More bending of reality to fit your illusion me thinks.”Read more about french revolution and see how they shed off catholicism in that revolution. They even abolished the papacy. They revolted because of the excesses and corruption of their religion. Catholicism almost owned everything in their country. The revolution stripped them of that. The Vatican? Have you heard of the word racketeering? That is what makes the Mafia very rich. The vatican dwarfs the mafia.Catholicsim is the biggest racket of all time.Italy is one of the poorest in western Europe. They are only doing fine now because of the Euro. Find out what piggybacking means.The rest of your points are flawed. You lack knowledge that is why your reasonings are based on those little knowledge. It’s like you’re swimming in a glass of water instead of drinking that glass of water.

  • Egregious Philbin

    As a general rule, religion is about restoring a lost unity, whether it is returning to the presence of God (e.g., Christianity)or a recognition that diversity and separation (i.e., alienation) are just an illusion in the first place. The sense of the oneness of all things is a religious experience. Freud called it the “Oceanic Feeling,” a sense of being dissolved in the boundless ocean of the divine. (Of course, Freud considered it a somewhat pathological feeling.) John Keats, in “Ode to a Nightingale,” loses his sense of a separate self when he “fades away into the forest dim” and “dissolves.” Of course, the mystical moment of unity cannot be sustained for long, so he comes back to his “sole self.” I hope you experience your unifying moment, your dissolving into the ocean or your fading into the forest.

  • Fate

    Hoffman wrote: “What is exciting about all this is that I’m giving you a present in my absence: Alex Pincus.”Glad to see that cronyism is alive and well in Washington, not only inside the Bush administration but here in the On Faith section of the Washington Post as well. A true journalistic gift to the readers would have been someone who we would have loved to hear from, someone with background, someone with some religious perspective that has scholarly recognition. But a personal friend? An architect? A guy you met in anthropoly class and stayed friends with? I’m sorry, but that does not pass the laugh test. Its like putting Brownie in charge of FEMA. I’m sure Pincus will do a heck of a job while you are away.And while you are away, meditating, getting away from this awful life of instant communication, high paying jobs, food on demand and a nice home, consider why you need to get away from it all. Consider why a trip to Alaska would have been worse. Consider why broadening your horizons, such as a trip to Nepal, China, Pakistan or Sierra Leone would not have been better. Consider why you, someone who is living better than any human in the past, must go off to find yourself.

  • spiderman2

    Holy Cows !!Why do Hindus treat cows as holy but regard the Dalits (who are also humans) as outcasts?Is that a result of too much meditation? Yes, it is, because meditation without Christ is foolishness.On the other hand Jesus Christ ministered to the poorest. The most blessed country on earth have Christ while one of the poorest countries are still meditating how to satisfy their souls. And add to that, their stomachs too.

  • Fate

    spiderman2 wrote: “The most blessed country on earth have Christ while one of the poorest countries are still meditating how to satisfy their souls.”Actually, the USA has an official policy of freedom of religion. It does not “have Christ”. And consider that many poor starving African countries, such as Rwanda, which also had a genocidal war, is 95% Christian. In fact, Muslim Africa has higher per capita income in general than christian Africa. Add to that Saudi Arabia’s vast wealth, a land where building a church can land you in jail, and your idea that people that believe in Christ are somehow rewarded with the good life falls flat on its face. As usual you picked and chose your evidence to support your argument instead of looking at the whole picutre, just as you pick and choose from the bible instead of reading and understanding the whole book. Typical of a true believer, always afraid your belief may be proven false, so you must avoid truth, avoid reality even when it is obvious. A classic example of this is creationists who deny anything coming from evolutionary scientists, yet gladly accepting cosomoligists who through observation and math determined the universe began with the Big Bang, although other aspects of cosmology, such as it being 14 billion eyars old, is just ignored. Picking an choosing your reality means living in a small delusional world.

  • Fate

    spiderman2 wrote: “Read more about french revolution and see how they shed off catholicism in that revolution. They even abolished the papacy. They revolted because of the excesses and corruption of their religion. Catholicism almost owned everything in their country. The revolution stripped them of that.”So the French are not Catholic?spiderman2 wrote: “The Vatican? Have you heard of the word racketeering? That is what makes the Mafia very rich. The vatican dwarfs the mafia.Catholicsim is the biggest racket of all time.”So the Vatican is not rich?spiderman2 wrote: “Italy is one of the poorest in western Europe. They are only doing fine now because of the Euro. Find out what piggybacking means.” So the Italians are not wealthy?spiderman2 wrote: “The rest of your points are flawed. You lack knowledge that is why your reasonings are based on those little knowledge.”So you don’t have any wish to debate my points? You just dismiss them out of hand as you dismiss every other religion but your own? My what a nice method of debate you have. Did you learn that in church? That you are right and everyone else is wrong so that’s it, no need to bring up debate points, just make a claim? But, of course, that is how religion works does it not? God said this, so it is SO? I hate to be the one to tell you but debating by bring up “God said so” is not good debating form.spiderman2 wrote: “It’s like you’re swimming in a glass of water instead of drinking that glass of water.”Spidy, you’re like a bug caught in a flushing toilet, spinning around with no idea that you are going in circles, and no idea of the mechanism of the toilet and how it will pull you into a drain. And you have no wish to jump up to see just why your world, like your logic, is so circular and full of spin. You just accept you world as it pulls you closer and closer to the reality of the sewer. And when you get there, and your spinning world no longer supports you, and you wonder how it all happened, how you could have let words in a 2000 year old cherry picked group of manuscripts determine what is real for you and what is not, just remember who pulled the lever.

  • Fate

    spidermnan2 wrote: “Also Catholicism is NOT Christianity. Catholic countries are poor because it’s the devil’s religion disguised as God’s.”France is poor? Italy is poor? The Vatican is poor? More bending of reality to fit your illusion me thinks.spiderman2 wrote: “Beware of False Prophets”Yes, a good idea. The trick is to recognize a false prophet, like one who says things that conflict with observation, or with reality, like catholic countries are poor.spiderman wrote: “Since the year 2001, four so called “Christian” nations have already legalized gay marriage.”Well, now you are bringing up the question of faith versus law. Our constitution does not forbid gay marriage. Only some religions do. Religions do not have to allow gay marriage. When you get married in the US you typically get married twice, once by your religion, once by the state. Gay marriage has to do with state marriage, not religious marriage. Give unto Ceasar, right? Why does gay marriage bother you? Is your church marrying gay people? Are gay couples threatening you in any way? There are a lot of things people do that are against christian teachings, but loving one another I thought would be way down on a “christian’s” list of things to complain about. Should you, as a christian, worry about those who do not give to charity, do not pray, or otherwise do not adhere to *your* chosen religious edicts? Should you deny rights to others based on your chosen religion’s views? Few people are asking for gay marriage in a church. The debate is gay marriage by the state, a non-religious legal recognition of a civil union which carries legal consequences such as inheritance, and other legalities which define a “spouse”. What has any of that to do with your religion or your feeling a need to impose your religion on someone else? If you feel your religion needs to be codified into law, then you are unAmerican. spiderman2 wrote: “False religions are not that really hard to detect. Jesus said that “ye will know them by their fruits”.”Yes, and we saw the fruits of non-Catholic christianity in this nation’s South, where slavery, then Jim Crow showed to everyone the fruit of American christianity. And who sent troops into that bastion of christianity to bring salvation to the oppressed blacks who were not being alowed to attend a white school? A Catholic president. Maybe its time to examine the fruits of your chosen religion, all the fruits, not just those you chose to pick and call your own. I know the fruits of christianity and they are friendship to those like themselves and suspicion of others, slavery, racism, intolerance, and maintenance of societal class structures not unlike the casts of Indian society. Take a good hard look at what your religion has wrought and also take a look at what the religions are of those in prison. Atheists are by far the smallest percentage.

  • Gideon

    “…[T]he 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.”Murderers are saved by Jesus? Talk about bull…

  • spiderman2

    fate wrote ” So the French are not Catholic?”It means catholicism was not the reason they became rich. In fact it was the reason which tied them to hardship. You can claim them to be catholic or not but it’s clear catholicism was rejected before their rise occured. So the french are not Catholic? That question is similar to “Are french fries French?” It all depends on how you define catholicism and french fries.It’s becoming a stupid discussion. It’s tiring to think and explain when you’re teaching somebody who obviously lacks common sense.Atheism is a very stupid doctrine. Even more stupid than catholicism. One can only rebel to God but to think that God does not exist is simply beyond comprehension. The reason why you are an atheist is because you lack basic common sense.The Bible is a very intelligent book. It’s almost impossible that a person of your calibre could understand it. One thing I really admire about atheist? It’s their fighting spirit. I’m interested how many millisecond they can fight on from the moment they start burning. I’m sure the’ll all petrify the moment they saw the One they claim does not exist even before the burning starts.

  • spiderman2

    fate said “God said this, so it is SO? “Explain to me first why DNA behaves in such a manner the same as a computer does but without the logic any computer has. There is the program but where is the processor? Explain to me first how can a dumb soil produce an intelligent weed and fruit trees while man cannot do it even if it is supposed to be much more intelligent than the soil. They say it is thru time. I can give a scientist 20 bilion years of life and I can still bet he can’t make the most humble weed.You are not capble of thinking this way that is why you are an atheist. And as with all atheists, dumb.

  • bama

    Good to see Advaita, which means “nonduality,” in the mainstream press more and more frequently. Adyashanti,Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra, and even The Dalai Lama are grounded in the teaching of nonduality. Jesus also taught nonduality. There are many living teachers, some well known, but most known to very small groups of people. The foundation of most religions is nonduality.

  • Fate

    spiderman2 wrote: “Explain to me first why DNA behaves in such a manner the same as a computer does but without the logic any computer has. There is the program but where is the processor?”You are making a bad comparison. There is one similarity, the ability to store information, but that is where the similarity ends. DNA can actively be reshuffled, parts activated and other parts silenced. You and I started from a single cell yet we have many cells that are completely different from one another. During development, the DNA was modified, some parts silenced by having proteins attached preventing transcription. In computers information is accessed as needed, and logic (if/then) is used to determine how the information is used. In cells, DNA is left active or it is shut off. That is pretty much permanent as evidenced by how difficult it is to take an adult skin cell and make it become a blood cell. So in a cell there is no program, no processor, nor does there need to be one. The cell is in a chemical equilibium which can easily be disrupted by chemicals for example. That is how drugs and poisons work. If you think computers and cells act similarly, then you do not understand either.spiderman2 wrote: “Explain to me first how can a dumb soil produce an intelligent weed and fruit trees while man cannot do it even if it is supposed to be much more intelligent than the soil. They say it is thru time. I can give a scientist 20 bilion years of life and I can still bet he can’t make the most humble weed.”Well, soil can’t do much of anything. But most of the basic chemicals your cells are made of and use can be made naturally, though not very easily today with all of the oxygen around, but in the early earth’s atmosphere which was mostly CO2 and methane, amino acids, nucleic acids, even cell membranes have been made with no more than water, that atmosphere and electricity (lightning). So these dumb elements can on their own organize into more complex molecules. What is currently unknown is what the first life looked like. Today’s life, even its simplest forms, are very complex, which one would expect after a few billion years of evolution. So we do not have an example of that first life, which would have been very simple and nothing like life today. It probably did not even use DNA but instead used RNA, which also can be made naturally. But just because we do not know exactly how life arose is no reason to say God did it anymore than the ancients not knowing that stars were other suns is reason to say they are the light of heaven poking through. Man has used religion to explain the unknown before. But history shows that the unknown can be known, and not ONE THING man has discovered proved to be of devine origin. And as science continues to find answers to the unknown, the hand of God becomes less and less needed to explain what we see.spiderman2 wrote: “You are not capble of thinking this way that is why you are an atheist. And as with all atheists, dumb.”My understanding of both biology and computers is quite deep and I have the degrees to prove it. I also have a deep understanding of the bible through many years of religious education. I have learned to think like a scientist, examining evidence and seeking truth, not believing what others say is true without question. Do you accept that the earth is 6000 years old, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary? Do you accept that man and dinosaurs once lived together in spite of no bone of both being found together? Do you accept that God ordered Noah to build an ark and place ALL of the animals on it in two’s yet he somehow forgot about all the dinosaurs and thousands of other ancient mammals like mammoths which you can go to any museum and see the bones of? Do you have an explanation of how the sea dwelling dinosaurs who lived like today’s dolphins and whales did not survive the flood? Do you accept that astnonomical measurements show that light hitting telescopes has traveled for billions of years in your 6000 year old universe? Do you accept the ancient religious belief that the sun is proof of God’s existance since it’s existance, even for 6000 years, could not be explained until about 100 years ago, or do you accept the scientific discoveries and their scientific explanation of thermonuclear reactions driving the sun and their scientific and mathematical evidence that it can power the sun for billions of years?Reason is the process of questioning things that are in conflict since truth cannot have conflicting information behind it. Yet your truth (God did it all) is full of contradiction which you do not question. That is the result of non-thinking and the definition of dumb. Past religious explanations for the unknown have been dropped in favor of scientific understanding. When man does create primitive life in that lab using natural processes, you will likely drop that “proof” of God’s existance as others dropped the sun, the stars, volcanos, earthquakes and other things that were unknown.

  • spiderman2

    Fate wrote “When man does create primitive life in that lab using natural processes…”That’s the point. Man cannot create it by it’s own. The most they can do is just copy what they see in DNA and inject it to an EXISTING egg. Nothing original. You’d be charged with conterfeiting if God is a shrewed businessman.And by the way, if I’m your teacher, you’d not pass the course of a scientist. A fiction writer maybe. In fiction, everything is possible, including your answers to my questions. Even if it’s flat wrong, let alone, dumb.

  • Fate

    spiderman2 wrote: “That’s the point. Man cannot create it by it’s own. The most they can do is just copy what they see in DNA and inject it to an EXISTING egg. Nothing original. You’d be charged with conterfeiting if God is a shrewed businessman.”Today we cannot make life in the lab, just as man couldn’t sure disease in the past, when believers considered disease to be punishment from God or spirits that needed purging through prayer. I guess you do not believe those teachings about the nature of disease from christianity’s past, but at the time people like you did. spiderman2 wrote: “And by the way, if I’m your teacher, you’d not pass the course of a scientist. A fiction writer maybe. In fiction, everything is possible, including your answers to my questions. Even if it’s flat wrong, let alone, dumb.”I agree that in fiction everything is possible, and according to you God is all powerful and his existance makes everything possible. I can only conclude that your God is, by definition, fiction.Also, please understand that by not debating my points and just ignoring my evidence and questions you are not making me believe you understand much of anything. You still have not explained how the thousands of dinosaur species missed the ark when ALL animals were to be put on it. You have not explained the absense in the oceans of sea dwelling dinosaurs. You have not explained how human and dinosaur bones are found in completely different layers of soil and rock. You have explained nothing except how the bible and God’s power makes it all possible. That is how a fiction writers makes the impossible possible.