Into the Silence: Can I Renounce Speech, and Almost Everything Else, for Three Months?

I’m sitting at a picnic table behind the institutional but stately brick building that houses the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts. It’s the last day of summer, and glorious. Blue sky, the air warm and hinting at humidity, even a tad sultry. I’m staring into a thick forest that skirts the property. I can see the forest’s edge, but not what lies just a bit deeper within.

For the 60-odd people gathered here, it’s not just the end of summer. It’s the last day of many things. Soon we will enter into the protracted agonies, delights, monotony, and strangeness of a long communal silence.              Continue reading

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Israel, April 2010

Near the end of the Seder, the ritual re-telling of the Jewish exodus from Egyptian slavery millennia ago, there comes a wish that every Jew familiar with the holiday of Passover (Pesach) knows by heart: “Next year in Jerusalem.” I have just ended a seven week journey to Israel, most of it in Jerusalem. Because I had the good fortune to be invited to a wonderful (and long) seder during my visit, for me it was this year in Jerusalem. As has become my custom, I offer this letter (admittedly too long for email – I apologize) to share some reflections on my time in what one friend aptly called our “challenging, invigorating and maddening homeland.”                  Continue reading

India January 2009

It’s 8:00am in Rishikesh, India, and the sun has not yet risen above the hills that line the Ganges River (the Ganga). January is a bit chilly here in the evenings and the mornings, especially on days when the fog rolls in and mists cover the hillsides, and one hears the wind howl and watches it snarl and unfurl the scarves and shawls most people wear for warmth. Soon, the sun will crest the hills (hills? small mountains, really – foothills of the not-too-distant Himalayas), the sacred river – the soft green of a ripe avocado — will sparkle in her currents, and the noisy, lively, vibrant bustle of Laxman Jhula will again rise to full throttle.                                                                                  Continue reading

Costa Rica March 2007

Hola familia y amigos —
Time being what it is — linear, at least in this plane of awareness — my two months in Costa Rica is nearing an end.  I have a week left of “Tico” adventure and relaxation (“tranquilo, tranquilo” is a common phrase down here), and now feels like the right moment to send off a far-flung hello.  I’m in my lovely cabina back in Puerto Viejo at my friend Colin’s home and soon-to-be hotel, where I started my trip; I’m looking out past the crescent-moon arc of hammock beckoning on the verandah, past the garden hewn out of the jungle, and into the fine backdrop of white-capped Caribbean waves cresting and unfolding onto the shore.  Wishing you were here with me.  (Well, not all of you.  Or not all at once.  It’s a small room.  Okay, frankly I’m quite delighted to be alone, and hey, not everyone travels so well together.  But I’m thinking of you nonetheless).

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Nepal, February 2006

It’s a slow, eerily quiet day in Nepal today. I’ve been here three weeks, and this has already included one day-long “bandha” (general strike) called by a coalition of the political parties, another several-day bandha called by the Maoist insurgents, and a daylong curfew imposed by royal decree. But today is the culmination of it all, the focus of the recent upsurge in unrest, tension, and (so one reads about in the strange English-language press) violence:… Continue reading