My first 10-day retreat, 10 years later

I had been practicing meditation for several years before I mustered the courage to sit a silent retreat. Lord Resistance, you are one strong adversary.

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When Meditation Becomes Prayer

The essence of vipassana meditation — the Buddhist root of mindfulness — is to see things as clearly as possible without superimposed narrative, without the colorations of personal history, free from the desires and aversions that steer even the most subtle reaches of mental life. It is this practice I hone hour after hour, day after day, in the long weeks and months of a meditation retreat.

But sometimes, my meditation flows organically into something that feels more akin to prayer.

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Bananas, Buddhism, and Me, Me, Me

(I spent the winter of 2012 in silence on a self-guided retreat at the Forest Refuge, a Buddhist meditation center in rural Massachusetts. This twice-monthly blog explores daily life in the silence, and how intensive retreats offer a compass for everyday life).

My first silent retreat was at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California. The food at Spirit Rock, even at breakfast, was ample and delicious: hot and cold cereals, hard-boiled eggs, breads, assorted jams and spreads, and, at the far end of the table where the food was laid out, a big bowl of fruit.

The fruit bowl itself offered a generous selection. Except for bananas. These were always in limited supply, and went fast.

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Meditation, Life, and the Good Sit

(I spent the winter of 2012 in silence on a self-guided retreat at the Forest Refuge, a Buddhist meditation center in rural Massachusetts. This is the second entry of a twice-monthly blog exploring daily life in the silence, and how intensive retreats offer a compass for everyday life).

I have my first good sit today…Take one.

I’m nine days into the silence, and this morning for the first time since arriving I have a long meditation sit that I would describe as “beautiful.”  Continue reading

Buddhism and Grief: Where it Gets Tricky

(I spent the winter of 2012 in silence on a self-guided retreat at the Forest Refuge, a Buddhist meditation center in rural Massachusetts. This twice-monthly blog, which begins with this installment, explores daily life in the silence, and how intensive retreats offer a compass for everyday life).

It is a warm afternoon, early March. I am deep into the retreat — ten weeks so far. As I head out for my daily walk in the forest that surrounds the center, I pass the communal message board near the dining room. A note is posted with my name on it. This is very odd. I read: Someone has called with news that my friend Bob died.

I turn back and return to my single dorm room, lie down, and cry. It’s a brief, clear, unobstructed cry. A few minutes later, I head out again to walk in the forest.

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Blood Brothers

The first time I donated blood was August, 1973. I was 14 years old and weighed 100 pounds. I met neither the age nor weight requirement for blood donation. They took it anyway.

The blood clinic was at Long Island Jewish Hospital. My older brother, my only sibling, was a patient in the pediatric unit. The blood was for him.

Mark had been diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia eight months earlier. With today’s treatments, as many as 90 percent of children survive it . But in the early 1970s, the grim medical consensus was incurable.

That didn’t stop my parents from trying, of course.

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