Here’s an old Jewish joke:
Stan has been shipwrecked on a desert island for decades. One day he is rescued. Before leaving the island, he shows the rescuer how he spent his years alone: Building a main street with several huts, each with a different purpose.
(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.
(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
(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.
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.
My favorite childhood book was a 1950s, pre-Harry Potter fantasy called “Knight’s Castle.” A group of four children set up an imaginary battlefield with toy soldiers from the time of Ivanhoe. They don’t know that one of the tin soldiers has magic power, and in the middle of the night the children are transported through time to a dreamlike kingdom. Their playfield has come alive.
Welcome to Rishikesh, India! Laxman Jhula, to be precise.
For the fourth time in two years, I have just spent a chunk of time in Europe. One month this go-around: England, France, and Germany (other recent trips included Spain and Italy). There’s no compelling reason I haven’t sent dispatches from these journeys, other than, perhaps, European travel lacks the shocking novelty of some other places where I have spent time (even as it is still wonderful and evocative). This letter skims a few thematic resonances that echoed through the most recent trip. I send it in the context of the Jewish New Year – for Jews the holiest season of the year, a time for reflection, renewal, remembrance, and rebirth.