The following is a note sent to a number of spiritual groups in NM in conjunction with a notice about our annual retreat. It is an attempt to convey what the work of this center is and how it is not in conflict with specific kinds of traditions but rather is exploring directly a way of listening – indeed a way of being – that is not grounded in memory, tradition, techniques, practices – but arises directly from life itself. I don’t know how successfully this is conveyed below, but hope it helps give a sense of this work. – Jay, 10/17/07
I know your group has its own traditions and approaches. You may also have retreats for your members in your own style. I want to say a word about the intent and style of our retreats because I think it is important to clarify.
In talking together about meditation – teacher to student, student to teacher, student to student, teacher to teacher or just person to person without roles – traditional styles, approaches and techniques have a certain place in meditative work but I feel strongly that there is also a living essence of meditative work, meditative communication, that is not part of tradition, style or technique. It is this living essence of simple, direct undivided listening to each other and oneself – out of which may come a completely fresh response or exchange – that we are exploring here in our monthly meetings and our retreat.
This kind of listening is not easy to do. In talking we fall, again and again, into giving advice, sharing stories, providing encouragement. Not that these things are bad. But they often do not come out of direct listening. This kind of listening is not knowable, not teachable. It is not a technique. Even for very experienced sitters and for people in teaching positions, it is a listening that needs to be entered into without anything to hold onto, hands held high leaping into the abyss, to be a little dramatic. It is complete vulnerability. It is certainly not easy.
I’ve had the opportunity to participate in meditative dialogue time over many years now at Toni Packer’s Springwater Center. It is helpful to have this opportunity frequently. Without it, it is difficult to find the way with this direct listening, which requires a very different kind of engagement than just sitting quietly. One of the purposes of the NM Center for Meditative Inquiry and Retreat is to offer this opportunity regularly. For both new and experienced sitters this brings us directly in touch with our own habits of acting and thinking in a way that neither silent sitting nor traditional advising does.
I am not talking about a difference in style such as emphasizing the absolute over the conditioned or vice versa. In this direct listening the conditional is thoroughly and clearly revealed in vast, open undivided listening. There is a thorough intertwining of so called absolute and conditional. We can easily say this in words but to listen in the midst of the things that people bring up and talk about, the questions people pose, is not an easy thing.
This kind of work is not in any way that I can see in conflict with any traditional teachings or practices, I believe, because it is not presenting an alternate tradition, practice or approach but simply entering directly into inquiring. The concern here is clarifying for oneself what meditative work is through bare, honest looking and questioning, together and alone.
The down side of not offering an approach within a traditional framework is that it has no “sex appeal” as a long time meditating friend of mine once said. We certainly don’t have a large membership. The plus side is that we have nothing to lose. People will come or they won’t. There are many places people can go for traditional trappings. I feel that the role of NM Center for Meditative Inquiry is to discover and clarify the using of our precious time together in plunging into the truth of what we are, moment to moment, as directly and honestly as possible.
I believe that this kind of work is beneficial for people working in a tradition as well as others. It is beneficial for teachers as well as students. Is there a fear of becoming confused about meditation, about enlightenment, about proper techniques? Direct inquiry can only clarify these things. We have nothing to lose but misconceptions and our handholds on self-enclosure, and if they go, hallelujah.