Thursday, October 29, 2015

Spiritual Discernment and the felt sense of being

Sunday November 1 we will meet at my office at 46 Riverside Drive in Binghamton at 2 pm for 15 minutes of silent meditation followed by a discussion of the felt sense of being mentioned in the last talk. We will also begin to explore and describe other tools and methods in addition to the felt sense that are helpful in identifying the guidance that is being continuously offered by awareness or life itself. This guidance is always freely given and available at all times. How do we not see it or feel it? This talk will be about learning to accurately recognize this invaluable assistance and discern the difference between my will and thy will at any given moment. 

The next talk after this Sunday will be Sunday December 6 at the same 2 pm time. During this talk we will review Michael Singer's new book The Surrender Experiment.  I mentioned this book in the talk this past Sunday. I want to give everyone some lead time for this discussion so that you have the opportunity to read or listen to the book. Below is the description on Amazon:
"The Surrender Experiment is now a New York Times bestseller! From the author of the New York Times #1 bestseller The Untethered Soul comes the astonishing true-life story about what happens when you just let go. 
A thriving spiritual community on over six hundred acres of pristine forest and meadows in Florida, a cutting-edge software package that transformed the medical practice management industry, a billion-dollar public company whose achievements are archived in the Smithsonian Institution, a book that became a New York Times bestseller and an Oprah favorite, and a massive raid by the FBI that would lead to unfounded accusations by the U.S. government—how could all of this spring from a man who had decided to live alone in the middle of the woods, let go of himself, and embrace a life of solitude? But this man had made a radical decision—one that would unwittingly lead him to both the pinnacle of success and the brink of disaster. 

Michael A. Singer, author of The Untethered Soul, tells the extraordinary story of what happened when, after a deep spiritual awakening, he decided to let go of his personal preferences and simply let life call the shots. As Singer takes you on this great experiment and journey into life’s perfection, the events that transpire will both challenge your deepest assumptions about life and inspire you to look at your own life in a radically different way."
If you are interested in attending the talk this Sunday, please RSVP as space is limited. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Perception is All

Sunday October 25 we will meet at my office at 46 Riverside Drive in Binghamton at 2 pm for 15 minutes of silent meditation followed by a discussion of the role of perception in understanding our world. Here is a quotation from one of the authors' of the study linked below: "One of the study's authors, Dr. Christoph Teufel, from Cardiff University, said: "Vision is a constructive process - in other words, our brain makes up the world that we 'see'. It fills in the blanks, ignoring the things that don't quite fit, and presents to us an image of the world that has been edited and made to fit with what we expect."

Not only is vision a constructive process. All of our sensory organs, including taste, touch smell and hearing work in a similar manner. The world we perceive to be real is essentially created by our sense organs interacting with our brain. Our world is both 'out there' and 'in here'. In this talk and discussion we will consider the implications of these ideas for our understanding of reality and the world in which we live. I would also like to encourage you to listen to this broadcast from Radio Lab which I heard on NPR.

This broadcast is a fascinating discussion of how language shapes perception.

If you are interested in attending, please RSVP as space is limited. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Constellation Work on Sunday, September 13

Below is a description of the next Constellation Work led by Margot Ridler. Those who have participated in previous Constellation workshops have often reported significant gains in understanding the roots of perplexing and longstanding problems. If you are interested in attending, please email Margot (see below).


Join us for another great adventure of Constellation Work on Sunday, September 13  

You may not know this but your present-day challenges might be a direct pointer to unresolved issues from either your own life or your family/ancestral system to which you are tied to via your birth. Living truly free in life, as well as fully embodied spiritual awakening rest upon the complete release of all our programmed ways. 

Our ordinary thinking mind is a very limited tool to utilize when it comes to releasing our programming. Therefore, being led by the infinite, all-encompassing Knowing Field that constellation work provides access to, allows the reasons for our challenges to come to light so that true healing and release can be possible. For instance:
A couple's relationship problems might be connected to a miscarried child they never grieved.
Life threatening illnesses or reckless behaviors could be tied to an unconscious wish to die.
Feelings of guilt might be linked to our ancestors who abused and exploited other people. 
Children acting out could reveal the disrespect and anger parents feel for one another.
Chronic anxiety might be connected to aborting one's child many years ago. 
....the list of these kinds of unconscious connections is endless.

Constellation work is a powerful tool that offers the potential for quick and lasting change whereby our habitual ways of thinking, feeling and acting might stop seemingly miraculously, allowing us henceforth to live with more freedom in our lives.  

It is my pleasure to offer you the opportunity Sunday August 16 to participate in the magic of constellation work. We have extremely limited seating. Please reserve your space early. We will have time for four people to set up a personal constellation. If you are interested in a personal constellation set up, please reserve your space by emailing me. Thanks.

Date: Sunday September 13, 2015
Time: 1 - 6 pm
Location: Binghamton, NY 13905
Reservation is required for all participants.  
Please email me by clicking here
Or send email to this address:

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Constellation Work

See below for an invitation from Margot Ridler to experience constellation work. Margot will be in the area for another 6 weeks or so, so if you are interested in exploring this work, consider attending.  I have found constellation work to be extremely interesting and powerful. It definitely provides an additional and helpful perspective for understanding the origin and assisting in the alleviation of emotional difficulties.  Michael

Constellation Work and Releasing Binding Vasanas
Vasanas is a Vedic term for what we call programming, relating to the many ways in which our automatic, habitual, and unconscious beliefs, thoughts, and feelings keep us trapped from knowing who we really are and living truly free in life.

If you seek spiritual awakening or enlightenment, your present-day challenges and difficulties are often a direct pointer to unresolved issues in either your own life or your family system to which you are linked via your birth. The various issues you are dealing with reflect the Vasana load you are carrying. Living truly free in life, as well as fully embodied spiritual awakening rest upon the complete release of all Vasanas. 

Our ordinary thinking mind is a very limited tool to utilize when it comes to releasing Vasanas. Getting in touch with no-mind - the all-encompassing, limitless Knowing Field - allows the actual source of our challenges to be brought to light so that true healing and release can be made possible. For instance:
A couple's relationship problems might be connected to a miscarried child they never grieved.
Life threatening illnesses and reckless behaviors could be tied to an unconscious wish to die.
Feelings of guilt might be linked to our ancestors who abused and exploited other people. 
Children acting out could reveal the disrespect and anger parents feel for one another.
Chronic anxiety might be connected to aborting one's child many years ago. 
....the list of these kinds of unconscious connections is endless.

Constellation Work is an amazing tool to quickly reveal the source of Vasanas, facilitating a lasting release, whereby habitual ways of thinking, feeling and acting may vanish miraculously. Often people are immediately freed from their previous challenges, thereby allowing them to live more freely in their lives.  

It is my pleasure to offer you the opportunity Sunday July 19 to participate in the magic of constellation work. We have extremely limited seating. Please reserve your space early. 

We will have time for four people to set up a constellation. If you are interested in a personal constellation set up, please reserve your space by emailing me and letting me know. Thanks.

Date: Sunday July 19, 2015
Time: 1 - 6 pm

Friday, May 22, 2015

Clearing Vasanas

Sunday May 31 we will meet at my office in Binghamton at 2 pm for 15 minutes of silent meditation followed by a discussion of how to recognize and be free of conditioned, automatic patterns of thought, belief, and feeling. Traditionally in Advaita Vedanta and classical Buddhism these patterns have been known as vasanas.
Vāsanā is a behavioral tendency or karmic imprint which influences the present behavior of a person. It is a technical term in Indian religions, particularly Buddhist philosophy and Advaita Vedanta.
Past impressions, impressions formed, the present consciousness of past (life) perceptions; the impression of anything in the mind, the present consciousness formed from past perceptions, knowledge derived from memory, the impressions remaining in the mind; thinking of, longing for, expectation, desire, inclination. (All of the above from Wikipedia).

For our purposes, let us think of vasanas as any thought, behavior, or emotion that is the result of conditioning and programming. The corresponding understanding is that thoughts, behaviors, and emotions can arise from either vasanas or from the free movement of Mind in the world through the form of a particular person. These free and spontaneous thoughts, acts, and feelings are unconditioned and therefore impersonal. This free movement is acting or speaking from no mind or the Self, as the source of such actions is unknown. It is known, however, that such acts are not ‘mine’ as they do not arise from ‘me’. It is possible and desirable to learn to recognize the difference between actions originating from ‘emptiness’ and those originating from conditioning.
It is useful and important to improve the quality of our daily life to allow increasingly for the free movement of the Self through us. By becoming aware of and learning to not feed or indulge our conditioned beliefs and reactions, we can improve our ability to be present for our life. This talk will focus on becoming aware of our common and persistent vasanas. We will also discuss understandings and practices that facilitate our ability to become progressively free of such conditioning.
With the emergence of various levels of awakening, there is the spontaneous, effortless disappearance of many vasanas. However, it is my experience that the deeper the awakening, the harder it is to recognize the remaining blind spots in our self. The willingness to recognize the emergence of these blind spots almost always requires a preexisting (prior to awakening) deep commitment to a spiritual tradition which recognizes the necessity of continuous practice and humility after even the most profound awakening. The alternative is to maintain an honest openness to the emergence of conditioned behavior. The easiest and most effective way for this openness to occur is through interaction with a living teacher who has been through every stage of this journey.
If you are interested in attending, please RSVP as space is limited.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

You are not 'the doer'.

Sunday May 17 we will meet at my office in Binghamton at 2 pm for 15 minutes of silent meditation followed by a discussion and commentary on the concept of the "doer". In our recent exploration of the teachings of Ramana Maharshi, Ramana noted that the idea of the doer was the essential "poison".  Obviously, poison is a strong word. What did he mean? We are taught from earliest childhood that we have a self identity that is in charge of our behavior. This self identity is known as "I". It is who we think we are. All of our troubles and suffering in life follow from this primary misunderstanding about who we are and how life operates. If we are not this doer, then who or what are we? In this talk and discussion, we will explore the path to coming to know who you really are. We will also continue our discussion of the "Who am I?" practice.
If you are interested in attending, please RSVP as space is limited. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Discussion of Talks with Ramana Maharshi

Sunday May 3 we will meet at my office  in Binghamton at 2 pm for 15 minutes of silent meditation followed by a discussion and commentary on the book: Talks with Ramana Maharshi: On Realizing Abiding Peace and Happiness, published by Inner Directions in 2001. Here is a link to a free download of the book:
Do not be put off by the size of the book. Only read if you are drawn to do so. Here is a link to an excellent, brief, clear description of the self inquiry practice taught by Ramana Maharshi:

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Discussion of: Who Am I? The Teachings of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi

Sunday April 19 we will meet at my office at 2 pm for 15 minutes of silent meditation followed by a discussion and commentary on the book  Who Am I? The Teachings of Bhagavan Sri Ramana MaharshiThis little book is a series of questions proposed by a student of Ramana's in 1902. It can be downloaded for free here:

This is a link to an excellent website of material on Ramana Maharshi:

In this talk we will explore what Ramana taught about the practice of Who Am I? We will have the opportunity to practice this questioning together during the talk.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Discussion of the book Annamalai Swami: Final Talks edited by David Godman

Sunday March 29 we will meet at my office at 46 Riverside Drive in Binghamton at 2 pm for 15 minutes of silent meditation followed by a discussion and commentary on the beautiful little book: Annamalai Swami: Final Talks (2006), edited by David Godman. Annamalai Swami was one of the devoted disciples of Ramana Maharshi, and trained with him from 1928 until Ramana's death in 1950. This book is a transcription of talks given by Annamalai in the final 6 months of his life, ending in October 1995 at the age of 89. In the book he responds to questions from students, and in the process gives a very clear understanding of the perspective taught by Ramana to him. It will be an interesting and helpful discussion for anyone interested in self-realization. 

Monday, March 16, 2015


 Sunday March 15 we will meet at my office at 2 pm for meditation followed by a discussion of the meaning of the term no mind.  I will refer to The Zen Doctrine of No-Mind by D. T. Suzuki, originally published in the US in 1972. This book is a commentary and explication of the Platform Sutra of Hui Neng. In this book Suzuki gives a very good description of no-mind. However, those who do not already have a very solid experiential realization and recognition of this awareness would have a very hard time understanding it from just reading the book. I consider no mind awareness to be the fundamental understanding and expression of awakening manifest in daily life. Although these terms may seem unfamiliar and the subject matter arcane, this talk is for anyone interested in the direct experience of self-realization. 
No-mind means that the mind is free of constructions, creations, conditioning, and obstructions. Seeing (the truth), Knowing (what is needed in the moment), and Acting (with freedom, power and effectiveness) all occur simultaneously. The mind as we ordinarily understand it is full of concepts and notions.

The mind of no-mind is aware, alert, present, and attuned to what is real in this moment. It sees clearly and directly what is real without addition or subtraction. The ability to see clearly and directly implies the action of no-mind. In this clear, direct seeing, knowing and acting also occur. These processes are not separate in time or space. There is no deliberation or uncertainty. Nor is there second-guessing, evaluation, or criticism. We all have this ability naturally.  Everyone has experienced it repeatedly in their life. Because it happens 'outside' of time and space, the ordinary thinking mind does not notice it or sometimes even remember it. We do not earn it by our actions or efforts. It is freely given, inherent in all human beings. Just as we cannot ‘lose’ it, so we cannot ‘find’ it. It has never been lost. Wherever we are, there it is. It is our true nature-our birthright.

It does not need to be learned or cultivated, although we have become highly skilled at not noticing it. Consequently, it may be necessary to have the no-mind accurately described and pointed out in order to help us ‘remember’ what we have always known. Recognition and remembrance are important in the realization of the no-mind. The no-mind is represented in Christian thought as ‘surrender to the will of God”. No-mind is the same thing, exactly, that is meant by this absolute, unconditional surrender. It is what Jesus meant when he said-“Not my will, but Thy will be done”.

To recognize It is a ‘not-doing’. There is truly nothing whatsoever to do to be or become what you already are. “Be still and know that I am God” expresses this understanding perfectly. Thus, thinking from no-mind is no thinking.  Acting from no-mind is no acting. There is no one who thinks or acts. It does what it does. “The wind bloweth where it listeth” is the King James version of this profound truth. The more modern translation (New International Version) of this passage from John 3:8 is: “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." The mind cannot grasp it. To Know it, the requirement is to die to who you currently believe you are and be reborn in the spirit.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Emptiness in Action: No mind awareness in daily life

Wednesday night I will give a talk described below to the Binghamton Buddhist Meditation Group. All are welcome. 

  • Wednesday, January 7, 2015

    7:30 PM to 
  • First Congregational Church

    30 Main Street, BinghamtonNY (map)
  • side door, upstairs, down long hallway
  • This talk will address my current major interest in exploring the taste, look and feel of emptiness as it is embodied by each of us individually. 
    The regular meetings of the BBMG often include Dharma talks, discussion of spiritual topics and life issues, questions and answers, practical instructions for various forms of Buddhist meditation, chanting practice, and a variety of short prayers. The group is non-sectarian and open to people from all traditions and lineages of Buddhism. Those who are not Buddhists but wish to learn how Buddhist teachings and practices might enrich their own lives are also welcome to attend.
    This meeting is free of charge and open to everyone; all levels of practitioners are welcome. We start with 20 minutes of meditation. Beginning meditation instruction is provided for anyone who needs it; if you would like to learn the basics of meditation, please arrive a few minutes early.  For more information, please feel free to contact us at

Saturday, November 29, 2014

December Silent Meditation Retreat

The upcoming silent meditation retreat with Francis Bennett, Margot Ridler and I scheduled for December 12-14 is approaching. We are going to have an excellent turnout, with over 30 people committed to attend so far. The retreat is still open for registration, and if you have not yet indicated an interest in attending, it is not too late. We originally had a cut off date for the reduced fee of $350 of November 20, but in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I want to invite any who wish to attend to pay the reduced fee until December 1. After that date, the fee will increase to $395. This fee is all inclusive, and includes 2 nights lodging, 6 meals, individual meetings, constellation work, etc. It is open to anyone who is seriously interested in spiritual awakening. 
 For those who are not familiar with Francis, below is a link to a recent interview Rick Archer conducted with Adyashanti and Francis on his site Buddha at the Gas Pump:

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

New video on Vimeo

Below is a link to a new video with Mark Scorelle. We are discussing the new book he co edited:

The Short Path to Enlightenment:Instructions for Immediate Awakening by Paul Brunton.

The audio quality of the talk is not great, but you can understand us. I double as audio/video engineer, which sometimes works out, sometimes not so much. The book is wonderful and well worth a read. Paul Brunton is the English writer who introduced Ramana Maharshi to the West. He went on to awaken to his true nature, and write prolifically.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Attachment to Emptiness reposted with new comments

“This Sense World too is Enlightenment”  
Hakuin Zenji’s Chant in Praise of Zazen
In his 4/10/2013 webcast, Adyashanti addresses in a beautiful, clear, and direct manner the allure of emptiness and the need to move through this stage of enlightenment. Adyashanti speaks of the attachment to emptiness. The spiritual path is limitless, and every single step along the way has potential pitfalls. These difficulties arise in the form of attachments or aversions. I have spoken of the attachment to emptiness as dwelling in the ‘cave of nonduality’. Once the silence and peace of this absolute emptiness is experienced, it can be enticing, particularly to those who have experienced enormous suffering and trauma in this life. In emptiness there is no separation and hence no suffering. If the goal is the end of suffering, then emptiness is your ticket. Without the sense of self-identity, there can be no suffering as there is no separation. No separation means there is no comparison of what is with what isn’t. Without this comparing process, nothing is seen as lacking. There is neither joy nor the absence of joy. There is no passion, no desire, no fear, no pain of loss, no excitement, and no despair. Obviously meaningful relationships of all kinds are avoided or diminished, as relationships have typically been a source of suffering. The same can be said for all other forms of engagement in the world. Responsibility is avoided like the plague. The internal experience of emptiness is of a quiet contentment. People who have arrived at this deep, internally focused peacefulness appear emotionally flat to those not in the cave. There is often very little externally focused activity of any kind. Very little productive work is accomplished. Effort of all kinds is strenuously avoided as a sign of ego-based striving. A telltale sign of the depth of attachment to this stillness and emotional numbing is the ferocious response that occurs when an attempt is made to arouse them from their slumbers. The cave of nonduality is a deeply restful way station for the weary spiritual traveler, and abiding there a while is understandable and beneficial. The problem is mistaking a stage of the journey for the end of the journey. After a deep spiritual realization, it is normal, even predictable to land hard in the cave of nonduality. Many years can pass quietly as the seeker rests, mistakenly assuming that the journey has ended. From my observations and experiences, it is almost impossible for the person (who no longer believes themselves to be a person) to recognize how stuck they are without some external assistance. This is where a trusted teacher who has successfully exited the cave and reengaged with the messy, unpredictable ordinary world is not only invaluable, but usually absolutely necessary. The discontent that drove the seeker to pursue self-realization with the passion required to awaken to an aspect of their true nature has ceased. Extinction is the nature of nonduality. There is no internal dissatisfaction left to motivate movement and action. What then is the motivation to leave the cave and reengage with the world of suffering and chaos, of desire and lack? The only motivation I can find is a deep sense of compassion born of the experiential realization of both unity and separateness. Although my personal suffering may have ended in the cave of emptiness, a quick peek outside reveals an entire world of hurt. The instant that we wade into this morass of suffering, previously hidden attachments and aversions are activated and available for attention and release. As long as we stay safely within the cave, we can fool our self into thinking that we are ‘done’. As long as meaningful engagement with life and real responsibility are carefully avoided, we can maintain our carefully cultivated inner state of peace and contentment. The avoidance of engagement becomes the spiritually rationalized default setting. How can reengagement with the messy world be a good idea when it activates so many unresolved conflicts? This can be an especially delicate time for the spiritual aspirant who, having finally found peace, is asked to surrender it. Many are called but few are chosen. If there is a willingness and access to accurate teaching, the rested seeker may gather up their few remaining possessions and begin the longest and most arduous portion of the path. The ordinary world of duality is engaged, but now it is intuitively understood from the aspect of emptiness, making all experience radically different. One of the last and most difficult attachments that must be released is the attachment to emptiness. The full engagement with ordinary life that is ultimately realized is beautifully depicted in the tenth ox-herding picture, where our fully liberated sage is completely at home in the world, demonstrating absolute freedom embodied as an individual and unique human being. 
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Blogger Joseph T. McMahon III said...
Thanks for this well written article.
September 25, 2014 at 7:48 PM
Blogger Tony Daniels said...
Strictly speaking, there can only "appear" to be an attachment to emptiness. Any kind of attachment requires a subject as the knower who attaches to and identifies with an object as the known. This is duality. Emptiness as a direct knowing, when the personal "I" dissolves, can have no such subject/object relationship because it stands alone and is untainted by mind and objects of perception. In the case of genuine self realization, and by that I mean when the cave of non duality is recognized as your true nature, if there follows less interest in relationships and a disengagement with the world, then so be it. This is covered extensively in the traditional teachings. Ramana Maharshi was a prime example of someone who spent many years in solitude and is recognized as a great sage representing just that practice and philosophy with which you identify. Why is this such an issue for western thinkers who seem to want to both live in the cave and continue to cling to the world? The meeting and synthesis of eastern spirituality and western psychotherapy is not adding to knowledge and understanding, but causing confusion.

The truth is that there are as many ways to live in the world as there are realized beings. Some prefer a reclusive lifestyle while others prefer to be active in society. Self realization is to know that this emptiness, this silent unbounded, undifferentiated awareness is your true nature. It is both empty and full and expresses itself naturally and spontaneously from unity to diversity through mind, body and world, but without attachment in the egoless state. It is not extinction. It is sat chit ananda. It is effortless and choiceless. To be established in that silence is the end of seeking. But something continues to expand and grow as an infinite expression of the silence within. And that is reflected in whatever way you choose to engage with the world. Once you have found peace, you can never surrender it as you suggest. True realization is irreversible.

But for those who have not become permanently established in the Self, there can be times when there is a sense of being stuck, being emotionally dry, numb, lethargic, disinterested, but still with the element of fear, anxiety, insecurity and attachment, even though it may feel like you are staring into the void of what you think is non dual awareness. It is likely to be some discomfort as a result of the purification process of your sadhana.This is what I suspect you have observed in some. If the cave is without bliss, the journey is not yet over.
September 28, 2014 at 5:57 AM
  This is an excellent comment. Thank you. Your second paragraph expresses  my view perfectly. You add here a perspective that is true and was not addressed in the original post.I also like and agree with your third paragraph. I tend to think that this unintegrated nondual phase of the awakening process often resolves on it's own as integration proceeds with or without any particular effort or practice, although I think a deliberate spiritual practice (sadhana) , especially working with a teacher as I mentioned in the original article, is very beneficial. The problem I see is that so many now are coming to some degree of realization without the support/structure/benefit of a traditional spiritual belief system or teacher who is established deeply in the nondual realization, and has thoroughly integrated this realization into their ordinary life. I see people who have had a genuine, deep realization, but are unable to freely and spontaneously express/demonstrate this awakened awareness in their daily life. Even that is not really a problem, except perhaps when they attempt to teach this limited perspective. Without support, it can be very difficult to recognize the remaining blind spots (vasanas) in one's own realization. At the same time, all teachings and practices will eventually need to be released, as there is nothing whatever to cling to or believe. 
I disagree, however, that the addition of the perspectives of western psychotherapy doesn't add knowledge but does cause confusion, My experience is that the insights of western psychology add immeasurably to the embodiment process, and to the identification and release of unconscious, automatic programming. These psychological insights, methods, and practices represent a major contribution from the West to the accumulated wisdom of the East.  From my perspective, no one is completely free of programming, and we all could periodically use assistance with recognizing where we are still blocked. Living freely in the world is not the same as clinging to the world. Living in the cave is not usually the same as full realization. I am drawing a distinction in the original post between a profound realization and it's full embodiment. You may not recognize this distinction, but it fits my observations. I have no interest in judging how anyone who is truly free lives their life. As you suggest, life lives through such a person. If they leave the cave and immerse them self in the ordinary world, so be it. If they remain at home in the cave, so be it.There is no longer anyone to make decisions, yet decisions are made. This is a mysterious process that I call living from no mind awareness. I have addressed this topic in other blog posts and especially my talks on Vimeo.
Part of the difficulty may be in the somewhat different forms of expression of Advaita Vedanta and Zen Buddhism on this matter.  I sense the apparent differences in our perspective are really very minimal. Thanks again for your thoughtful observations.  Michael

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Silent Meditation Retreat

Francis Bennett will be returning to the area in December to co-lead a silent meditation retreat at Sky Lake with Margot Ridler and myself. Last year we had 37 participants, and hope that more people will join us this year for this wonderful opportunity. See below for a full description. If you would like to participate, please email Angela Callahan:

Silent Meditation Retreat
Francis Bennett, Michael Hall and Margot Ridler
Sky Lake, Windsor, NY
Friday, Saturday and Sunday
December 12, 13, and 14, 2014

 “Our goal is nothing less than to realize our full potential as human beings by disappearing to who and what we have always thought we are.”

 This retreat is held in silence, except for group or individual meetings/teachings/discussion with Michael, Margot and Francis.

The purpose of maintaining external silence is to encourage the development of internal silence. When we are quiet and able to focus on the workings of our own mind, we inevitably become aware of the noise and chaos of our personal mental narration. Time dedicated to silence, especially in the setting of a spiritual retreat, creates a profound opportunity to observe and experience the triviality and meaninglessness of this constant mental activity. By careful self observation and self-inquiry we can grow sufficiently detached from identifying with the passing content of our own mind that we effortlessly lose interest in it. Only when the thinking mind is silent can spiritual transformation occur. With this perceptual shift, an entirely new and unfamiliar world opens to us.

This retreat is an opportunity to discover the wonder of Presence Awareness. Beginning with meditation after dinner on Friday, we will be silent until lunch on Sunday, except during talks/discussion/constellation work. We wear “In Silence” tags to remind the person looking at us of their own commitment to this silence, supporting the depth of silence for each individual and the group as a whole.

About Sky Lake
Set on top of Tuscarora Mountain, Sky Lake is a place of relaxation and inner reflection located outside Windsor, New York. Sky Lake is a retreat center which provides a space where seekers of all persuasions can find peace and solace away from their everyday worldly pursuits. The center is located on 900 acres of woods, with walking paths around a large lake. It is is one of six camp and retreat centers owned and operated by the Upper New York Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.

About Francis Bennett

Francis Bennett was a Roman Catholic, Trappist monk for a number of years. He lived in two monasteries of the Trappist Order in the US and was also a member of an urban, contemplative monastic community originally founded in Paris, France in 1975. In 2010, while in the middle of a Church Service in his monastery in Montreal, Francis suddenly experienced what he has come to call, “a radical perceptual shift in consciousness”, in which he discovered the ever present presence of spacious, pure awareness. He came to see that this awareness is actually the unchanging essence of who he really is and always has been; the Supreme Self, talked about by many sages and saints from many spiritual traditions down through the ages. He also came to see simultaneously, that this vast, infinite sense of presence at the center of his being (and at the center of the being of everyone else on the planet) is actually not at all separate from the presence of God, which he had been looking for during his many years as a monk and spiritual seeker. Francis is now living a “new incarnation” as a spiritual teacher in the contemporary, Non-Dual spiritual Tradition. Francis offers a blend of the Buddhist Traditions he deeply studied, the contemplative Christian mystical tradition which he lived during his many years in monastic life, as well as the Hindu Advaita-Vedanta teaching of Sri Ramana Maharshi, who has been a very profound influence on Francis for about the last 12 years or so. Nonduality Press published his first book I Am That I AM.

About Michael Hall
Michael is a clinical psychologist and full-time psychotherapist for over 35 years. In the past 12 years he has worked to apply the perspective and realizations that arise from the clear seeing of what is real to the ordinary problems of daily living. This perspective is shared on his

About Margot Ridler
Margot Ridler worked for many years as a successful therapist using Systemic Family Constellation Work, which is traditionally used as a method to quickly and effectively resolve a person’s most difficult personal, family and life challenges. In December 2005 with no previous history of spiritual seeking, her sense of personal self and identity began to fall away. Margot stopped offering Constellation Work and spent the next seven years assimilating this experience. In 2012, she began offering Constellation Work again with the primary focus of assisting people to deconstruct their habitual, automatic personality structures and their conditioned sense of self. Margot found that Constellation Work gave people the direct experience of the same clear seeing and insights that awakening provides. It is this experiential knowing she is so excited about sharing, as well as the opportunity to swiftly and permanently release the unconsciously running patterns, beliefs, and ideas that hold people back from living fully awake and free lives.Please refer to Margot’s blog (see below) for a description of her awakening process and how her use of Constellation Work has changed from a primarily psychotherapeutic intervention to an effective method for facilitating the radical deconstruction of the ego. This radical deconstruction appears to be a necessary precondition for awakened awareness to emerge spontaneously in every day life.

What to bringAccommodations are comfortable but not luxurious. Most rooms are shared, with usually between 3 and 6 people sharing a room. A limited number of private rooms can be arranged for couples. All towels and sheets are provided. Each person is asked to bring (1) slippers or heavy socks as we ask that shoes be removed at the door, (2) comfortable walking shoes and suitable warm clothing for winter walks, (3) personal toiletries, (4) alarm clock, & (5) robe for trips to the bathroom.
If you would like to use a meditation cushion or bench, please bring your own. Seating arrangements are quite informal and you may want to move from chair to floor – bring whatever you need to be comfortable.
It is strongly suggested that you plan not to use your cell phone this weekend. If you need to leave an emergency number with your family or work, Sky Lake’s telephone is: (607) 467-2750.

Home-style meals are prepared daily and served in Founders' Lodge. Pilgrim Dining Hall in Founders' Lodge is able to comfortably accommodate up to 200 guests. Meals are generally served buffet style. If you have special dietary needs, we will try to meet them. Please inform us of your dietary needs when you register for the retreat.

The fee for the retreat is $350 if confirmation of attendance and payment is received before November 20. After that time the fee will be $395. The fee includes 6 meals and overnight accommodations for two nights, as well as all other retreat activities, including individual meetings. This fee has been kept as low as possible, covering the cost of the meals, accommodations, retreat rental fees, flight and transportation for Francis and a teaching fee for each teacher.

For more information or to register, contact Angela Callahan: To register please include your name, address, a phone number where we could reach you if necessary, your email and a brief statement about your goals for this retreat. Any other information you would like to convey to the teachers about your spiritual path is also appreciated. You will receive payment instructions from Angela when you register. The retreat is open to all with a serious interest in spiritual growth and awakening.

Travel Directions

Please see: Once you have arrived at Light on the Hill, you will be checked in, assigned a room, and have an opportunity to explore the beautiful grounds and retreat center.

Retreat Manager
Angela Callahan will be in charge of daily operations. Questions of any sort should be directed to her first. Michael will meet with Angela as needed during the retreat.
Retreat Focus
A silent retreat is a rare and wonderful opportunity to dive deeply into awareness of what is true, enduring, unchanging. This “substrata” of existence is always with you, never abandons you, and yet rarely is noticed. Anything at all that we say about “it” is superfluous and indirect. It is best communicated by pure physical presence. The best art, music, and poetry reveal it to us. External and internal silence helps us to recognize this subtle yet continuous undercurrent of the real awareness of what is. Natural settings facilitate our ability to notice the world instead of our mental constructions of the world. A shared group intent formed as individuals practice attunement to reality together raises everyone’s ability to pay attention. This group-generated energy is very real, almost palpable. In the previous retreats the emergence of this group energy arises predictably within 24 hours or so. Silence, concentration, lack of distractions, and seriousness of purpose facilitate this flow of chi-like energy.

Metaphor, allusion, and simile are the spiritual teachers’ forte. In the Gospel of Matthew 13:3, it is noted: “Then he told them many things in parables, saying ‘A farmer went out to sow his seed….’”. The best spiritual teaching always occurs in a format that is relevant and understandable to the audience at hand. Shakyamuni Buddha, Jesus Christ, Moses, Abraham, Ramana Maharshi and countless others have taught those with eyes to see and ears to hear in a similar manner. Narrative and story-telling often by-pass the ordinary defense structures and are utilized freely. The deepest truths are communicated through a kind of energetic resonance that is difficult to describe yet also strangely familiar. This different way of learning requires a letting-go of our ordinary death-grip on the illusion of personal control. Slipping into this open awareness is effortless for some, torturous for others. Some relaxation of our hyper-focused attention to data, logic, and reason is necessary for all who wish to recognize who and what they actually are, always have been, and can’t not be.

Individual meetings

There will be an opportunity to meet privately with all three teachers. Time permitting, Francis will be available to meet with anyone who is interested, and Margot and Michael will be available on an as needed basis. Signup sheets for all three teachers will be available at the retreat. The intention for individual meetings is to briefly discuss spiritual practice, obstacles along the way, and the ego-self deconstruction process. Meetings should generally last about 10 minutes or less in order to give everyone an opportunity for personal instruction and feedback.


Friday December 12
4-6       Arrival and check-in
6:30     Dinner-Silence begins after dinner
7:30     Silent Meditation
8:00     Break
8:15     Talk/discussion with Francis9:30     Free time/bed

Saturday December 13
 7:30     Optional meditation
 8:00     Breakfast
 8:30     Free time
8:30 - 10 Individual meetings 
10:00     Talk/ Discussion with Michael
11:45     Break
11:45-12:30  Individual meetings 
Noon       Silent Meditation
12:30       Lunch
1:00         Free time
1-2           Individual meetings 
2-6           Constellation Work with Margot Ridler
4-6 Individual meetings 
6:00      Free time
6:30      Dinner
7:30      Meditation
8:00      Talk/discussion with Francis, Michael and Margot
9:00      Bonfire

Sunday December 14
 7:30      Optional meditation
 8:00      Breakfast
 8:30      Free time
8:30 – 10 Individual meetings 
10:30      Talk/discussion with Francis, Margot and Michael 
Noon       Free time
12:30       Lunch/talking resumes
Schedule is approximate and is subject to change depending on the needs of the group and the teachers. Retreat ends after lunch on Sunday.

 Michael Hall