Thursday, June 5, 2014

No mind awareness from the perspective of Zen Master Bankei

Sunday June 8 we will meet at my office at 46 Riverside Drive in Binghamton from 2 until about 3:30 for 15 minutes of silent meditation, followed by a talk and discussion about no mind awareness from the perspective of Zen Master Bankei. Below is a description of Bankei from Amazon’s page of: Unborn: The Life and Teachings of Zen Master Bankei, 1622-1693 by Bankei (Author), Norman Waddell (Translator, Introduction).

“In 1633, at age eleven, Bankei Yotaku was banished from his family's home because of his consuming engagement with the Confucian texts that all schoolboys were required to copy and recite. Using a hut in the nearby hills, he wrote the word Shugyo-an, or "practice hermitage," on a plank of wood, propped it up beside the entrance, and settled down to devote himself to his own clarification of "bright virtue." He finally turned to Zen and, after fourteen years of incredible hardship, achieved a decisive enlightenment, whereupon the Rinzai priest traveled unceasingly to the temples and monasteries of Japan, sharing what he'd learned. ‘What I teach in these talks of mine is the Unborn Buddha-mind of illuminative wisdom, nothing else. Everyone is endowed with this Buddha-mind, only they don't know it. ' "
We will discuss Bankei’s notion of the Unborn, which is exactly the same as my description of no mind awareness. We will carefully consider his wonderful book The Unborn, which can be ordered from Amazon, or found here:

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Enlightenment and Awakening or Living an Authentic Life - which one are you after? Constellation Work with Margot Ridler

Below is an invitation from Margot Ridler to a full day of constellation work May 4, 2014. Margot will be in the US for a little over a week, with no plans to return for 5-6 months.This is a rare opportunity to work with a master of constellation work in a beautiful setting. Please respond directly to Margot (see below) if interested.  Michael Hall

Discover the difference between working on an issue to EASE programming vs. ERASING it It is my pleasure to offer you another opportunity to particip

Enlightenment and Awakening or Living an Authentic Life - which one are you after?

It is my pleasure to offer you a special day of Constellation Work Sunday May 4th. We will be doing it a bit different this time as we will remain together through the early evening sharing dinner and conversation together. I will be back from Europe for 9 days and then will not be back until End of September, so I hope you will join us!
The price includes two meals, lunch and dinner. We will meet at 9 am at Sky Lake (see info below). Michael Hall will lead us through a 30 min. meditation from 9 - 9:30. Then, we start promptly at 9:30 am with Constellation Work. We will break for lunch and hopefully, weather permitting, we will be able to have lunch on the deck overlooking the lake. There will be time to walk about the grounds so you can take in what has been revealed for you during the morning session and revel in the serenity of nature. Then we will gather again for an afternoon session of Constellation Work. 
We will end around 5:30 pm. There will be a 30 minute break where you can wander around the grounds again if you wish and then we will meet at 6 pm for dinner. I decided that it will be a nice way to end the day with remaining together eating dinner. Usually by the time we end, people are hungry and then have to drive home and still prepare a meal or go out to a restaurant and wait till their food is cooked. This way, we have a relaxing dinner together, lovingly prepared by Kevin our wonderful chef at Sky Lake. This will give everyone a chance to allow what has transpired throughout the day to settle within themselves. Plus, I have been feeling that I wanted to remain available for a while after the day is done to answer questions, give more details, and explain some things about the processes we went through.  Or generally just be available if something else is lingering in you that wants to be addressed that may have not been appropriate to bring up during the Constellation sessions. Michael will, of course, be available to give his comments and guidance as well, which is always a treasure for he adds so much wisdom, kindness and insight.
I hope you find this new set up pleasing and will make arrangements to join us May 4th at Sky Lake. You have a month to plan, so hopefully we will see you there! Please email me directly via this email to let me know you are coming or if you have any questions.  Thank you.
Most people do not grasp the difference between working on a personal issue for the purpose of living a better and happier life - and its exact opposite movement: to release programming completely to be utterly free of it. Constellation Work is the only tool I know that allows for a direct, embodied experience of both these movements. By participating Sunday, May 4th, you will experience first-hand how to distinguish clearly between 1) working with your personal issues to make your life easier and 2) facilitating awakening and assisting you in becoming ultimately free. Regardless which movement you are after, Constellation Work is a powerful tool for either. I hope you will join us for this exciting and insightful exploration.
All-Day Sunday May 4th, 2014
Time: 9 30 am to 7 30 pm

Sky Lake Retreat Facility, 501 William Law Rd, Windsor, NY 13865
RSVP and Questions:




Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Freeing the Dragon!

Satsang with Michael Hall and Margot Ridler in Gaucin, Spain

                         Awakening, relationships, money and their integration

Friday 28th February at 7pm
Casa de los Pavos Reales, Almunia, Gaucin.
Michael Hall, PhD has been a clinical psychologist and full-time psychotherapist for over 35 years. In the past 11 years he has learned to apply the perspective and realizations that arise from the clear seeing of what is real to the problems of daily life. This perspective is shared on his blog: and video site:
Margot Ridler worked for many years as a successful therapist using a technique known as "Family Constellation". One day in December 2005 with no previous history of spiritual seeking her sense of personal self and identity began to fall away. Margot found that with the clear seeing and insights revealed to her through this awakening process she could no longer continue with her work and life as it was. She spent the next four years assimilating this experience.
Margot speaks clearly about her own enlightenment or awakening experience and is also quick to point out what enlightenment is not. Margot shows how the programming and concepts can begin to be released or unplugged, leading the way to program free living. Margot's website is:

Michael and Margot will talk about the integration of abiding nondual awareness into ordinary life, with emphasis on practical matters like relationships and how unconscious, automatic assumptions and conditioned beliefs continue in many areas of life after even deep self realization. The idea, unfortunately common in nondual circles, that there is nothing to do and no one to do anything, is not helpful in functional living or the continuing disappearance of conditioned, unconscious beliefs and behavior. In becoming who and what we really are instead of what we have been programmed to believe we are, the original mind is liberated to move freely in the world through our own unique form. 
We will also discuss the particular use of family constellation work, as originally developed by Bert Hellinger, in identifying and releasing conditioned reactions and liberating energy trapped in familial dysfunctions. Come have fun with us and see what emerges as we open ourselves to the mysterious wonder of presence as it is revealed in this moment.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Truth in music

This woman speaks so clearly of realized truth. Listen and allow her to move you, touch you, give her heart to you. Dead? She is more alive than most wandering around now, bumping into each other. God bless Eva Cassidy. An angel appeared, recorded, and we are privileged to listen and feel her truth. Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Saturday, February 1, 2014

New video posted

Francis Bennett's second talk at the December 2013 Silent Meditation Retreat is now available on Vimeo:

Monday, January 27, 2014

Michael Damian's talk at the Silent Retreat

Below is a link to Michael Damian's talk at the Silent Retreat.  Michael is a spiritual teacher and writer who holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. Having undergone a radical spiritual awakening in 2006, Michael speaks from his direct realization of the nature of consciousness, mind, and the lasting happiness of a liberated life. Michael offers meetings, retreats, and private sessions to guide and support those who wish to awaken in truth

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Silent Meditation Retreat video links

Several of the talks at the recent silent meditation retreat with Francis Bennett, Michael Damian, and Margot Ridler have now been posted on Vimeo. Francis talk Friday evening is at this link:

My talk Saturday morning is at:

A talk I gave last January on 
Awakening the Luminous Mind by Tenzin Wangyal is also on the Vimeo site:

We hope to be able to post the second talk by Francis as well as Michael Damian's talk within the next week or so.

Gratitude is expressed to Margot Ridler who spent most of the last week learning 
Final Cut Pro, editing the videos, and uploading them to Vimeo.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Silent retreat reminder

This week-end is the silent meditation retreat with Francis Bennett. See below for a full description. We have over 30 people attending, and it promises to be a wonderful experience. In addition to Francis and I, we are pleased to have Michael Damian on hand ( Michael is a nondual teacher from northern California, the satsang capital of the world. Michael will be available for brief individual meetings along with Francis. In addition Sara Avtar, the developer of Shakti dance will attend and demonstrate this yoga of dance with us ( Margot Ridler will be offering a description of family constellation work from her unique perspective ( 

The weather looks promising (for Binghamton at this time of year!), and all systems are go. If you have not yet registered for the event (by emailing me your interest) and would like to attend, please let me know in the next day or two, as we have to coordinate with Sky Lake how many are attending. We can still accept a few more, and I don't want anyone who is interested to miss out on this unusual opportunity.

For those of you who have attended somewhat similar events in other areas, you know that this price is remarkably low, and represents what is typically charged for events that do not include lodging or meals. We have deliberately kept the cost as low as possible to encourage those who are motivated to attend.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A Silent Retreat with Michael Hall & Francis Bennett: Discover Direct Awareness

Sky Lake   Windsor, New York
Friday, Saturday and Sunday
December 6, 7 and 8, 2013

“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”

Why a silent retreat?

The purpose of maintaining external silence is to encourage the development of internal silence.  When we are quiet in our body and our attitude, and 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 of our own thoughts.  Very little of what we call “thinking” has any value in our moment-to- moment experience.  Thinking required for planning and action are really the only thinking we need to do.

By careful self-observation and self-inquiry we begin to sense a space between our thoughts and the self.  We clearly see that we are not our thoughts.  Then what are we?  This is the question to be answered by remaining in stillness until a spiritual transformation occurs.  Meditation in daily life affords us some time to dedicate to this practice, but a silent retreat offers a unique opportunity to discover who we really are through Direct Awareness.

Retreat Focus

A silent retreat is a rare and wonderful opportunity to dive deeply into awareness.  True awareness is enduring and unchanging.  This “substrata” of existence is always with you, never abandons you, and yet rarely is noticed.  Anything 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.  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 13:2 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 storytelling often bypass 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 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, difficult 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 we really are, always have been and can’t not be.

About Sky Lake
Set at the top of Tuscarora Mountain, located outside Windsor, NY, Sky Lake is a retreat center offering a lovely natural setting for contemplation and meditation for spiritual seekers of all persuasions.  The center is one of six United Methodist Church camp and retreat sites in New York State and boasts 900 acres of woods and walking trails surrounding a large lake.

About Francis Bennett
Francis Bennett lived as a Roman Catholic Trappist monk for many years at a monastery in Montreal.  It was here, during a church service, that he experienced a sudden “radical perceptual shift in consciousness” and discovered the spaciousness of pure awareness.  He came to understand that this awareness is actually the unchanging essence of who he really is and has always been: the Supreme Self, described by many sages and saints from multiple traditions down through the ages.  He also came to see that this vast, infinite sense of presence at the center of his being, and everyone’s in fact, is actually not at all separate from the presence of God, which he had been seeking all those years in devoted prayer as a monk.

Francis is now living a “new incarnation” as a spiritual teacher in the contemporary, Nondual spiritual Tradition.  Francis offers the wealth of his knowledge as an educated theologian having studied Buddhist Traditions, the Christian mystical tradition, as well as the Hindu Advaita-Vedanta teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi, who has been a profound influence on Francis for the last 12 years.
Nonduality Press recently published his first book,
“I Am That I Am.”

About Michael Hall
Michael is a clinical psychologist with a full-time psychotherapy practice for over 35 years.  In the past 11 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 and website:


Friday, December 6

4-6             Arrival and check-in
6:00           Dinner: Silence begins after dinner
7:15           Silent Meditation
7:45           Break
8:00           Talk/Discussion with Francis
9:30           Free time/Bed

Saturday, December 7

7:30           Optional Meditation
8:00           Breakfast
8:30           Free time
10:00        Talk/Discussion with Michael
11:45         Break
Noon          Lunch
12:30         Free time
1-3             Brief individual meetings with Francis or Michael Damian
1-1:30        Meditation
1:30-2        Shakti dance with Sara Avtar
2-2:45        Talk with Michael Damian
3-5:30        Talk and demonstration of constellation work with Margot Ridler
6:00           Dinner
7:00           Meditation
8:00           Talk/discussion with Francis
9:00           Bonfire

Sunday, December 8

7:30           Optional meditation
8:00           Breakfast
8:30           Free time
9:00           Meditation
9:45           Talk/Discussion with Michael, Margot, and Michael Damian
12:00         Lunch/talking resumes

The schedule is subject to change depending on group needs
Retreat ends after lunch


Cost of Retreat:  $300; or $275 for those who register by November 15. This includes 6 meals and overnight accommodations for two nights, as well as all other retreat activities. This fee has been kept as low as possible and covers the cost of the meals, accommodations, and rental fees, as well as transportation and a small remuneration for Francis. You can register by emailing Michael that you would like to attend:

Make checks out to: Michael Hall, PhD and mail to: 46 Riverside Drive, Binghamton, New York 13905.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Comment from a daughter on Attachment to Emptiness


I am so glad to read your post about attachment to emptiness. My father has been stuck in emptiness for years now. What you described is exactly
what I believe he is going through. My dad is late 50s, retired and has been very successful with his work. He enjoys golfing, listening to music, and traveling and that is about all I can say he enjoys.

From talking with my mom I understand that when I was about 8 years old Dad was practicing meditation very heavily and would stay up for hours every night to practice.  As soon as he reached awakening and realized the true nature of the way things are everything about him was completely different.  He no longer showed love or affection towards my mom, me, or my brother. He has no empathy, sympathy, intrigue in life, joy, passions, and seems to have no emotions at all.
He also suffers from depression so I'm not sure if that comes into play with all of this. He suffered a lot as a child with abuse from his father so I believe being in a cave of emptiness is his way of not dealing with suffering anymore. 
He is so far into his own cave it really baffles me as to how someone can not have any affection, feelings, or a drive for life at all. He will not allow anyone or anything to break this wall he has put up in order protect himself from the world. It has taken away my dad from me and I have no recollection of him ever being a "normal" father to me and my brother or husband to my mom.
I just discovered your blog last night and it now makes complete sense to me that this is exactly what he is going through. I don't know if it's possible to get him back but his awakening experience has taken away the once fun, life-loving, excitable, passionate man he once was. There seems to be no emotions, feelings or anything at all behind his eyes. I am used to him being this way, I don't remember a time where he hasn't been like this. But I do wish he was different and it makes me sad to know if this hadn't happened maybe I would have my dad with me today, not this robot of a man. 

Dear A.                                                                                                 
You are a very perceptive young woman! I agree-from what you have stated here, the description in the blog post seems remarkably accurate for your dad, doesn't it? Amazing that you found it! Of course there could be many other reasons for your dad’s behavior, but let's assume he fits the model described in the blog post. I'm also assuming that your dad was practicing with little or no access to a teacher who had succeeded at leaving the cave. Many current teachers do not seem to grasp the enormous importance of this issue or understand how to help people exit the cave and integrate the nondual awareness into everyday life. It does not seem to be nearly as big an issue in the Zen tradition in which I was trained, which constantly stresses the need to embody and manifest the realization in ordinary life. Contemporary writers who routinely address this issue besides me include: Francis Bennett (blogs on Face Book; Ed Muzica (also a psychologist); Adyashanti; and Margot Ridler ( I can assure you it is very difficult to nudge, cajole, educate, or in any other way induce someone to leave the cave. It somehow has to happen of its own-much like the original awakening. However, accurate information and teaching, both before and after awakening, seems to help and even be necessary.

I am giving a talk at the Self Inquiry Group in Raleigh at the beginning of October. It will eventually be available on the internet. Several of my past talks are available on their Vimeo site now and might be useful to you, although these talks do not directly address the issue you raise. Would it be ok with you if I quote part of your note to me during my talk, leaving out personally identifying elements? I would also like to post your note on my blog-but only with your permission. This issue is one of my pet peeves about the current 'awakening' marketplace. I believe it deserves far more attention than it is receiving. In short, the issue is: having had a deep and abiding awakening-so what? How does that change you? Do you become more present, tuned into the experience of others, more skillful and effective in the world, more loving, empathic, more real? If not-why not? What needs to happen next? The essential problem is that those in the cave do not believe there is a 'next'. Yet there is always more-always further. I hope these thoughts are validating and helpful. Keep reading and questioning. I believe you are on the right track. Good luck and stay in touch as needed.

Dear Michael

Thanks for the extra information. I can definitely find it useful. I think what you are discussing is really important to individuals seeking the awakening experience and I agree that it needs more attention. People need to know how it could change them and that the search for truth isn't over once awakening has been reached. What needs to happen next is essential knowledge for people who go about the practice without an experienced teacher or guide, or else they might mistaken the practice as complete and be stuck in the cave forever, which could have unfortunate effects on others around them.  

If my situation can be useful for teaching others, than I have no problem with you using it during your talks and on your blog. Thanks again so much for the insight and for teaching people about these issues. They definitely need more addressing! 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Self Inquiry Group of Raleigh Annual Retreat

Self Inquiry Group
2013 Retreat - October 4-6
Intensive - October 7-9
Self Inquiry Group (SIG) will be hosting its fifth annual retreat in October of 2013. The dates of the retreat are Friday, October 4th through Sunday, October 6th. Like last year, the weekend retreat will be immediately followed by an intensive with Bart Marshall and Deborah Westmoreland, which will run from Monday, October 7th through lunch on Wednesday, October 9th. The retreat and intensive will be held at Durant Nature Park in Raleigh, North Carolina, a beautiful setting on a lake surrounded by woods.
Registration is limited to 60 persons due to facility size. Past retreats have filled up quickly so early registration is recommended.
The annual SIG retreat has become an incredibly unique and invaluable event that brings together spiritual teachers who have discovered True Nature and now help others who seek to know what they truly are. We are pleased and honored to announce that this year's retreat speakers will include:

Art Ticknor
Bart Marshall
Bob Fergeson
Bob Harwood
Bruce Joel Rubin
Deborah Westmoreland
Jan Frazier
Michael Hall
Paul Hedderman
Tess Hughes
Please see below for brief bios of each speaker.
The post-retreat intensive with Bart and Deborah is a wonderful opportunity to build on the momentum and inspiration of the retreat and dive deep into inner work. It is primarily designed as an optional extension for those who attend the weekend retreat, but if circumstances prevent you from attending the weekend and you are still interested in the intensive, that option is available. Bart and Deborah will also be holding a 6-day retreat in amazing Crestone, Colorado, Sept 16-22. 

Further information is available at:

Comment from a monastic on Attachment to Emptiness

I checked out your blog and started to comment on your most recent post, but ran out of space, so here is the rest:
I began by saying that your description of moving out of the cave of emptiness back into the messiness of the world reminded me of my own journey into a cloistered contemplative monastery and out again, into a monastery that allows for contact with the outside world and all its messiness. 
In the monastery, we were actively encouraged to develop what one retreat master called "holy indifference,” which I think he said was a Jesuit expression. In terms of our daily activities, we were to be invested in whatever task we were assigned at a given moment, but be ready to give it up at any moment. Idem our cells, any plans we might have for the little free time we might have, etc. etc. According to the Rule of St. Benedict, we renounce all ownership, even over our own bodies, and the kind of total, radical obedience that was required was/is supposed to lead ultimately to the realization that on some level, nothing matters. The incarnation of this principle in every detail of daily life serves as a kind of litmus test that reveals, day by day, minute by minute, the extent to which one has actually integrated the recommended attitude of holy indifference.
A couple of stories, by way of illustration: 
1) A young doctor enters our monastery as a postulant. The first time she catches a cold, the novice mistress gives her some medicine. The young doctor/postulant looks at it and says, "I'm not going to take this. This isn't what I need." The novice mistress, acknowledging the postulant's superior medical knowledge, replies, "Learn to be a monk first. Then be a doctor." And the postulant has a choice: she can take her medicine or leave. (She chose to stay, and is now the novice mistress.)
2) When I went to Japan on an interfaith monastic exchange, I was given so many gifts that I had to buy an extra suitcase to bring them home. After a day or so back in my home monastery, the gifts were all displayed in the community room. Then they disappeared and I never saw any of them again. This was normal, and came as no surprise to me. A few years later, when I was spending a few months in Windsor discerning the option of a transfer of my vows, I had an opportunity to travel to Mexico for the opening of a zendo by a young couple whom I had met in Japan. The Roshi of their Japanese monastery was there to do the honors, and he brought gifts of his calligraphy for all the participants. Without knowing about my plans to transfer to Windsor, he gave me his calligraphy of "Coming home on the ox's back." Through his translator, I told him what I was in the process of doing, and how apt his gift was. I also told him that because of my monastery's strictness, I hadn't been allowed to keep the other pieces of calligraphy he had given me in Japan, which made this current gift even more precious." When I told the translator what had happened to the collection of Japanese gifts, her eyes widened and she said, "Wow! I know theoretically that nothing in my room belongs to me, but you really practice it in a radical way!"
A big part of the ethos in my French monastery, the philosophy that is taught to novices, is that "We want to start living here and now the beatific vision that we'll enjoy once we're dead." The longer I stayed there, the more this turned into an actual, physical reality. There I was, in a gorgeous place, a rural setting not unlike Windsor, with a wonderful, loving community, singing the praises of God day and night, with all your basic needs taken care of, and little or no possibility of contacting the world we had left behind. It was like signing up for the cave of emptiness for the rest of your life, and without some fancy finagling, which I have managed, there's no way out, because your vows are for life. As the few contacts that were permitted diminished over time, I began to realize that this wasn't what I wanted right now. In a few years I'll be dead for eternity, unless there's reincarnation, and so for whatever time is left, I want to be connected with the planet, instead of hovering above or beyond it in some beautiful but remote monastic space ship. The Windsor monastery provides a happy combination of monastic life with contact with non-monastics. (In my French monastery, going for a day of recollection such as the one you arranged with Francis Bennett would be out of the question.)
In reading your blog, I was surprised to learn that there are non-monastics who need to be helped out of this state of emptiness and back into a state of re-engagement with the rest of the world. You appear to be providing an unusual kind of psychotherapy. I'd enjoy pursuing this further, but right now it's time for breakfast.
Sr. S

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Francis Bennett's new book

Francis Bennett's new book I Am That I Am has been released this week by Nonduality Press. The link below will take you to the publisher's website:

See the description of Francis in another post on this blog.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Attachment to Emptiness

“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. 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Francis Bennett workshops in May

Francis Bennett will be coming to Binghamton the first weekend in May (May 3-5). Francis was a Roman Catholic, Trappist monk for over 20 years, only leaving monastic life about 6 months ago. His teaching plans so far include a day-long (10am-5pm) workshop Saturday May 4 on Contemplative Prayer and a Sunday afternoon joint satsang with me at the usual 2-3:30 time. There may well be another teaching event scheduled for Sunday morning. While plans are still being finalized, I want to give everyone plenty of time to plan to attend one or more of these events. This will be a rare opportunity to spend time with an awakened teacher who is thoroughly steeped in the Christian tradition, and can speak of this realized truth from his own direct experience. All teaching events will be at the First Congregational Church in Binghamton on the corner of Front and Main St. Parking is in the Church lot on Front St., and the entrance is on the Front St. side of the building. Come in the side door and look for the Meditation Room, which is upstairs on the second floor. The Rev. Dr. Arthur Suggs has been the pastor for several years and has led an ongoing transformation of the church into a welcoming and hospitable location for people of different faiths, beliefs, and lifestyles. The church website is: .

 Francis is very active on Facebook, and I encourage those who are interested to check out his numerous, daily posts. He has a new website: 

Below is a description of Francis as well as a link to a Buddha at the Gas Pump interview with him.

"Francis Bennett entered the Trappist Abbey of Gethsemane in 1981 and in the 90′s subsequently lived at a “daughter house” of Gethsemane in Monks Corner, South Carolina. Until recently, he was living in a small urban monastery in Montreal Quebec. He has been a “spiritual seeker” during all those years, practicing in the Christian mystical/contemplative Tradition and working deeply with teachers in both the Vipassana and Zen Traditions as well. In 2010 he experienced a profound perceptual “shift” in which he realized the ever-present presence of pure Awareness, which some would call, the Presence of God."

If you would like to attend, please RSVP to me. The suggested donation for the Saturday teaching is $50-80 sliding scale, depending on ability to pay. The suggested donation for Sunday is $25. All donations beyond the cost of the room will go to Francis. All who are interested are welcome. For the Saturday workshop, please arrive by 9:50. We are required to keep the side door to the church locked, so if you arrive later than 10:05, you will be locked out and unable to attend.  For the Sunday satsang, please arrive by 1:50-the doors will be locked after 2:05. Until that time someone will be posted at the door to let you in and show you where the meeting room is located.
A  very tentative schedule for Saturday is 10-12 teaching, with lunch on your own. There are many local restaurants nearby. The afternoon session will be from 2-5. Further details will follow. For those unfamiliar with Contemplative Prayer, it is an ancient form of Christian meditation revived and updated by Fathers Thomas Keating and Basil Pennington in the 1970s and 80s. See the link below for background information on Father Keating.