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If you feel bombarded by emails, phone calls, text messages and the daily stress that comes with them, there could be a solution for you. Some people have found relief in perfect silence. Host Michel Martin learns more about the popularity of silent retreats.

This presentation explores how contemplative practices, especially those anchored in an active listening to silence, are integrated into creative writing courses. It pays particular attention to a course taught at the United States Military Academy at West Point and to a course on the poetry of war and peace taught at the University of Connecticut. The presentation includes not only excerpts from student writing during the courses but also ongoing correspondence with students as they have maintained meditation practices during their military service in Iraq.

The ‘problem of other minds’ is central to sociological theory and of immediate importance to contemporary research on subjectivity and interiority. How do we cultivate and maintain an intersubjective space during silent, private, experiences? Drawing on Alfred Schutz’s phenomenology, this study challenges the common view which regards silence as an obstacle to social relations. The data consist of two years of participant observation of vipassana meditation practices in Israel and the United States. Vipassana meditation is conducted in complete silence, discouraging group sharing of meditation experiences, thus offering an extreme case of silence and privacy. The findings illustrate how, despite the absence of direct verbal communication, the practice of meditation still holds important intersubjective dimensions. I suggest that covert mechanisms of silent intersubjectivity play an important role in everyday social life and require further ethnographic attention.
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"The practice of contemplation is one of the great spiritual arts," writes Martin Laird in A Sunlit Absence. "Not a technique but a skill, it harnesses the winds of grace that lead us out into the liberating sea of silence." In this companion volume to his bestselling Into the Silent Land, Laird focuses on a quality often overlooked by books on Christian meditation: a vast and flowing spaciousness that embraces both silence and sound, and transcends all subject/object dualisms. Drawing on the wisdom of great contemplatives from St. Augustine and St. Teresa of Avila to St. Hesychios, Simone Weil, and many others, Laird shows how we can uncover the deeper levels of awareness that rest within us like buried treasure waiting to be found. The key insight of the book is that as our practice matures, so will our experience of life's ordeals, sorrows, and joys expand into generous, receptive maturity. We learn to see whatever difficulties we experience in meditation--boredom, lethargy, arrogance, depression, grief, anxiety--not as obstacles to be overcome but as opportunities to practice surrender to what is. With clarity and grace Laird shows how we can move away from identifying with our turbulent, ever-changing thoughts and emotions to the cultivation of a "sunlit absence"--the luminous awareness in which God's presence can most profoundly be felt. Addressed to both beginners and intermediates on the pathless path of still prayer, A Sunlit Absence offers wise guidance on the specifics of contemplative practice as well as an inspiring vision of the purpose of such practice and the central role it can play in our spiritual lives.