Thursday, December 6, 2018

Taking the Opportunity to Come Apart

I’ve cited James Austin in a post about counting breaths, and often come back to the things he taught in a retreat I attended with him.  It was at Zen Mountain Monastery in the Catskills.  Austin spent most of the day Saturday presenting information from his book Meditating Selflessly, and from other research he and others have conducted on Zen and the Brain.  His exhortation to get out of the meditation hall and spend some time in nature looking at birds, or, if early morning, the planets and stars, led me to leave the retreat on Sunday and disappear for a few hours into the woods (Austin’s presentation was over).

During the retreat I asked Dr. Austin what he thought about people with a serious mental illness practicing meditation.  I have bipolar disorder 1 and had scheduled a very intensive, silent retreat.  Austin said that people with a “mental defect” should not undertake intensive meditation.  I was surprised at both the language and the sentiment, especially as I have gained so much from my meditation practice.  But I have respect for Dr. Austin’s work, and was so influenced by his retreat, that I decided to take his caution under consideration.  

I went on the silent retreat anyway.