Adyashanti Retreat Review: The Omega Institute
Note: This post is epic. Sadly, not in that the content is superb, but rather in length. With close to 3000 words, the average read time is 15 minutes. You’ve been warned.
I’ve recently returned from my first silent retreat with Adyashanti. I’ll just refer to him as Adya from now on, as that’s what his friends call him… so I hear.
Although the majority of his retreats seem to take place in his home state of California, I was fortunate to catch him on an east coast stop at The Omega Institute. The Omega Institute is a lovely property close to the Hudson River in upstate New York. It’s a non-profit organization that has an almost unbelievable number of events (seemingly every week) with topics ranging from spirituality to holistic health to personal empowerment, to name just a few.
Let’s be clear, Omega is much more of a “retreat center” or maybe “retreat camp” than any type of resort. It bears little resemblance to a place like the Canyon Ranch Resorts.
It’s a more crunchy or hippie scene than those types of resorts. Let’s just say that there were a lot of “Birkenstocks and Socks”.
Don’t get me wrong, that’s actually my personal preference.
Truth be told, I’ve got a lot of hippie in me. And in my younger days, I was definitely IN a lot of hippies (God Bless hairy hippie girls…)
The accommodations reminded me of summer camp (barracks), although the food (mostly vegetarian) was better than back in those days.
Come to think of it, I basically did spend seven days at adult summer camp; with the caveats being that no one could speak and we were constantly in “time-out”.
Adyashanti Retreat Review: The Vow of Silence
When I told people that I was going on a seven day silent meditation retreat, they would tilt their head off to the side like my dogs when I fart audibly.
Then they would assume that everyone would be silent during the meditation, but certainly not for an entire seven days…
That would be absurd!
Note: “Silent” also referred to any technology (cell phone, laptops and so forth) and even to reading any books.
You may be wondering the same thing – Why be silent for an entire week? What’s the fucking point?
That’s a legitimate question.
Here’s the short answer: Our current society is filled with an obnoxious amount of daily distractions. Hell, they’re bombarding us every second of our waking existence. To go “silent” in terms of speech, sensory input and stimulus allows us to slow down and be at one with our consciousness. We’re not the constantly working “deletion machines” that we have to be in order to make sense of our minute to minute existence.
By going silent, we allow ourselves to opportunity to explore “what is” in the actual present moment.
There were a couple of secondary benefits that I personally noticed from having all 350 participants adhere to the vow of silence:
- There was no small talk, and therefore nobody was verbally comparing the present moment with a similar one in the past.
Example: One evening there was a full moon and a clear sky. It was stunning. There must have been 80 of us standing in the open field staring at it. I felt such a relief not having to make small talk (that would never enhance, only detract from the actual experience). Nobody said, “Cool moon, eh?” (no offense to my Canadian peeps). Also, nobody shared a comparable experience from the past i.e. “This moon is grand, but the best moon I ever saw was in Hawaii in the late 70’s blah, blah, blah.
- Nobody said “God Bless You” when someone sneezed. That’s just a personal peeve of mine, mostly because of the origin of the tradition.
Adyashanti Retreat Review: The Daily Schedule
The daily schedule was regimented, which I actually found quite freeing. A whole week of the same routine, including being fed three meals per day, numerous sitting meditation sessions, and a couple of breaks.
There was nothing to do, nothing to distract me; I was able to just fucking BE. This created an ideal environment for Meditative Self-Inquiry.
Below was the daily schedule:
7:30 – Silent Sitting Meditation
8:00 – Breakfast/Break
10:00 – Talk (Adya, not retreat participants)
11:30 – Guided Meditation
12:00 – Lunch/Break
2:00 – Silent Sitting Meditation
2:40 – Break *
3:10 – Silent Sitting Meditation
3:50 – Break
4:20 – Silent Sitting Meditation
5:00 – Break
5:30 – Dinner
7:00 – Satsang (Q & A with Adya – those with questions could speak)
8:30 – Break
9:00 – Silent Sitting Meditation
9:30 – End
* During the breaks, most people would walk around for a short time, but then many (myself included) would sprawl out on our backs in the large field adjacent to the meditation hall. It felt fantastic. Then with 5 minutes remaining before the next sitting session, one of the attendants would ring several bells. At that point everyone would slowly get up and head towards the hall.
We must have looked like zombies and the bells were the smell of brains.
I’ve been to more traditional Zen Silent Retreats where the schedule was more intense, with up to 8 sixty-minute sitting periods per day. I personally found this to be a good middle ground in terms of time sitting, talks and breaks for contemplation.
Other retreats I’ve attended have always included one or more brief private meetings with the teacher and/or their senior students/monks. These retreats have always been with no more than 20 or so participants. Obviously, private meetings with Adya would be impossible due to the number of attendees (about 350!) for this retreat.
Adyashanti Retreat Review: The Silent Meditation Sessions
If you’re not familiar with Adya and his True Meditation Practices, you can check out the link below for a blog post I did on that very topic:
He teaches three forms of meditation:
1) Allowing Everything to Be As It Is
2) Meditative Self-Inquiry
3) Meditative Contemplation
One of the primary tenants of his teaching is to stop all attempts to manipulate your experience. Which is why we were given a document the first day (see partial reprint below), explaining this concept, and suggested that it was the ONLY document we read for the entire week.
“True Meditation has no direction or goal. It is pure wordless surrender, pure silent prayer. All methods aiming at achieving a certain state of mind are limited, impermanent, and conditioned. Fascination with states leads only to bondage and dependency. True Meditation is abidance as primordial awareness.”
Large Group Silent Meditation is Anything But SILENT!
Let’s clear one thing up right off the bat; with a group this large, it’s NOT Silent. I would estimate that at least every 30 seconds there was a groan, moan, audible yawn, sneeze, sniffle, throat clearing or fart.
Furthermore, it seemed to be catching, as in when you see someone else yawn, you often follow suit. So at the end of the first day, I decided to test this theory. About 10 minutes into the final siting, I intentionally put forth an extra loud throat clearing (but not any louder than I’d heard throughout the day).
And sure enough, within only a few seconds, as if being directed by an orchestra maestro, a full blown symphony erupted. There were higher pitched sneezes acting as the smaller wind instruments, coughs and clearings that could pass for percussions, and of course there were farts for Tuba solos.
Although this sample size was respectable, I was unable to clearly establish a control group. Therefore, more studies will be needed to draw any solid conclusions on this hypothesis. Hopefully, some of you may feel inclined to continue this research.
I found all this human noise to be a bit irritating at first. Then, of course, I realized that it was also an opportunity.
Adya actually addressed this very issue on the third evening during Satsang. A women asked about it and was having a hard time, as she was used to meditating alone in the early morning at home for years, in silence.
His response was two-part:
- Nothing can actually disturb you, rather you must allow yourself to be disturbed. So he advised her to work with that in the upcoming sitting sessions.
- However, he also acknowledged that this group was “particularly noisy”. He estimated that only about 10% of the noises being made were “legit”. His teacher explained to him that when sitting still for longer periods of time, the body/mind will feel as though it needs to release some energy. Instead of giving into the perceived need, she suggested “closing the gap” (not moving or making noises). This would keep the energy in the body, where it would be more beneficial.
And sure enough, the remaining session were at least 60% silent-er than those first three days.
Adyashanti Retreat Review: Talks
Every morning at 10:00 AM Adya would give a talk that was scheduled for 90 minutes, which often ran long. That wasn’t a problem, these talks were engaging, to say the least.
I’ll hit on just a couple of the highlights that I found most interesting:
- Awakening is simply experiencing the idea of Self as just that… an idea and nothing more.
- The Cosmic Joke of Spirituality is that God is searching for itself by looking through its own eyes.
- Meditative Inquiry is driven by curiosity. Meditation sets the stage with stillness, and curiosity is the spark.
- Thought Experiment: What if you were to suddenly have NO PAST? You still would have skills of daily living, but absolutely no memories, beliefs or opinions. How would you derive your sense of self? Who/What would you be, without being able to refer to anything before the present moment?
- Having a set of memories of the past is not itself the problem. The challenge is our relationship to the past. If you don’t use the past for self-referencing, something extraordinary opens up in the present moment.
- Look ruthlessly into every potential aspect that might be “you”. Ask “Where the fuck am I in that?” (Note: I added the “fuck”). You’ll find that there is a separate awareness of thoughts, beliefs, ideas, neurosis etc; therefore none of those things can be what you truly are.
- Unity as in “we’re all connected” is one thing, but “we’re all ONE” is something else altogether.
- Everyone wants Unity, yet most aren’t initially thrilled to learn the door through which they must enter to get there – Emptiness, VOID, the Abyss.
- Awakening is corrosive to the personal will. Most people like the idea of non-attachment in theory, but when the personal will starts to disappear, they get a little freaked out.
- Enlightened peeps are comfortable NOT KNOWING MUCH OF ANYTHING, and simply being in the present moment experience.
- “CERTAINTY” of any kind is a sure sign of being totally caught up and lost in the CONTENT (as opposed to CONTEXT) of life. Certainty and Truth do NOT go together; rather Certainty and Delusion are two sides of the same coin.
- We are all painfully addicted to our sense of self. But even just a hint of the Truth is enough to put a chink in the amour of the Ego. The process, once started, will eventually be completed.
Ok, that was a few more than a couple. What can I say, Adya had a shit-ton to share.
Adyashanti Retreat Review: My Personal Awakening Experience
On the fourth day I switched over from the “Allowing Everything to Be As it Is” meditation to the pure self-inquiry meditation “What the Fuck Am I?” (WTFAI?) and had an experience similar to my first LSD trip 25 years ago.
It was both a visual and visceral experience. I was walking in complete darkness, including whatever I was walking upon (it was pitch black and I couldn’t see or really sense the ground).
Although it was similar to my LSD trip with The Tibetan Book Of The Dead, it was somehow gentler, softer and more fluid. My guess is that the four days of meditation made the difference, as opposed the being catapulted into the situation with the assistance of a psychedelic drug.
I felt calm and curious. As I continued to stroll along in the darkness, I came upon floating representations of the different potential aspects that might make up “ME”, a separate self. These included my thoughts, beliefs, values, personality traits, past experiences etc. As I looked at each one, they became translucent and eventually disintegrated. It was inherently obvious that none of them had anything to do with who or what I am.
I kept walking in darkness right up to the edge of the Void. I can’t communicate with words how I knew where the edge was located, but I knew. Then I sat down and dangled my lower legs and feet over it. As I sat there I welcomed the overwhelming beauty and expansive nature of it all, of my no-thing-ness.
Adya tells us that we can be still and eventually arrive right at the edge of Awakening, but then we must wait for Grace. Only Grace can take us all the way through.
The experience was utterly transformational for me. I can’t say how far Grace took me, but I can show you what she looked like.
Before you laugh, I would invite you to consider the perspective that we are truly all one, and that Grace can be bestowed upon us at any time, in any form.
It was the final sitting of the evening, and as I walked outside into the cool night air, something felt different. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that nothing felt different (from me). It was subtle, but as the breeze hit my face and body, it seems to travel right through me.
I was walking in a group of 30 or so people back to the dorms, and it was as if we were walking in perfect unison. There was an underlying ease in moving upon the earth.
It sounds corny to say that it was like seeing the world for the first time with new eyes. But it would also be woefully incomplete, as it was more of feeling; a feeling derived from knowing (or unknowing).
This subtle yet profound sense remained for the week at Omega, and is still hanging out to present day.
Adyashanti Retreat Review: Returning To Relative Reality
It’s been a couple of weeks since I returned home and began interacting within the “relative reality” of our culture.
There is still a sense of effortlessness moving through each day. My default stress reactions have diminished to a large extent. And when I do react unconsciously based on old conditioning and patterns, I seem to be able to recognize this behavior rather quickly.
My new awareness practice centers around this question:
“When/What is causing me to go into division?”
For example, I make a judgement about someone (including myself) or something, and I recognize it as causing division (supporting the illusion of dualism and a separate self). As soon as I see it for what it is (false), it drops away.
I don’t know how long this level of awareness will remain; perhaps it will subside to some degree, or maybe it will deepen over time. But I’ll be conscious of my tendency to grasp and my desire to hold onto it; which would pretty much guarantee my loss of Truth Awareness.
Who knows? I’ll keep you posted.
Adyashanti Retreat Review: Hardcore Non-Dualism
I’ve read all of Adya’s books, listened to most of his recorded programs, and spent countless hours watching him on YouTube. After about a year of practicing his Path of Liberation teachings, I still think he’s the bomb.
He’s a kind dude who talks about the heart, how to listen to the body, and the importance of Love and Grace on the spiritual journey. He’s a kinder and gentler version of a Non-Dualist teacher, as compared to the rather dick-ish Jed McKenna.
But make no mistake about it, once all the rhubarb has been harvested, Adya is truly a Hardcore Non-Dualist.
It’s not as though he doesn’t say this directly in his teachings (he does), but somehow the “softer” side of his approach must have hidden it from my deeper understanding.
But after being able to spend a week with him in the supportive environment of retreat, it hit home:
My idea of a separate self is an illusion.
I am nothing and I am everything.
All are one, which means that I am truly alone.
And somehow I find that comforting beyond words.
Hairy Yogurt Das
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