Retreating from Judge Kavanaugh

Someone brought up the Judge Kavanaugh hearings during the talk and discussion period after zazen at our Zen thing at Angel City Zen Center this past Saturday. I wasn’t the speaker that day. I don’t remember who brought up Kavanaugh. But I was there, so I used my veto power and said, “Uhhh… I think we’d better talk about something else. OK?”

In case you are not obsessed with American politics, or if you’re reading this in the future and have no idea who I’m talking about, Brett Kavanaugh is currently being considered as a candidate for the US Supreme Court. The confirmation hearings have become extremely contentious. If you need to know more, I’m sure you can just look up Brett Kavanaugh. Even in the far future there ought to be at least a footnote or two about him.

It’s not that I want to halt any conversations about Judge Kavanaugh. There’s a time and place for everything. And, right now, the place for discussing Kavanaugh appears to me to be the entire North American continent and the time seems to be 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

I feel like one of the important things a Zen center can provide is a space where we don’t talk about such subjects. It’s not that I think the hearings are unimportant. It’s just that I feel like it’s also vital to provide a place of relative silence.

Silence is vital to human survival.

We need silence as much as we need water or air. And yet we also have a tendency to crave stimulation and excitement. The Kavanaugh hearings have provided a whole lot of stimulation and excitement for Americans, as well as those interested in America, for the past few weeks.

But it feels to me like we’re turning into a nation of junkies and addicts. An addict can’t just get a little bit high and be content with it. An addict needs to get really, really, really high and wants to stay really, really, really high for as long as possible. This does tremendous damage to the body and mind.

Overdosing on news has become so commonplace in America these days that some folks are starting to think it’s somehow irresponsible not to overdose on the news. But that’s not true. You need a break from that stuff.

Silence doesn’t need to be absolute silence. It doesn’t have to be perfectly quiet. But we all need to have a break, to disconnect from the steady stream of information and opinions the news media provides us.

We live in a weird world. I am old enough to remember a time when you couldn’t get the news 24 hours a day. There was a time when, if you wanted an update on the big story of the day you just had to wait for the news to come on at six or eleven.

Before that, you had to wait for the paper the next day. And before that there weren’t even newspapers. Silence was more easily available then. Now you’ve got the latest scuttlebutt literally in your pocket any time you feel like checking in. I’m not sure that’s really an improvement.

In a couple of weeks, October 26-28, 2018 to be precise, I’ll be hosting a Zen and yoga retreat at Mt. Baldy Zen Center. It’s something we do twice a year. Mt. Baldy is just over an hour’s drive outside of Los Angeles, and yet it feels like a world away. There’s no Internet access up there. Your cell phones won’t work. During the retreat we have a rule of silence, which means no talking except for functional talk. That means if you really have to say something, you can. Just no conversations, no shooting the breeze, no chit-chat, and absolutely no political discussions of any kind.

It’s a great experience. I would highly recommend anyone and everyone to find a place of silence for a few days.

The particular days we’ve chosen for this retreat will come just nine days before the midterm elections. Given what’s been happening on the news in the past few weeks, I can guarantee that, by late October, the rhetoric and vitriol will be turned up to screaming pitch and there will be even fewer places of refuge from it than there are now. I think all of us will need some silence by then.

We’ll come down from the mountain in plenty of time to cast our votes. So we won’t miss anything important. And, honestly, I think most of us have already decided how we’re going to vote by now. It’s not like following the polls minute by minute is going to change anything.

So this is my invitation to all of you out there to come and share a weekend of silence with me. All levels of experience are welcome. You don’t have to have done a bit of zazen before. You don’t have to be a Buddhist. Your race, gender, sexual orientation, or political affiliation won’t make any difference to anyone there. We’ll mostly just be staring at the walls and enjoying the quiet.

We’re pretty easy-peasy as far as Zen retreats go. I think we’ve struck a good balance between too much and too little. We’re not very demanding or judgmental. We expect the ceremonies to always go a little bit wrong, so if you screw up on when to bow or what to chant it won’t matter to anybody. Ours are retreats for amateurs, not professional Zen nerds. The Zen pros who sometimes show up at an ACZC retreat always seem a little disappointed that we’re not very rigorous, but even they end up liking our approach most of the time.

The only rule I am really strict about is silence. No one is allowed to talk about Kavanaugh or Trump or Clinton or Sanders or any of those other useless people. I guarantee you will not miss anything of any real importance.

In fact, you’ll probably discover something else that you will come to understand is far more vital.


Friday Oct. 12, 2018 CLEVELAND, OHIO 7:00pm UU Church 2728 Lancashire Rd., Cleveland Heights, OH 44106

Saturday Oct. 13, 2018 KENT, OHIO ZERO DEFEX at STONE TAVERN



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