A precious practice

Villers le Lac, Saut du Doubs, France.

Same desk, same beautiful view outside, different day. This will be my last night in our annual retreat place in Villers le Lac. Somehow I feel sad, emotional. I feel grateful too.

Why the lump in my stomach? I don’t know, I can’t get an answer. There is something raw and tender, something precious that wants to be seen, acknowledged. Maybe it is the part of me that gets uncovered slowly slowly by many hours of sitting meditation.

Every sesshin we end with what is called a council circle, talking circle or speaking circle. The group forms 2 circles: an outer circle and an inner circle. In the inner circle circulates an object that is called the ‘talking piece’. Only the person who holds the talking piece is allowed to speak. When he or she speaks the rest listens. The practice is to speak and listen from the heart. Because most of the retreat is in relative silence and this practice is done at the end of the week after lots of meditation people speak beautifully. All the words are so honest, pure and well chosen. It is truly touching.

By witnessing pure communication – that is the best way I can describe it – I realized how contaminated our average day-to-day communication is. When we feel free, open and courageous enough to let the words flow from our hearts everybody has something interesting to say. Not that anybody made any effort to impress, be funny or profound. It is quite the opposite. When the masks are dropped everybody shows up as human, vulnerable, tender, authentic. Words seem to come effortless from varying places. Sometimes from a deep, raw and tormented place, sometimes from a blissful and graceful place, and everything in between.

To be surrounded – literally – by so many pure and authentic human beings is a blessing. It reminds me why I do this practice. Only 2 days ago I was ready to quit. I had my moment of calling this weird practice ridiculous and wanted out. Who in their right mind would spend weeks sitting on the floor without talking? Well.. I do. And so do my dharma brothers and sisters.

It is such a paradox that this age-old, simple but deeply profound practice is still quite rare. In every spiritual book you will find an emphasis on silence. We even have figures of speech where we say that silence is golden. But how often do we get a first hand experience that this is true? And how many of us?

What I observe is that silence brings out beauty, love and honesty. It also brings out grace, sadness and tenderness. It brings out doubt, clarity and mourning of forgotten pain. When we become still and sit and sit and observe and listen we reveal ourselves to ourselves. Then, if we open our mouths, what comes out is real.


  1. says

    Dear Atalwin,

    I feel happy that you had the opportunity to experience the moving and powerful traditional deliberative procedure of the circle. I applaud you for conveying the experience in a lucid and honest way 🙂 Indeed, the art of listening is lost to many, with lots of problems stemming from that loss. A very perceptive article that has to do with what we learn about listening from deaf people can be found at the following link. http://goo.gl/Rhvi22

    Keep up the goodness Atalwin!

    your Greek friend,


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *