September 28, 2010

Larry Rosenberg and CIMC

Yesterday I was in Cambridge, Massachusetts to help videographer Denise Petrizzo with some of the filming of Larry Rosenberg's upcoming Tricycle Retreat. (I'm not much help with these kinds of things. I try to just stay out of the way.) Here's a picture I took of Larry in the meditation hall at the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center, looking refreshed after filming (sorry for the terrible cellphone-photo quality):

I'd never met Larry but had been a fan since he published Breath by Breath: The Liberating Practice of Insight Meditation, a commentary on the Anapanasati Sutta that has become a contemporary classic. I told him how much I loved the book and he laughed: "I don't know whether to vomit or fall asleep!" His second book, Living in the Light of Death: On the Art of Being Truly Alive, was similarly rewarding, but I decided to keep my favorable opinion of that one to myself. I mentioned his Tricycle interview with Amy Gross ("The Art of Doing Nothing.") He said, "Yeah. That was a million years ago!" A health-food fanatic, Larry is also a longtime yoga practitioner. We're now discussing the possibility of a mindfulness and yoga feature for both the magazine and website.

It was a gray drizzly day but the small garden around CIMC, sparsely decorated in a Zen style—a tiny reflection of the Imperial Gardens in Tokyo—was shielded from wind and rain by its trees and fence. The traffic on adjacent Broadway was heard but not seen. Larry is very happy with the center's urban setting and the whoosh of traffic twenty feet from the center's front door: "We can't always be practicing out in some bucolic place with birds chirping!"

And that's part of CIMC's reason for existing in the first place. One of the country's first urban practice centers, CIMC recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. Shortly before the center opened, Larry had an audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama in which he explained that he was starting CIMC and asked for advice on how to keep CIMC's teachings coherent considering the diversity of his potential audience. (Cambridge is home to both MIT and Harvard, so many of CIMC's students might be arriving with their cups already full, so to speak.) The Dalai Lama said that all Buddhist traditions share the Four Noble Truths, so that should be a cornerstone of CIMC's curriculum. True to the DL's advice, CIMC offers two courses on the Four Noble Truths every year.

Born in Brooklyn, Larry may give off a no-nonsense air in his writings, but he is extraordinarily gentle and generous—and funny—in person. His talks, which he compares to jazz riffs built around a theme, rely greatly on humor, which I think we could all use a lot more of. During the filming, he discussed the periods of silence that sometimes come into one's meditations, especially on retreat. After these pass and the noise returns to the mind, Larry explains, "You become a kinder person. You may not mean to, you may not even notice, but you do." He must have had a lot of quiet times in his mind.

Stop by Tricycle.com on October 4th to watch the first of Larry's videos from his Tricycle Retreat, "The Challenge of Change: Living Skillfully in an Uncertain World."

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Bob Kelly's picture

Hello Larry. I have one question. When we talk about retreat, can that not be the world that we live in? I see retreat as a time of calming and reflaction and sharing that with all around us.