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Will Duncan is a meditation and yoga teacher who has studied the Gelugpa lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. He gave two presentations at Witching Hour 2016, one workshop called “The Art of Doing Nothing: A deep exploration of what meditation is and what it is not” and on lecture called “Lessons Learned from Three Years of Silence”. This review is on his lecture about when he stayed in silent
meditation for three years, three months, and three days in Arizona at a retreated modeled after traditional Tibetan Buddhist retreats.
There was a full audience at his lecture, which he began by saying he had “no idea” what exactly he would speak about during his hour and a half long lecture. It became clear immediately that his teaching style is easygoing and informal.
He described his three-year long retreat briefly, saying that he only uttered three words for the entire three years — two of them were “fuck”, which he explained was in response to plumbing issues. He said that the only other word he used was “fire extinguisher,” which actually is two words, but that’s okay.
After sharing some funny anecdotes about spending three years in solitude and silence, he moved on to what he called the “deep” part of his lecture: the spiritual awakenings he had while meditating in retreat. He wrote the words bodhicitta and emptiness on a whiteboard and began asking the audience what they believed those words meant.
After many not quite correct answers from the audience, Will explained that this Sanskrit word essentially means “a spontaneous compassion for all humans.” However, because of the fundamental failures of English as a language, this phrase probably does not grasp the entire concept of the word.
Will began explaining how he had a realization of what he thinks bodhicitta means. What I found most interesting about this is that he continually used the language of capitalism to describe what it means to have compassion for others. He said that when you “pay” people kindness you later “receive dividends” of that action when you feel good about yourself for being kind. He then likened this good feeling you get from being kind to free espresso, saying that “all of the people in the street who need your help are just like free shots of espresso!” At one people he called meditation an investment towards having spiritual awakenings. A bit strange, but I was still on board.
Later, Will was explaining an idea from Buddhism and said “we in the East say…” and this was quite
striking to me, considering that he is a white man from America. I’m not sure that his studies at the Asian Classics Institute in Arizona or his three year meditation retreat in Arizona necessarily… make him from “the East.” But I haven’t meditated for three years in silence, so maybe that’s just something that I can’t understand yet.
Overall, the audience seemed to be very engaged by Will. Also, this event and a few others hosted at the ICPL were free to the public, which is great. Witching Hour had a great line-up this year, and it was awesome that people who couldn’t get tickets were able to participate as well.