Thursday, October 9, 2014

Silent Meditation Retreat

Francis Bennett will be returning to the area in December to co-lead a silent meditation retreat at Sky Lake with Margot Ridler and myself. Last year we had 37 participants, and hope that more people will join us this year for this wonderful opportunity. See below for a full description. If you would like to participate, please email Angela Callahan:

Silent Meditation Retreat
Francis Bennett, Michael Hall and Margot Ridler
Sky Lake, Windsor, NY
Friday, Saturday and Sunday
December 12, 13, and 14, 2014

 “Our goal is nothing less than to realize our full potential as human beings by disappearing to who and what we have always thought we are.”

 This retreat is held in silence, except for group or individual meetings/teachings/discussion with Michael, Margot and Francis.

The purpose of maintaining external silence is to encourage the development of internal silence. When we are quiet and able to focus on the workings of our own mind, we inevitably become aware of the noise and chaos of our personal mental narration. Time dedicated to silence, especially in the setting of a spiritual retreat, creates a profound opportunity to observe and experience the triviality and meaninglessness of this constant mental activity. By careful self observation and self-inquiry we can grow sufficiently detached from identifying with the passing content of our own mind that we effortlessly lose interest in it. Only when the thinking mind is silent can spiritual transformation occur. With this perceptual shift, an entirely new and unfamiliar world opens to us.

This retreat is an opportunity to discover the wonder of Presence Awareness. Beginning with meditation after dinner on Friday, we will be silent until lunch on Sunday, except during talks/discussion/constellation work. We wear “In Silence” tags to remind the person looking at us of their own commitment to this silence, supporting the depth of silence for each individual and the group as a whole.

About Sky Lake
Set on top of Tuscarora Mountain, Sky Lake is a place of relaxation and inner reflection located outside Windsor, New York. Sky Lake is a retreat center which provides a space where seekers of all persuasions can find peace and solace away from their everyday worldly pursuits. The center is located on 900 acres of woods, with walking paths around a large lake. It is is one of six camp and retreat centers owned and operated by the Upper New York Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.

About Francis Bennett

Francis Bennett was a Roman Catholic, Trappist monk for a number of years. He lived in two monasteries of the Trappist Order in the US and was also a member of an urban, contemplative monastic community originally founded in Paris, France in 1975. In 2010, while in the middle of a Church Service in his monastery in Montreal, Francis suddenly experienced what he has come to call, “a radical perceptual shift in consciousness”, in which he discovered the ever present presence of spacious, pure awareness. He came to see that this awareness is actually the unchanging essence of who he really is and always has been; the Supreme Self, talked about by many sages and saints from many spiritual traditions down through the ages. He also came to see simultaneously, that this vast, infinite sense of presence at the center of his being (and at the center of the being of everyone else on the planet) is actually not at all separate from the presence of God, which he had been looking for during his many years as a monk and spiritual seeker. Francis is now living a “new incarnation” as a spiritual teacher in the contemporary, Non-Dual spiritual Tradition. Francis offers a blend of the Buddhist Traditions he deeply studied, the contemplative Christian mystical tradition which he lived during his many years in monastic life, as well as the Hindu Advaita-Vedanta teaching of Sri Ramana Maharshi, who has been a very profound influence on Francis for about the last 12 years or so. Nonduality Press published his first book I Am That I AM.

About Michael Hall
Michael is a clinical psychologist and full-time psychotherapist for over 35 years. In the past 12 years he has worked to apply the perspective and realizations that arise from the clear seeing of what is real to the ordinary problems of daily living. This perspective is shared on his

About Margot Ridler
Margot Ridler worked for many years as a successful therapist using Systemic Family Constellation Work, which is traditionally used as a method to quickly and effectively resolve a person’s most difficult personal, family and life challenges. In December 2005 with no previous history of spiritual seeking, her sense of personal self and identity began to fall away. Margot stopped offering Constellation Work and spent the next seven years assimilating this experience. In 2012, she began offering Constellation Work again with the primary focus of assisting people to deconstruct their habitual, automatic personality structures and their conditioned sense of self. Margot found that Constellation Work gave people the direct experience of the same clear seeing and insights that awakening provides. It is this experiential knowing she is so excited about sharing, as well as the opportunity to swiftly and permanently release the unconsciously running patterns, beliefs, and ideas that hold people back from living fully awake and free lives.Please refer to Margot’s blog (see below) for a description of her awakening process and how her use of Constellation Work has changed from a primarily psychotherapeutic intervention to an effective method for facilitating the radical deconstruction of the ego. This radical deconstruction appears to be a necessary precondition for awakened awareness to emerge spontaneously in every day life.

What to bringAccommodations are comfortable but not luxurious. Most rooms are shared, with usually between 3 and 6 people sharing a room. A limited number of private rooms can be arranged for couples. All towels and sheets are provided. Each person is asked to bring (1) slippers or heavy socks as we ask that shoes be removed at the door, (2) comfortable walking shoes and suitable warm clothing for winter walks, (3) personal toiletries, (4) alarm clock, & (5) robe for trips to the bathroom.
If you would like to use a meditation cushion or bench, please bring your own. Seating arrangements are quite informal and you may want to move from chair to floor – bring whatever you need to be comfortable.
It is strongly suggested that you plan not to use your cell phone this weekend. If you need to leave an emergency number with your family or work, Sky Lake’s telephone is: (607) 467-2750.

Home-style meals are prepared daily and served in Founders' Lodge. Pilgrim Dining Hall in Founders' Lodge is able to comfortably accommodate up to 200 guests. Meals are generally served buffet style. If you have special dietary needs, we will try to meet them. Please inform us of your dietary needs when you register for the retreat.

The fee for the retreat is $350 if confirmation of attendance and payment is received before November 20. After that time the fee will be $395. The fee includes 6 meals and overnight accommodations for two nights, as well as all other retreat activities, including individual meetings. This fee has been kept as low as possible, covering the cost of the meals, accommodations, retreat rental fees, flight and transportation for Francis and a teaching fee for each teacher.

For more information or to register, contact Angela Callahan: To register please include your name, address, a phone number where we could reach you if necessary, your email and a brief statement about your goals for this retreat. Any other information you would like to convey to the teachers about your spiritual path is also appreciated. You will receive payment instructions from Angela when you register. The retreat is open to all with a serious interest in spiritual growth and awakening.

Travel Directions

Please see: Once you have arrived at Light on the Hill, you will be checked in, assigned a room, and have an opportunity to explore the beautiful grounds and retreat center.

Retreat Manager
Angela Callahan will be in charge of daily operations. Questions of any sort should be directed to her first. Michael will meet with Angela as needed during the retreat.
Retreat Focus
A silent retreat is a rare and wonderful opportunity to dive deeply into awareness of what is true, enduring, unchanging. This “substrata” of existence is always with you, never abandons you, and yet rarely is noticed. Anything at all that we say about “it” is superfluous and indirect. It is best communicated by pure physical presence. The best art, music, and poetry reveal it to us. External and internal silence helps us to recognize this subtle yet continuous undercurrent of the real awareness of what is. Natural settings facilitate our ability to notice the world instead of our mental constructions of the world. A shared group intent formed as individuals practice attunement to reality together raises everyone’s ability to pay attention. This group-generated energy is very real, almost palpable. In the previous retreats the emergence of this group energy arises predictably within 24 hours or so. Silence, concentration, lack of distractions, and seriousness of purpose facilitate this flow of chi-like energy.

Metaphor, allusion, and simile are the spiritual teachers’ forte. In the Gospel of Matthew 13:3, it is noted: “Then he told them many things in parables, saying ‘A farmer went out to sow his seed….’”. The best spiritual teaching always occurs in a format that is relevant and understandable to the audience at hand. Shakyamuni Buddha, Jesus Christ, Moses, Abraham, Ramana Maharshi and countless others have taught those with eyes to see and ears to hear in a similar manner. Narrative and story-telling often by-pass the ordinary defense structures and are utilized freely. The deepest truths are communicated through a kind of energetic resonance that is difficult to describe yet also strangely familiar. This different way of learning requires a letting-go of our ordinary death-grip on the illusion of personal control. Slipping into this open awareness is effortless for some, torturous for others. Some relaxation of our hyper-focused attention to data, logic, and reason is necessary for all who wish to recognize who and what they actually are, always have been, and can’t not be.

Individual meetings

There will be an opportunity to meet privately with all three teachers. Time permitting, Francis will be available to meet with anyone who is interested, and Margot and Michael will be available on an as needed basis. Signup sheets for all three teachers will be available at the retreat. The intention for individual meetings is to briefly discuss spiritual practice, obstacles along the way, and the ego-self deconstruction process. Meetings should generally last about 10 minutes or less in order to give everyone an opportunity for personal instruction and feedback.


Friday December 12
4-6       Arrival and check-in
6:30     Dinner-Silence begins after dinner
7:30     Silent Meditation
8:00     Break
8:15     Talk/discussion with Francis9:30     Free time/bed

Saturday December 13
 7:30     Optional meditation
 8:00     Breakfast
 8:30     Free time
8:30 - 10 Individual meetings 
10:00     Talk/ Discussion with Michael
11:45     Break
11:45-12:30  Individual meetings 
Noon       Silent Meditation
12:30       Lunch
1:00         Free time
1-2           Individual meetings 
2-6           Constellation Work with Margot Ridler
4-6 Individual meetings 
6:00      Free time
6:30      Dinner
7:30      Meditation
8:00      Talk/discussion with Francis, Michael and Margot
9:00      Bonfire

Sunday December 14
 7:30      Optional meditation
 8:00      Breakfast
 8:30      Free time
8:30 – 10 Individual meetings 
10:30      Talk/discussion with Francis, Margot and Michael 
Noon       Free time
12:30       Lunch/talking resumes
Schedule is approximate and is subject to change depending on the needs of the group and the teachers. Retreat ends after lunch on Sunday.

 Michael Hall

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