Silence, Simplicity, and Solitude

Spiritual retreats for laymen are commonplace among members of the Catholic church but not too well known to most other Westerners. David A. Cooper’s intention is to promote the practice of withdrawal and meditation as an antidote to the stress and alienation of modern life.

Cooper begins with a historical overview of the world’s great religions, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism, to show how the tradition of spiritual retreat is integral to all of them. He then devotes a section to specific logistical instructions for setting up a retreat, emphasizing the three ingredients common to the practice in all religions: silence, simplicity, and solitude. He offers some practical suggestions about finding teachers and joining retreat groups in various parts of the United States.

The last section is devoted to instruction in meditation, following the eclectic pattern which characterizes his whole approach. Cooper continually holds out the tantalizing lure of being able to obtain “cosmic consciousness” or direct awareness of God through withdrawal and concentration, and he embellishes his book with many quotations from enlightened mystics and theologians who have had such intense religious experiences.

Cooper has been a student of mysticism for thirty years and writes on the subject of spiritual retreats with authority. He has engaged in retreats in a number of traditions, including Sufi, Vipassana, Kabbalah, and Zen. He has guided retreats in Israel and in the United States. In recent years he has focused on the study of Talmud, Hasidism, and Jewish mysticism in Jerusalem. The extensive bibliography in SILENCE, SIMPLICITY, AND SOLITUDE suggests the breadth of his studies.

Cooper is an earnest and convincing writer. His book is directed primarily to the reader who has had little or no prior experience with formal retreats and meditation. Although he is often dealing with ancient and esoteric matters, Cooper always manages to express his ideas in ordinary, nonmystical language. His book contains valuable suggestions for conducting a retreat either as an individual or in a group. Cooper not only makes deep religious insight seem relatively easy to obtain but also indispensable to every human being.