Middle Way Society Retreats

Middle Way Society retreats at Tirylan House all combine a mixture of interdependent practices to help you relax, focus, reflect and develop along the path of the Middle Way. These typically include meditation, the arts, critical thinking, and discussion of the intersection between practical life, philosophy and psychology. The Middle Way, as understood in Robert’s work and in the Middle Way Society, is a universal and provisional path of judgement constantly informed by experience, avoiding both positive and negative dogmas. Middle Way Society retreats are open to people working in any tradition (for instance Buddhism, Christianity, any science or academic discipline) to help them make helpful judgements that cultivate inspiration but avoid dogma in that tradition. There are no gurus or appeals to tradition as an unexamined source of authority, but we also seek to engage positively with the resources offered by various traditions.

The following retreats are scheduled for the remainder of 2022:

Introductory Critical Thinking Course: 11th-18th May 2022

This week-long retreat is intended for adults who would like to develop their critical thinking skills in a context that fully acknowledges the relation of critical thinking to our body, emotions and imagination. Critical thinking, understood broadly, is the skill of making reflective, thoughtful judgements – not jumping to hasty conclusions on the basis of bias or unexamined assumption. The course be led by Robert, who is an experienced teacher and examiner of Critical Thinking at A Level, and who sees critical thinking practice as an important component of any wider integrative or spiritual practice.

This course will introduce six key areas of critical thinking over the six full days of the retreat. We will not just discuss helpful critical approaches and techniques in theory, but also practise them in relation to examples and in our own discussions.

  • Assumptions: How do we recognize our own and others’ assumptions? How can we deide which assumptions are acceptable?
  • Reasoning: Start to see how our beliefs are linked together in chains of justification that support each other (or not!).
  • Contexts: Recognize some of the different kinds of thinking that take place in different kinds of contexts, and apply appropriate standards to them.
  • Interpretation: Consider how easy it is to misinterpret each other, and learn some techniques to avoid unhelpful misinterpretation.
  • Credibility: Adopt a consistent and reflective approach to deciding which kinds of sources to believe: for instance, experts, media sources, and claims made on the internet.
  • Bias and fallacy awareness: Understanding some of the most common types of bias and fallacy can help you to avoid falling into them.

This course runs from Wednesday to Wednesday, and you will need to join it for the whole of this period if you book onto it. It will include some meditation and some arts activities in addition to critical thinking sessions, but how these are approached can be adapted to the experience of the participants. Please note that this will be a course conducted under retreat conditions rather than just a course in the normal educational or training sense. Education at least to A Level or equivalent will be assumed.

The Buddha’s Middle Way: 3rd-5th June 2022

The life and teachings of Gautama the Buddha provide an inspiring account and example of the practice and expression of the Middle Way, which is the prime context in which people may have heard the term ‘Middle Way’. Nevertheless, the Middle Way is strangely neglected and ignored in Buddhism. In his 2018 book ‘The Buddha’s Middle Way‘, Robert M. Ellis put forward an argument that the Middle Way is the most universal and helpful insight of the Buddha, because it is a principle that can be applied to judgement in any context, rather than nirvana, which is usually understood as a final state. This retreat will explore the Middle Way in the life and teachings of the Buddha as a source of inspiration for practice. It will not be a Buddhist retreat (in the sense that it will not assume any commitment to the Buddhist tradition specifically), but it will make use of much early Buddhist material. Both those who regard themselves as Buddhists and those who do not will be equally welcome. We will make use of key similes from the Buddha’s teachings that relate to the Middle Way, and also discuss the way putting the Middle Way first might lead us to interpret other aspects of Buddhism.

This retreat was previously advertised as a long weekend, but please note that it is now weekend only (6pm Friday to 2pm Sunday).

Understanding Absolutization: 22nd-27th September 2022

Absolutization is the tendency to assume that we have the whole story. It is the term used by Robert M. Ellis in his new book of that name (‘Absolutization‘), due out around the time of this retreat, for the source of dogma, repression and conflict. It can be understood from different disciplinary perspectives as left-hemisphere over-dominance, bias, power or metaphysics.

This retreat will provide the opportunity to try to develop a clearer perspective on what our basic problem is (what Buddhists might think of as the area of the first and second noble truths). Why do we keep sabotaging ourselves and messing things up? Why do we keep assuming that we have the whole story, and forgetting the uncertainty that we are subject to? Robert will present some of his ideas, but you will also get chance to reflect on and discuss your own perspective in a context of practices that can help us avoid absolutization: particularly mindfulness, the arts, and critical thinking. The larger purpose of discussing absolutization is to develop a clear perspective on our starting point when we address our own tendency towards it in positive practice and try to reduce it.

This retreat is scheduled over a long weekend (Thu to Tue), but with the central events taking place at the weekend. Everyone is asked to be present from Fri to Sun for the core of the retreat, but people are free to come earlier and leave later than this according to their availability. To come for longer will allow a more grounded and fully digested experience.

The Threefold Practice: 20th25th October 2022

One of the founding ideas of Tirylan House (in both its Buddhist and Middle Way aspects) is that of interdependent and mutually supportive practices working simultaneously at different levels. In Buddhist tradition this takes the form of the Noble Eightfold Path, integrating morality meditation and wisdom in one path. Robert’s analysis of this is that of the Threefold Practice, which includes both individual and socio-political levels of practice at three different levels: desire, meaning and belief. On this retreat we will particularly focus on practising meditation, the arts and critical thinking, whilst also discussing the wider question of which practices are helpful and why they are helpful in the context of a whole path. There will be the opportunity to share your own expertise and enthusiasm about whatever practices you favour.

This retreat is scheduled over a long weekend (Thu to Tue), but with the central events taking place at the weekend. Everyone is asked to be present from Fri to Sun for the core of the retreat, but people are free to come earlier and leave later than this according to their availability. To come for longer will allow a more grounded and fully digested experience.

Jung’s Red Book: A Shared Reading Retreat: 16th-23rd November 2022

Carl Jung’s Red Book is an extraordinary record of Jung’s visionary experiences and reflections on them, accompanied by stunning artwork, and dating back to the period of the First World War and after. However, it was not published until 2009. The Red Book is extraordinarily rich as a source of inspiration about archetypal symbols and how to work with them and respond to them, but newcomers often find it difficult to read and interpret. A major activity on this retreat will be shared readings of key passages from the Red Book, after which we will also discuss whatever these passages inspire for us. The inspiration is likely to include, but is not limited to, connections with the Middle Way, which is a concept explicitly used by Jung in the text (Robert’s book ‘Red Book, Middle Way‘ published in 2020, explores this). There will also be meditation, active imagination activities of the kind used by Jung, exploration of artistic responses and discussion of issues of interpretation.

This is a whole week retreat running from Wed to Wed, and you will need to stay for the whole of this period if you join the retreat.

To book on any of these retreats, please read ‘Being on Retreat at Tirylan House’, then go to ‘Costs and Booking’.