Qualitative Sociology

, Volume 38, Issue 1, pp 39–56 | Cite as

Evoking Equanimity: Silent Interaction Rituals in Vipassana Meditation Retreats

  • Michal Pagis


Studies on the benefits of meditation show that the practice reduces stress and helps achieve a feeling of equanimity and peacefulness. These studies have tended to view meditation as an individual endeavor; however, many people learn to practice meditation in a group. Drawing on literature that connects the self, emotional experience and social interaction, I suggest that meditation-based equanimity is not only a psychological state but also a social attitude that is cultivated and learned in a unique silent interaction order. Based on participant observation and in-depth interviews with participants in vipassana meditation retreats in Israel and the United States, I analyze instances of silent social interaction that take place in meditation centers. The analysis reveals a sociological understanding of equanimity as a sociality of “non-engagement” which serves as a grey zone between full engagement and complete disengagement. As I show, participants in meditation retreats go through a gradual process of learning how to be with others while not directly attending to them. This form of being together allows for the emergence of silent social attunement that facilitates equanimity. Participants purposely cultivate and perform equanimity with and for others, but eventually it takes over the self, leading to an experience of self-transformation.


Silence Meditation Self Interaction-rituals Equanimity 



I wish to thank the many people who opened their hearts and shared their experiences with me. This work could not have been done without their insights and wisdom. The analysis and conclusions are my own. I would like to thank Jonathan Mermis-Cava whose work on silent interaction in Christian meditation retreats inspired this paper. I am grateful to Erika Summers-Effler, Iddo Tavory and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of this article. A previous version of this paper was presented at the 2011 American Sociological Association Annual Meeting in Las Vegas.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociology and AnthropologyBar Ilan UniversityRamat GanIsrael

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