The Art of Silent Dialogue

Jonathan Philbin Bowman

The Irish Independent, Sunday, June 15, 1997

One evening last week I wandered into Newman House, not really knowing what to expect, if anything. Catherine Ingram was delivering something she calls Dharma Dialogues. Two hours of talk really, discussion between herself and the audience – whoever turns up. I was there because my sister sent me a note saying: “This woman is really special. You should see her.”

Catherine sips some sort of tea from a flask and the light of the long evening on Iveagh Gardens provides a beautiful backdrop through the bay windows, and Catherine talks and is quiet. Though not in that order.

From about 7:00 she just sits and is still and quiet, with her eyes closed, as people arrive. And then at about 7:30 she talks a little before inviting questions. Already there is almost more calm in the room than this city can normally hold.

It’s kind of hard to explain, and an interview the next day isn’t too much help either. “I don’t really do interviews. Because then I am talking about the thing, rather than doing it.” Whatever it is she does, she is very good at it. I guess it’s a kind of interactive sermon for the uncertain.

A bite-sized Buddhist retreat. A spiritual snack, but a wholesome one. Ingram travels the world quite a bit doing this. Before that she was a journalist- working mostly for what might be called New Age magazines in the States. Yoga Journal, East-West Journal and so on.

She did that primarily as a way of gaining access to whichever thinkers, philosophers and spiritual leaders she wanted to meet. Just so she could talk to them really. Which is something of the spirit in which I went to meet her. Ram Dass – the former Harvard psychiatrist, and contemporary of Timothy Leary – is a friend. She tells me he had a stroke recently which has prevented him teaching.

Catherine Ingram is quite quietly amazing. She doesn’t have a title, or a discipline, or a rank, or qualification in anything in particular or, if she does, she doesn’t talk about it. She just turns up and does her thing. And a quiet, calming refreshing thing it is too. A little bit of compassion. A little bit of good sense. She is neither dramatic, dogmatic, nor doctrinaire. And Oh God, but she got into a little bit of trouble the other night because someone asked if she believed in reincarnation – and she doesn’t.

“I’m always telling people Buddha wasn’t a Buddhist,” she says. She is not for the absolutist life of ultimate renunciations. She’s no nun. She is mostly vegetarian, but not for any reason in particular. She is celibate, for instance, but only at the moment, and only by accident.

“I wouldn’t advise anybody to give up anything – except to give up the imaging, and the thoughts that go on in their heads that something is the matter.” So you don’t give up anything except giving yourself a hard time.

“Will suffering end?” someone asked her the evening I was there. “No,” she said, “but your relationship to suffering can get gradually lighter.”

I can’t possibly do this woman any kind of justice in print. But if you’re in Dublin this week and your life is neither perfect nor completely peaceful yet, she’s worth not missing.