On a recent rainy Tuesday night, about 800 New Yorkers packed into a sold-out concert hall on the Upper West Side—co-workers rushing from the office, groups of girlfriends chattily catching up as they found each other and crowded into seats in anticipation of the start time.
Except, they weren’t there to see a concert, a play, or even a lecture. They were there to sit next to each other, in silence.
This is The Big Quiet, an event series that kicked off in June in Central Park and has since been growing, bringing simple, modern meditative practices to huge groups of people in non-traditional spaces.
“I think its one of the most profound things you can experience,” says founder Jesse Israel. “There’s an energy, it feels special…there’s something really cool about bringing people to socialize and connect around quiet, around meditation.”
After 1,500 people signed up for the first meditation in Central Park, The Big Quiet hosted an event with 525 people at the farm at the former Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn. In September, 1,200 people showed up for a meditation and sound bath event on a boat on the Hudson River, and 500 people had to be turned away (the boat only held 700).
Overall, the numbers are pretty staggering when you consider the social scene options in New York City, and they’ve shocked Israel, who managed MGMT as sophomore at NYU and went on to run his own record label for nine years. “I was in disbelief, ” he says, of the boat crowd. “I had worked in the music industry for so long…I had never seen a line like that for a concert before doors [opened].”
After Israel left his company, he found himself in the midst of some serious soul-searching. First, he created a biking club called the Cyclones, which brought together New Yorkers for mass bike rides. When the weather turned colder, he was looking for ways to engage the same crowd of active Millennials, and thought there was a demand for a community around meditation.
So he created Medi Club, a core group of mostly experienced meditators, which has now grown to 800 members, about 100 of whom show up to monthly meetings and special events. “We’re coming together because we like to share meditation as modern people,” he explains, “and we have the space to talk about the stuff that we’re dealing with that we can’t really talk about otherwise.”
Out of Medi Club came the desire to build something bigger, to bring the practice to people who weren’t already sitting on Zabutons every morning. That’s when The Big Quiet was born, with the continued help of many Medi Club members.
As it continues to pick up steam with each event, Israel is of course looking to expand and make it even bigger, while maintaining a clear focus on what he calls “the blend,” which he describes as “the line where modern culture meets conscious living. If you present something too far on either side, it doesn’t work.” You’ll never find cocktails paired with meditation, for example (too modern) or overtly spiritual language (too conscious living).
“What’s becoming really clear to me is people want more of this and they want to see it in other cities,” he says. “What I envision is The Big Quiet happening in all sorts of unique awesome spaces…and it’s happening in cities and countries all over the world.” —Lisa Elaine Held
(Photos: Felix Kunze, Jenna Duffy)