The Vipassana Retreat
14. Continuing the Practice at Home
The time and effort a meditator puts in and the skills learnt in a Vipassana retreat will not be lost if one continues to practise regularly at home. Of course, the meditation cannot be done as intensively, and will have to be done discreetly, allowing for the situation one is in. The real challenge after a retreat is integrating the mindfulness practices established at the retreat into the daily routine.
It has to be acknowledged that incorporating meditation into a busy life is not easy. Therefore, meditators needs to set themselves up to do it, good intention is not enough, it has to be purposely set up and there has to be commitment. One has to consider one’s priorities, such as what will be of more benefit, hours sitting in front of the TV screen or time spent meditating? The regular daily home sit, morning or evening, is the anchor for the practice, even if it is only amounts to mental hygiene that allows a discharge of the day's busyness. It is really a 'must do', as it will bring peace of mind and harmonise family and work relationships.
Most people will continue on with the sitting meditation after the retreat at home. A daily sit of an hour a day will just keep the practice going, a block of two hours a day will maintain the practice at the level one reached in the retreat. Three hours or more a day at home will allow the practice to develop, which might seem a lot considering many other commitments the meditator has. However, if one’s priorities are examined closely, you may be surprised by what is possible.
When meditating at home, it is a good strategy to combine Loving-kindness meditation with an awareness exercise, as these practices compliment each other and will keep the mind wholesome, uplifted and alert. It is important to maintain the daily meditation sit at home as a way of sustaining and stabilising your practice. It has to done regularly though, otherwise if it is done only occasionally or only when one feels like it, then one is likely to find some excuse to put if off for another day until it is forgotten. Studies have shown that for any activity to be habituated, one must persist with it for three to six months before it becomes part of one’s routine - by then the practice has become ingrained.
With a busy life, it is easy to convince oneself that there really isn’t the time anymore to maintain the regular sitting, or when feeling tired one will want to drop it. Naturally if one is stressed or overtired, there can be resistance in the mind to facing the stress by meditating, but usually it is only the initial resistance that has to be overcome before one gets back into the meditation routine.
What meditators are inclined to overlook when practising at home is the walking meditation. As many working people are stretched and stressed, it can be difficult to immediately get down to a static sitting practice whereas a walking meditation session of a half hour or so, before a sitting session, will help a busy mind and body to settle and relax.
When we are out and about in life, we can apply ourselves to what can be called 'situational mindfulness', which is another way of saying, use the circumstances and situations one happens to find oneself in as the practice environment, whether this is the home, the workplace or any public place. It is somewhat analogous to the sport of orienteering, where the objective is to navigate one's way through some terrain as efficiently as possible. With 'situational mindfulness,' the objective is to navigate a way through the business of the day with presence of mind.
A particular advantage of Vipassana meditation when applied to daily life is that it does not require any special place, equipment or posture. In fact it is done discreetly without anybody ever knowing that you are watching the mind states, feelings and checking the thinking, etc. because you appear to be doing nothing out of the ordinary. All that differs from normal behaviour, but is not apparent to others, is that the meditator has more 'presence of mind' in whatever they are doing.
In the relentless busyness of most people's lives, there is a need for the practitioner to have a reference point to anchor their attention to. This will act as an aid to help maintain presence of mind. Such a reference point can the predominant ‘touch point’ with any body contact, such as the sitting touch points. But it has to be habituated or ingrained so one does not have to think about doing it. Bringing the attention back to the body will keep one grounded during the busyness of the day’s activities and thus less likely to get lost in ‘unmindful’ wanderings.
We lose a lot of energy and create unnecessary stress through the random wanderings of the mind while not focused sufficiently on the job at hand. So checking the wandering mind has to be targeted, as it is leaking energy. Intellectual work is more efficient and done with less stress when we are fully focused. Daydreaming needs to be checked by noting the wandering mind as 'thinking', 'thinking'. If one is persistent, a lot of mind wanderings will be inhibited and there will be more peace and clarity. The way to relate to all superfluous thinking is as a witness watching the passing traffic of the mind without being involved in it, until eventually interest is lost and the mind becomes naturally still when not engaged in any particular task.
One can also be monitoring one’s mind states throughout the day. Just naming them as they arise: happy, sad, elated, depressed, whatever. We are simply noticing, not evaluating them or trying to change them. When the mind states are not noticed, we tend either to indulge in them, if they are pleasant, or resist them when they are unpleasant. By noticing mind states as they change, we go with the flow, not getting stuck, being with the natural changes and rhythms of the day's activities.
If the presence of mind can be sustained for two or three hours in the daily routine, the mindfulness will noticeably improve. If one is so inclined, a check of one’s state of mindfulness every hour on the hour can be performed. This will help bring one back to the present moment awareness and reduce the times when the mindfulness is lost.
A useful way to manage the awareness practice is to review the day's mindfulness work at the end of the day, or by keeping a meditation diary. In this way, the patterns of one’s practice will become apparent, allowing adjustments to be made.
Avoid making negative judgments or evaluating the practice, as the reviewing will probably expose some weaknesses. However, reviewing can also be helpful as it can suggest new strategies to improve the practice. So reviewing the day's practice is a very worthwhile thing to do, as one needs to be continually reinforcing the practice of mindfulness in daily life.