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Living Meditation, Living Insight 

Inner Retreat

L: I've just finished a retreat at a meditation center and I am having some difficulty adjusting to the outside world. It was so tranquil in the center that I find it very difficult to cope with the sights and sounds and all the confusion outside. How can one cope with the transition?

Thynn: Your experience is not unusual. Many people find themselves in the same kind of situation when they first leave a meditation center. In the retreat, conditions for peace and quiet are established, and meditation can be practiced without disturbance. While you are in the retreat, you become temporarily conditioned to these quiet circumstances. So when you come out, you find the bombardment of the sights and sounds difficult to handle.

L: How can one better cope with the transition?

Let's look at how your mind functions inside and outside the retreat. When you were in the retreat, you were practicing mindfulness intensively. Your mindfulness was in a very high gear. When you came out, you probably left the mindfulness behind, didn't you?

L: Ha! I actually did.

There you are! As soon as you left the retreat, you changed gear. You let you mindfulness go and you were back to your old unmindful state. When you are suddenly faced with the confusion in the outside world, you find it difficult to handle. The difficulty arises because you separate meditation from daily experience. Actually, the mindfulness you have learned in the retreat should equip you better to face the outside world.

L: How's that?

Well, first you must overcome the impression that mindfulness can only be practiced in the retreat and at a particular time and place. This conditioning renders it difficult for anyone to bridge the gap between the retreat and the outside world. In the retreat, you have learned to be mindful sitting cross- legged with your eyes closed. Now that you are out of the retreat you can practice the same kind of mindfulness, but you have got to be able to do it with your eyes open, while you deal with a myriad of problems and bombardments.

L: Isn't that difficult?

Nothing is too difficult if you know how. Probably the first thing you learned in the meditation retreat was how to be in the present moment. You can also practice that outside. You can be mindful of everything you do - cooking, washing up, bathing, driving, walking. You can be mindful of just about anything.

Not only that, but in the retreat you invariably learn to watch your mind like a witness, without likes and dislikes. In daily life you can watch your mind like a witness in the same way. You can watch your aversions to sights and sounds as they come to you. Let them come and let them go. Be equanimous to your feelings about the outside world, and your equanimity will overflow to the outside world itself as well.

As you are witness to your own reactions to the outside world, you will also become a witness to the sights and sounds, and not be so disturbed by them. When you become quite good at this, you will actually be living with an inner retreat whatever your circumstances, whether quiet or not. All the world may go round and round, but your inner world will be still and you will find you
won't need a separate time and place to meditate.

L: What about setting up a time to practice at home in the course of the day.

It is fine to do that if you can be equanimous about that set period of practice. You see, what happens with most people is that they become dependent on that meditative practice and find they cannot function the whole day properly if they do not have the chance to sit and meditate in the morning.

L: Why is that?

It is a form of conditioning like everything else. It is like being addicted to the morning cup of coffee or tea. You can become addicted to meditation also. Although this is definitely not a bad conditioning per se, there are many subtleties that one must be aware of in meditation. The mind is very tricky, and one must always be aware of how the mind can be trapped.

L: Then what does one do in such circumstances?

The most important thing is to develop equanimity toward your own practice. It may be the most difficult thing to do because, like everything else, one becomes attached to the meditative practices. We learn to be equanimous with other things, but forget to be so with our own practice.

L: If we can be equanimous with our practice, will it be possible to set aside a time for meditation and yet maintain an equilibrium through out the day?

That will be possible if you can be equanimous and at the same time mindful outside the practice session. Then you can be good at meditating, both in and out of the set period.

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