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
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
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.