I recently returned from a weeklong retreat with some of my yogis at the Buddhist Retreat in Ixopo, KZN. It was a re-treat in many ways expected and unexpected, however, the question for everyone who has attend a retreat before always remains, how do I maintain that which I have experienced at the retreat when I am back in my normal life. A retreat is taking you out of the abnormal stress, tension and anxieties of your life and allows you to experience for a short while what we all long for: a calm and peaceful life! Instead of publishing an article about how to select your next retreat or what you should be looking for when you want to do a retreat, I thought I would publish an article on how to maintain that which you have experienced during the retreat for a while longer. Here are some pointers:
After the Retreat
You have just finished a retreat at a meditation center and have some difficulty adjusting to the outside world. It was so tranquil in the center that you find it very difficult to cope with the sights and sounds and all the confusion outside? For many who attend their first retreat this is usually a common experience and not unique at all. At the retreat everything was near perfect, there was peace, harmony, silence and you could most probably practice your meditation and other yogas without much disturbance. While at the retreat, it is amazing how quickly we can adapt to these natural silence and harmonious conditions. So, back in the world again, you now have to cope with the familiar stresses of our society, traffic, noise pollution, aggressive drivers and this is all very difficult to handle especially the first few days after your return.
Remember to be Mindful
However, you can cope with this transition and I would like to suggest a few guidelines. 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? 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. So, remember the daily meditations, reflect on them and see how your mindful-state has helped you to relax during the retreat. Now is the time to remember that, put it into practice and allow your mindfulness to equip you better to face the outside world.
Watch the Mind
During the retreat you have also learned most probably to watch the mind more closely than normal. You have become a witness, and could look at your likes and dislikes and see them for what they were. Back in the hustle and bustle, you forgot to watch the mind and suddenly you find yourself challenged with dramas which feel like they might send you into an anxiety state. 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.
Practice makes Perfect
Above all, try to mirror the activities of the retreat to some degree in your life once you have returned for as long as possible. Remember the programme at your retreat, if you can stick to the same time-table for a few days, meditate at the same time, instead of having discussions, read a book, do some asanas at the same time you did at the retreat and even try to cook for yourself the food you had at the retreat. This is all ways to keep the energy of the retreat with you for a few more days and alow you to ease into everyday life.