After the Ecstasy
Back at my desk after running a weekend silent retreat, I am reminded of the title of a book by Jack Kornfield, one of my favourite meditation teachers: After the Ecstasy, the Laundry. The weekend was a blend of yoga, meditation, space, countryside, great people and lovely food. Nourishment for body and soul. But when the alarm goes off on Monday morning, what’s different?
It is easy to return to old habits after a period away. One of the gifts of a retreat is to start breaking those patterns which no longer serve us, and create new ones which do. We need time and space to do that. A weekend is not a long break, but it is a start.
I am conscious as I walk back into the office that this is a new experience. Meditation teaches us a new way of looking at the world, with fresh eyes. We can bring that sense of newness to our work. Turn off the automatic pilot and get curious about what we do. Ask “what I am doing?” not out of existential despair, but from a place of curiosity.
I constantly have to remember to be aware of my body as I am working. It is all too easy for me to go up into my head and stay there for hours, oblivious to the time or my surroundings. Instead I notice how I’m sitting, the contact points between my body and the chair, floor and keyboard. The temperature of the air against my skin. I check in from time to time, to see what is going on inside. Moving and stretching my body periodically reminds that my body is still there, and stops me from stiffening up.
An e-mail comes in and I am reminded of something I should have done. Anxiety floods my system. A familiar contraction and sense of panic. I remember that breathing helps me deal with that. I straighten my back and start the slow, regular breathing of meditation. Gradually my system calms and I can return calmly to the e-mail and discover it isn’t as bad as I feared. It usually isn’t.
Stress lies in how we approach life. I remind myself that I make choices. I am not a victim of circumstance. I am very fortunate. I remember that gratitude is one of the best antidotes to stress.
After a while it becomes clear that everything is meditation. Meditation isn’t restricted to those still times when we sit. Everything is sacred, including the things we find difficult or tiresome; particularly those things. When we can bring a sense of openness and calm to the difficult things, the times when life flows become even more joyful.