I often tell people, when they leave an intensive retreat and return to their regular life: “Now the retreat begins. The ‘real’ retreat begins when the formal retreat ends.“
A vaccine is developed in a laboratory, under strict conditions of control and manipulation of the situation. From this development and testing, a workable model is built. But we do not know the effectiveness of the vaccine — and its need for further tweaking and refinement — until it is then tested on segments of the real population, out in the world. Only then is the vaccine’s power truly known. It is the same with Zen technology.
Someone who had participated in our summer intensive retreat found extraordinary difficulty when she returned to family and job. Understandably, she felt confused by a racing of the mind, by fear and even I kind of disappointment. “I have just sat retreat! Why are these things happening to me?“ She was very worried.
But my answer to her was, “Good! This is excellent news! When you have done a very, very hard work out at the gym, it is often difficult to walk up or down a flight of stairs, or to bend over to pick up things, or even to stand up out of bed in the morning. This is the natural result of taxing the muscles, of breaking down old muscle fibers so that new ones might be regenerated in their place. But they are repairing, and now they are becoming integrated into the daily activities that don’t seem to be related to the work out, at least on the surface.”
This reminds me of the timeless insight of the American Buddha, Adyashanti:
Practice is not the search for some “easy” way; it is also not a “hard” way. But it requires a constant testing of the vaccine of returning-to-breath, reflecting-back on the great doubt, and keeping a regular schedule of these in that concentrated protocol that we call “daily practice”. It has nothing to do with becoming “better” or being “happier”; it’s merely the crumbling away of untruth.