After the Retreat

Last Thursday, our first class after our daylong retreat, one student entered quipping, ‘Ah, the laundry,’ referencing Jack Kornfield’s book titled After the Ecstasy, the Laundry.
Once the retreat is over, is it over? Maybe yes, maybe no. We can’t expect the same level of relaxation, attention, appreciation, realization and awakening to the interconnection of being to be sustained far beyond a retreat. This is true no matter how long the retreat is. So why bother going on retreat if the ‘magic’ wears off? Because having experienced that sense of communion, we are forever changed, even if we are not necessarily able to sustain a sense of transcendent bliss. Every retreat I have been on gave me at least one meaningful insight that helps me through difficult times even years later.
For those retreatants who experience a sense of oneness, that brief glimpse is enough to infuse a sense of Wise View. The nature of that experience is timeless. When we sense the infinite nature of being and the oneness that permeates all that is, it indelibly permeates the fabric of our being. This softens our habituated patterns and releases us and those around us from the harshness of our judgments, the prickly, demanding or grumpy qualities we may have had, as well as reduces the occurrence of physical illness. So retreats are important and have lasting value, but expecting that sense of magic or high to last is a set up for disappointment. At our day long several students found that the lunches they brought were the most delicious food they ever tasted. Two specifically talked about how the bread they had been eating for years suddenly had so much more flavor, and the variety of grains could be tasted in a way they had never noticed before. Eating the same meal a few days later at home, it was hard to imagine what was so wondrous about the bread. This is the nature of retreat. I have a reputation in my family for being a speedy eater. When my stepsons were three and four, sitting at the dinner table observing me scarfing down my food, they thought this must be a race, so when my plate was empty, one cheered and said, ‘Stephanie wins!’ How embarrassing! So it was with great delight that I discovered the pleasure of eating slowly on my first retreat, really tasting the food and feeling gratitude for the cooks, the grocers, the truckers, the farmers, the earth, the rain and the sunshine that made this meal possible. I vowed to remember to eat more slowly. Back home, even at my first meal, I was so excited to share with my husband all that I’d experienced and learned, that I noticed my plate was empty and I hadn’t even remembered eating it! But over the years, I see that I am no longer always the first one done. Usually, but not always! The regular practice of mindfulness and compassion for ourselves and others will quite naturally begin to shift destructive or simply mindless habits. We don’t have to make a solemn vow to eat more slowly and appreciate the food. We can simply reset our powerful and ongoing intentions to be mindful and compassionate. Again and again. These two paired intentions are all the ‘magic’ we need to gently and naturally transform mindlessness and misery into awakened radiant joy.

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