Returning from retreat is a skill the meditator cultivates along with any other technique in their practice. As a current resident of New York City (Brooklyn to be precise) with a heart born in the country, this has been a particularly challenging skill for me.
For several years now I have taken solo retreats in upstate New York, and at first re-entry was tough. I would cross the George Washington Bridge, look out at the unnatural grey towers, and feel weighted down by the heavy frenetic energy of the city. Turning around always seemed like the best possible option. Leaving retreat was always and only sad.
What changed: I began to notice that when I returned from retreat the first couple days of classes would be amazing. They were rare special classes where there was less of me, and more of just passing along a space inside. Connections with students, and my personal relationships alike held a deeper quality. I realized that I had something pretty amazing to look forward to back in the city. Sharing the nourishing, inspiring, beauty of the natural world I immersed myself in – while deep in my practices and studies – became this heartfelt private gift I would bring back to those waiting for me. I entered the city smiling.
A few days after, I was sitting in Prospect Park, watching trees, listening to birds. Being in Brooklyn. Right in the middle of my regular life, there was a shift. A place I had only recently begun to touch on during this past retreat was suddenly there and alive. A place I had worked to cultivate during the retreat, a place I had thought I would only know in meditation – a place meditation created. The next day, sitting at my desk, looking out past house plants to the sparse tree branches beyond the window, there the space was again.
“What is true zazen? When you become you! When you are you, then no matter what you do, that is zazen.” Shunryu Suzuki
“The message for us today is “Cultivate your own spirit.” Is means not to go seeking for something outside of yourself.” Shunryu Suzuki
That place is not there because of meditation – it’s nowhere other than in me. Meditation and asana never make anything. They, like all the teachings, are arrows pointing back at us. Our job is to let them pierce right where they need to, melt around it, let go, and trust.
And if you retreat: How are you generous with that internal space? What ideas of that space are you holding onto? Don’t go seeking for something outside yourself – let that be an arrow that sinks right into the marrow of your spirit – or turn it into a flower.