I recently had an experience like this when I was on retreat for a week in California, where I got to take a break from the city, enjoy spacious meditations each day, watch the sun rise from the desert hilltops, and just generally take good and loving care of my mind, body, and spirit. It felt like heaven, and was an incredibly welcome break from the Vancouver rain and the background buzz and stress that sometimes can set in from city living. I found myself feeling deeply connected to my own heart and at home in my body from this reset.
How could I feel like I’m on retreat every day?
There are many incredible benefits to creating space for meditation, relaxation, self-compassion, and self-care in daily life. And yet, even with dedicated practice, at times keeping up with the rhythm of work, chores, family life, relationships, and outside stimulation can make it a lot more challenging than we'd like to stay clear in our thinking and peaceful in our hearts. No matter how much inner work I do, I find I’m in a constant balance and re-balance of finding the sweet spot of staying grounded and present. Sometimes that balance lands in my lap, and at other times it seems frustratingly elusive.
I was chatting about how I felt resistant to leaving this retreat paradise with a wise woman I met there. She had been a therapist and healer for nearly 50 years and was a fountain of wisdom and warmth. She told me a story about being on a meditation retreat many years ago at a Buddhist monastery, where at the end of it, a man told the leading monk that he was scared that he would lose the learning and inner peace he had gained during his time at the monastery, once he returned to his life in the city.
The monk simply replied, “You will.”
“And then you’ll find it again.
And then you’ll lose it again.
And then you’ll find it again...”
And so it goes in life. No matter how far out our attention seems to have strayed, by remembering to return to our own centre (even with just one, mindful, deep breath), time and again, we cultivate inner strength and resilience. I often tell my students in mindfulness classes that the intention of meditation isn’t necessarily to stay ceaselessly focused on the present moment the whole way through, as the mind is hard-wired to wander. But rather, it's to be with ourselves and our experience as we are and as it is, right now. Whether our experience in a given moment is one of bliss or of monkey-minded distraction, there we are.
And so my new friend’s story helped me to remember this. Yes, I will get busy again, and experience stress again, and feel the pull of my energy not being quite as tuned to the present moment as I might like myself to be. And in the midst of being with all of these experiences, I can again remember to come back to myself, to my breath, and to the continuous stream of presence that is always here for us. And then I’ll probably take another wander again after that... (wondering what I’ll eat for dinner, or how this or that plan will sort itself out, or how we’re going to slow down global warming as a society, or something equally compelling or mundane!) and then, once more return to presence.
There is such acceptance and self-compassion held within this simple teaching. Life is in a continuous state of change and motion. When we can let go of wanting our pleasant experiences to last forever, we become freer to be present with where we, as we are, right now. When I accept that I will not always be in a state of calm, peace, or delight (at least not for now, as far as I can tell!), I can more easily meet myself with compassion for whatever my experience is – making it that much easier to return ‘home’ to my heart, once more. Whether I'm in the California countryside or in the middle of big-city bustle, the invitation for mindfulness and compassion remains ever present.
If you have any questions or want to talk more about it, I would love to hear from you!
With love and blessings,