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back in the ‘real world’

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It’s always a shock returning from a silent retreat even if it only lasts from Friday evening to Sunday noon. I relished silent time and the structure of monastic life: its bells, gongs, and clappers take away my need to watch the clock or respond to phone calls and emails. Immersing ourselves in silence, in this container of shared meditation practice, allows awareness to gradually expand to notice the body’s natural rhythm. From time to time, our teacher would give us encouraging remarks to help us focus on “this moment and this breath.”

About the real world. Being at a retreat and waking up back home may seem like different worlds, but they are part of the same thing. Any separation is artificial. Just as one breath differs lightly from the next and one step from another, so it is with where we live and what we do. Awareness is always there. Sometimes it’s heightened, at others it’s obstructed. And at any moment we can stop . . . our busyness and . . . notice. Notice our breath, this breath right now, and then the next. Notice the inhale and the exhale. And the still point between the two. Learning to be present does not require a ferry ride and four-hour car ride to a monastery. Going to such a place, or sitting with a group and a teacher anywhere, is an ideal situation. After that, it’s up to you and me to practice what, essentially, comes naturally.

For ten steps to Zen meditation, click here.

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