Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Restful Nature of Awareness Practice

In the night I woke with a profound, obvious, and very helpful realization: awareness practice is the most restful thing we can do.

I’ve been traveling a lot the past several weeks, which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, and approached getting home with great excitement and enthusiasm. This is the perfect time to be where I live: perfect temperatures, weather, colors, sounds, and perhaps happiest for me right now, no biting bugs.* This great excitement of coming home translates into a lot of energy, which is a big piece of the awareness in the night.

With all that energy, I began immediately to tackle the business of life: sort through and open the stacks of mail, clean out the inbox, empty and store the suitcases, do the laundry…in short, “catch up” with regular life. What I hadn’t seen until my 1:00 a.m. epiphany is the unacknowledged message that while I’ve been away doing what I was doing somewhere else, I’ve gotten behind at home, and once home I need to scurry to get caught up to the point that it seems I’ve never been gone.

I’ve known about this scam for years, seeing it pulled on lots of other people! I would encourage retreatants to take time off when returning from a long retreat, allowing themselves a rest after doing the hard work of letting go karma. This was proposed in opposition to conditioning’s perspective that “you’ve been on retreat vacationing and now you need to pay the price.” At the very least, I would remind departing practitioners not to get caught up in the mail. Mail--postal, e-, or voice--is conditioning’s way of tracking us down wherever we are and luring us into the distractions of society.

I know this! What fooled me completely was the combination of all those “right” feelings. I was taking care of business, loving being where I am, enjoying doing what I’m doing, being responsible—a good citizen in every way. Surely there cannot be any harm in that.

And, the answer is no there isn’t any harm in any of it. But on a very deep, subtle level there is disappointment in my failure to keep my commitment to my heart.

Truth is, I don’t want to give any of that excitement, energy, and enthusiasm to anything other than what takes care of my heart, which is practice. Is taking care of the things that support my life other than practice? No. But when there is all that energy built up from doing practice, which is what I’ve been doing for these many weeks in the form of leading workshops and retreats, I want to give that energy to deepening the intimacy of my relationship with life, not dissipate it in chores or even in what I’ve been conditioned to think of as rest.

After that energy has been given over to fueling more present, focused meditations, when being here/now has been the recipient of the excitement and enthusiasm, after silence and solitude have a chance to replace the noise of human busyness, then, and only then, will I turn attention to the activities of daily life. And, what I know from experience is that rather than the energy I returned home with being dissipated in doing “stuff,” I will return to daily life rested, rejuvenated, inspired, and ready to participate fully in whatever life has next in store for me. That’s what practice gives to me. But only when I give myself to it.

*On the last leg of this journey I did apply one of the practice tools I’m most fond of to great effect. Clearly the insect population at the last retreat had been left to their own company too long. The welcoming celebration for my arrival was truly impressive. In a matter of moments, just about every part of my body—they are not slowed at all by clothing—was covered with red, swelling, itching welts. I decided that each time I was aware of one of those welts itching, I would use it as a reminder to turn my attention to the life experience I choose to have. Blessedly it works and the result was lots of reminders and lots of good practice!



  1. It has been a month since I returned from the last retreat at the monastery. The momentum to keep my word to myself, to ante up my commitment to more time on the cushion, takes more awareness observing the voices which lure me away. It's not a wrestling contest, I truly want to keep my word, and mostly I succeed. But the surprise is how challenging to tow the line, day by day, to give my heart's desire what it wants.

    Deep Gassho for the reminder.

  2. Gassho.
    All those "right" feelings fool me too. And I'd never seen it in this way before. My "right" actions often are around doing things for my children. The conditioning to leave myself to be something for him/them is very deep and old.
    Such a subtle level of practice -- thank you for pointing to it.