A challenge faced after a retreat is to maintain what’s been learned and the relaxed and mellow feelings upon reentering the everyday world. The cloistered environment of the retreat is a spiritual vacation and like all vacations the effects often dissolve as soon as the demands of everyday life descend upon us.
We had quite a wrenching return to reality following our silent retreat. We reentered the real world abruptly by being ripped off by a New York cab driver on the trip to the airport and then finding out that a nice non-stop flight had been cancelled and replaced by a three legged nightmare including 20-min dashes between gates for each flight arriving home after midnight. Needless to say the serenity of retreat was quickly shattered.
I got upset with these issues, but not as much as I used to. I had learned to recognize the anger as it arose, feel it, let it subside and not act on it as strongly as in the past. My responses were far from perfect, but better than ever. That was the residual effects of retreat. The effects that persist afterward are often subtle. You are not a new person. Rather you’re the same human but now better equipped to deal with life’s challenges, slightly calmer, with a slightly better ability to deal with emotions; not transformed, but improved.
Another improvement is an increase in the amount of time spent in present moment awareness and the recognition of that mysterious transcendent state of awareness. This is not just while meditating, but during the normal activities of life. Once again, it is not a radical permanent transformation, just a small positive step forward. Sometimes it doesn’t seem like a significant change until one reflects on how they were previously. Then the magnitude of the effect is apparent.
Retreat truly changes you and you reenter life, with all its turmoil, better able to cope with it with greater mindfulness.