Does Meditation Really Work?

Do you notice the benefits of meditation in your life? There is a big gap between the orderliness of retreats and the chaos of ordinary life. Take a peek into a Zen retreat you’ll see black mats and straight rows. People sit like rocks and every minute of the day is regulated from black dawn to the last bow at night. Life, on the other hand, is chaotic and colourful.
There is no way we can impose control. Events rush at us out of the blue. We move from anger to joy and every other emotion in between like a soprano singing a coloratura. As to mindfulness–one moment you’re chopping carrots the Zen way, next the phone company rings to tell you that you’ll be cut off if you don’t pay the phone bill, then friends barge in for a cup of tea. Mindfulness? Ah yes –an hour later, stirring the soup you remember to be present.

In my work as a Zen master I see many people emerge from a sesshin (a traditional Zen retreat) with a new spaciousness of mind and heart. Their eyes shine, they are peaceful and their mind is like a clear pool. Then, when they arrive home, life hits them like a speeding train.

John S. wrote to me after sesshin:

“I felt wide open after the retreat. Somehow the barrier between me and the world seemed to have disappeared. It was as if my body enclosed everything. That felt really precious. But when I arrived home, life hit me between the eyes: My wife complained that I spend more time doing Zen than with her, the school rang up to say that my teenage daughter has been playing truant, I found some dope in my son’s room, there were over a hundred messages in my inbox, my boss is threatening a performance review. How can I maintain the peacefulness and spaciousness of retreat in this chaos?”

It seems to me that many Zen people and other meditators know how to use meditation techniques when sitting on their mats, but don’t know how to bring their spiritual practice into life. In the Goodlife Zen blog I explore ways of bringing Zen into daily life. I hope that you will find inspiration here.

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