By Marta Barnett
Imagine laying in a forest, bathed by the fourth-dimensional serenity of nature and sunlight playing across the landscape. And, suddenly, a wormhole opens and you are thrust onto the middle of a freeway junction with cars zigzagging in every direction. Oh, and you are driving. At 70 mph. And you need to merge across four lanes of traffic right now.
That’s what my transition from a meditation retreat to life feels like.
When I came back from the last retreat, I was steeped in tranquility, protected by its invisible cloak and I had a new intention to add more tranquility to the recipe of my life.
I was determined not to get hooked again by the fragmented nature of life. I spent most of my first evening back sitting and allowing thoughts and feelings to just come up. I did not check my email. I did not check my phone.
My first day back, I felt calm right in the middle of life’s freeway. Being mindful and present came effortlessly and so elegantly. I set aside thoughts and plans about all my aspirations and desires, thoughts that normally occupy my consciousness on a permanent basis. I just was. And I was determined to hold on to my inner calm. And I held on, determined not to let it slip through my fingers. I had a good grip. I was doing great. And yet, I was beginning to feel somewhat unsettled, listless and anxious. In my newfound benevolence toward myself, I welcomed these feelings – with just a pinch of resentment.
It wasn’t until perhaps the third day that I noticed that I was not tranquil at all. In fact, I was tense, tight and nervous. No, no, no, wrong, all wrong, I’m to be tranquil, not tense, I’m doing it all wrong. I found myself pining for the protective oasis of calm and I suddenly noticed that my tranquility had morphed into judgmental policing false tranquility. I was wielding a club to beat back life trying to take my tranquility away.
I relaxed my grip and I let my false tranquility go. I smiled at my misguided nature. I was back in life.
It’s not about holding on to the old tranquility. It’s about finding a new tranquility in the now. It’s also about practicing tranquility and – for me – about developing new habits. I’m starting by learning not to fill up every inch of in-between time with distractions – the odd three or six minutes here and there, the waiting time. A few weeks ago, I would have seen that time as a perfect space for texting, writing something down, checking my wallet for quarters, reading half a page or checking how many more pages till the end of the chapter, running through one of the myriad checklists in my head or just impatiently pacing back and forth. Now, I try to remember, this is a perfect little easy window for a bit of tranquility practice. A few breaths, opening to the moment, a bit of metta, just a little tranquility exercise. With no grand expectations and no need to get my fingers ready to grip.