After this weekend’s retreat I’m thinking about 3 things that meditation typically does for you. 1) After an exciting or upsetting day, meditation settles us down. In my experience, that can take anywhere from a few minutes to several hours of zazen, depending on your day and how your life is going. Years ago the first hour of my two-hour practice was always a settling time, but I’ve gotten better at it and now typically I’m settled even before I ring the bell. 2) The next thing meditation does for you after you are settled down, is re-center your perspective. I find this happens after a day or two on a meditation retreat. It takes time to fully disengage our mind from all the efforts we are juggling – both consciously and subconsciously. But when we do, things stop getting blown out of proportion. 3) Then what do we get out of a longer meditation retreat? I’ve found that most people hit a point of difficulty after about 2 days (maybe 1 to 3 days) where continuing is very difficult. This is confrontation as Sensei often said. This is when specific personal issues and crises arise. Our mind is working perfectly by bringing the most urgent things to our attention. And when we give it a couple days focus and spaciousness on a meditation retreat, we might suddenly start crying and not understand why until later.
Of course we might be living daily with this confrontation already. These are our personal koans, like a conflict of values; which way do we go? what can we say? How can we help our suffering loved one? what “should” I do? Facing it in our mind is a requirement for getting through it; of being resolved in how to proceed; of ending our internal struggle. Maybe there actually is no solution as we’ve framed the problem. In some cases we can’t help our loved one, but we can be present with them so they are not alone. When we realize this is the truth for those cases, then we feel confident, clear and strong with how we move forward.