An edited excerpt from oral teachings given by Geshe Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, July 2007
Many times I see that practitioners of the dharma are not touching their day-to-day lives with their meditation practice. That’s a problem. Great benefit can come from working with the situations in your life during practice. Without closely examining yourself and your specific life issues while meditating, your practice will only be of partial benefit.
Keeping separate one’s worldly life and one’s practice life is a weakness in the way the dharma is often approached, particularly in the West. As a result, when people come to a retreat and engage with the teachings and practices, they feel very good, but then afterward when they go back into their lives, they feel completely disconnected; it’s as if they experience extra pain when going back into normal life because of the degree of disconnectedness between their practice and their life. One important reason for this disconnectedness is that those real issues they face in their daily life are totally denied while they are at the teachings and while doing the practices here on retreat. They have the idea while they are here that they have no problems. “Just feel the energy.” But you see, this idea is created in the mind. And, one creates such ideas so skillfully here on retreat that it becomes easy to shut down or shut out one’s ordinary day-to-day problems. But in actuality, the problems are not totally shut down; they are still there, and when you go back into your life it can be very intense to face them all again in full.
I think that it’s a real blessing for us to be able to bring our worldly life with us when we enter a retreat. The retreat provides support for internal reflection and for looking closely with real clarity at yourself and at the conflicts in your life. When you look closely within yourself, at first you’ll feel that it is unpleasant to think about or feel these real issues. You may in fact say, “One reason that I came to retreat is to not think about that.” But, like I said, that is not really smart. There are a lot of supports here. I am not talking about the support you might feel from discussing your problems with others. I am suggesting another kind of support that comes from internal reflection and working directly with the purifying and transformative practices that we are learning, along with feeling the support of the blessings that we all have here. It is a much more powerful and effective approach than simply talking about your issues. For the most part, we know we’ve talked enough about our problems, haven’t we? We have exhausted many people talking about our problems.
So, for a moment let’s not talk about a problem, and instead internally reflect on that conflict, reflecting closely, and feeling it. The idea is to bring the conflict up into consciousness, bringing it into your body, into your breath, and into your mind. Bringing it up in this way on the cushion, you can experience it most coarsely in the body, can’t you? And then, you experience it more subtly as a sense of breath, a sense of prana. From there, you can then work with that prana through the practices of tsa lung and the nine breathings of purification and with the practices of tummo and actually release that prana through your practice. And, if you work in that very direct and concrete way, then you will feel that something is shifting and changing.
You see, you relate to the everyday world around and within you as being you, as being who you are, as being your self. This mistaken view, this mistaken sense of identity, is the creator of that relative world of yours. Reflecting on this, the idea is to change qualities of that experience by going closer to its source, working with it more at the level of prana. You are feeling and connecting with it on an energetic level without judging it; and then, using the proper techniques, clearing that energy or prana. Each time you practice clearing that prana, your practice takes you closer to a space that is naturally clear and open. [Rinpoche exhales fully.] At that moment, you experience a custom-designed, unique medicine only for you. You never want to miss out on that experience. Everything in the practice that you did before that moment is simply for the purpose of getting you to that point. So, at that point in practice, don’t then think: [Rinpoche exhales] “Okay, finished! Now, dedication…” That’s not what you want to do.
Instead, with the help of these practices, once you get to that opening in what seemed so solidly an issue, recognize that space as clearly as possible, and then familiarize yourself with it as much as possible so that the state becomes very familiar. If you continuously cultivate these kinds of experiences through bringing real issues to practice, I guarantee that you will react differently upon returning to the world from your retreat. It will be a much different experience for you than the one that I often joke about, where one finds that when the retreat ends and one gets into one’s car to return home, simply inhaling the familiar smell of the car’s interior brings all of their samsara back in full. That is called the experience of “samsaric car prana.” [Laughter] You open your car door and that prana immediately brings your whole samsaric existence to you in exactly the same form that you had left it.
It is wonderful to integrate practice in this way where you actually have two things going on simultaneously in your practice: One, you are working with the real issues in your life; and two, you are doing so within the space of a beautiful dharma practice. If you don’t bring the practice to your life as we are doing here, in the end you are the one suffering by pretending to have no problems while you are here in the gompa. Because in reality, the same problematic person that lives in the world is also right here in the gompa; it’s simply that he or she is just not active. Some people have told me that when they have been practicing as we have been doing here on retreat, integrating the self who has real life issues with the practitioner who’s doing the practice, they’ve seen how much this integration has helped them in going back into their life because they clearly feel the connection. So, it takes some mindfulness, but be sure not to fall into the trap of disconnecting your practice from your life.