Integrating Real Life Issues into Meditation Practice

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.

Walking Meditation

©Hartwig Kopp-Delaney

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.