After completing an 8-week Mindfulness (MBSR) course the challenge, as one recent MBSR graduate eloquently stated, is "to continue to honor what one has learned." On finishing a meditation retreat we face the exact same challenge.
So how does an immersive mindfulness experience compare to normal daily life? How do we differ during these two, often very different sets of circumstances?
At an MBSR course (or retreat), we feel held in safety, nonjudgment & unconditional kindness, and are continuously reminded to hold ourselves likewise. This makes it possible to very gradually, at our individual pace, safely shed a few layers of protective armoring. Some of us have been through, and sometimes continue to be subjected to, so much trauma that in addition to meditation, therapy is also essential to become adequately unburdened. The ultimate task of our life's journey is to fully reconnect with and embody authenticity, which is always present, but hidden under all the layers of conditioning.
When normal daily life meets our conditioning, we tend feel unsafe, judged (perhaps most severely by our self), and, unless we measure up to certain standards (our own are often so unrealistically high as to be unattainable) we'll worry about being fired, unloved, shunned, etc. So it's pretty easy to retain, or even progressively accumulate layers of armoring under adversarial conditions, whether these be real or imagined.
Clearly, the more consistently we're able to hold ourselves in mindfulness and its essential associated attitudes (plus psychotherapy as required), the more we set ourselves free to live a genuinely authentic life. Richard Schwartz, founder of Internal Family Systems (IFS), describes the vital importance of liberating our young, sensitive / hurt 'parts': "Your most sensitive parts are also, when they’re not hurt, your most playful, joyful, creative, spontaneous, fun-loving, intimacy-seeking parts. They’re your juice – these inner children."
Meditation, wisely practiced, is “a way of being in touch with our wholeness – our self without the overlay of what may have crept through in our history, without the stories we make about our life, without the defensiveness or delusions that we have built up to protect ourselves. Too often what we consciously or unconsciously use as ‘protection’ can become a frame through which we view all of life; it is a distorted frame – a prison actually. And in that prison it is very difficult to function from the heart or even to find the heart. By clearing the space in our mind, we open our life to appreciation of and confidence in whatever shows up." Pat Enkyo O’Hara
We honor, maintain, and build on what we've learned in MBSR & retreats by continuing to practice meditation in a wise, consistent manner.