Martine & Stephen


Recently someone at a weekend non-residential retreat asked me if it was true that one needed to do a residential retreat of 10 days to achieve anything in meditation.  Possibly it might be necessary in those systems that advocate 10 day intensive retreats.

However it seems to me that it depends on what one wants to achieve and the time one has.  Moreover what is the measure of success?  Deep meditative states or living a creative, wise and compassionate life?  To live a creative, wise and compassionate life you do not necessarily need deep meditative states.  You only need to apply the creative awareness you develop through cultivating concentration and enquiry in meditation in your daily life.  How do you speak, hear, act, relate?  Can you creatively engage with the diverse circumstances of your life?

When I was a nun in Korea, a Western monk who had been practising in Thailand, came to practise with us.  He came to learn to practise and live in a community setting.  In Thailand he had great meditative states when he practised on his own on an island but had a terrible time living and practising in the monastery.  I am not sure that living in a Korean monastery resolved his difficulties but he was a great teacher for me.  From him I learnt how not to argue.  So he seemed to have done much more than 10 day intensive practice retreats, and had had many deep meditative states, but it was not enough.  Something was missing – a deep inquiry into his habits of relating.

Recently I taught at a church in Sweden for an hour and a half.  I gave some instructions about sitting and walking, and talked about non-grasping.  We did some sitting and walking and had a short discussion.  Afterwards I was forwarded an email sent to the organiser.  One participant wrote how astonished he was that such a short time had such a powerful effect and how transformative he had found it afterwards.  I did not do anything special, I do not have a magic wand.  But he took what I said seriously, applied it and found that it worked.

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