AOH :: MINDFUL.TXT|
Initial Application of Mindfulness Extension Excercises in a Traditional Buddhist Meditation Retreat Setting by James Baraz and Charles
INITIAL APPLICATION OF MINDFULNESS EXTENSION EXERCISES
IN A TRADITIONAL BUDDHIST MEDITATION RETREAT SETTING
Insight Meditation West, Oakland, California
Dharma Foundation, Oakland, California
Charles T. Tart
University of California at Davis
Institute of Noetic Sciences, Sausalito
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This paper has not previously been published.
Abstract: The cultivation of mindfulness, clear moment-to-moment
awareness of what is actually happening, as opposed to the
typical distortions of perception caused by desires, fears,
attachments and other psychological defense mechanisms so
characteristic of ordinary consciousness, is an essential element
in personal and spiritual growth. Spiritual traditions such as
Buddhism have developed sophisticated methodologies for
developing mindfulness in specialized retreat situations, but the
mindfulness and concentration often experienced therein does not
generalize well to daily life situations. Some principles of
generalizing mindfulness to daily life were used to design
specific exercises that were tested in two otherwise traditional
Buddhist vipassana ("mindfulness") meditation retreats. The
exercises and their results are described. They proved useful in
widening the scope of mindfulness, easing reentry into ordinary
life and enhancing the transfer of mindfulness to daily life.
One of us (C.T.T.) has argued elsewhere that the cultivation
of mindfulness, a precise moment-to-moment observation of exactly
what is happening internally and externally, is an essential
element in personal and spiritual growth (Tart, 1986; in press).
The great spiritual systems originated, expressed and refined
this idea. The goal of mindfulness and related concepts and
practices are now having an important impact on our culture in
general and on the humanistic and transpersonal psychology areas
in particular. The emphasized spiritual system will be Buddhism
in this paper, but the arguments may apply to other systems.
Practically, frequent and clear mindfulness is rare in
everyday life. The monastic tradition that has accompanied
Buddhism to the West, in particular, has implicitly tended to
emphasize mindfulness in the special situations of formal
meditation and monastic life. Many contemporary Western
practitioners of meditation have found that the deep mindfulness
developed in formal meditation and monastic-like retreats does
not readily transfer to enhancing moment-to-moment mindfulness in
ordinary life situations.
C.T.T. (in press) suggested that some practices designed to
cultivate mindfulness in everyday life, drawn from his
experimentation with the Gurdjieff tradition (Ouspensky, 1949;
Tart, 1986), could be combined with more traditional Buddhist
meditation training to facilitate the development of mindfulness
in everyday life (Tart, in press). Working from a preliminary
version of C.T.T.'s paper, which contained general principles for
mindfulness training exercises but few specific exercises, the
first author (J.B.), with significant assistance from Jack
Kornfield, Carol Wilson, Howard Cohn and John Travis, devised a
number of specific training exercises and applied them in two
traditional Buddhist vipassana meditation retreats. J.B. is an
experienced vipassana meditation teacher.
This paper elaborates on the need for additional training to
facilitate mindfulness training in everyday life, especially
specific problems encountered in the transition from a meditation
retreat to everyday life, describes some specific mindfulness
extension exercises to use in a meditation retreat, and reports
observations on their effects. We hope these observations will
be helpful to others who want to experiment with extending
mindfulness to all areas of life.
The discussion of difficulty in practicing mindfulness in
daily life presented elsewhere (Tart, in press) emphasized that
everyday life was quite different in the stimulus configuration
presented to people, such that it failed to remind them of the
high degree of mindfulness they may have developed in the special
situation of a meditation retreat. In addition, J.B. has often
observed a distinctively sensitive and challenging transition
period as a meditator leaves the retreat situation to return to
ordinary life, especially with those who are relatively new to
retreat experience. This difficult transition period may further
increase the obstacles to taking the mindfulness developed in the
retreat setting into life, so we will describe the typical
vipassana meditation retreat procedure here and then discuss the
transition problems before reporting on the application of
mindfulness extension exercises.
Meditation Retreat Procedure
Vipassana meditation, popularly referred to as insight
meditation, is one of the fundamental forms of Buddhist
meditation. Different teachers and lineages emphasize different
aspects, but basically it centers around the instruction to sit
quietly and observe whatever manifests in the mind and body as
precisely as possible. You focus on being present to what is,
rather than, as is usually done in ordinary life, manipulating
your experience in accordance with desire, clinging to the
pleasant and the expected, suppressing the unpleasant and the
unexpected. Excellent detailed descriptions can be found
elsewhere (see, e.g., Goldstein, 1977; Goldstein & Kornfield,
1987; Goleman, 1988).
Vipassana retreats, particularly those run by teachers
affiliated with the Insight Meditation Society, generally have an
equal mixture of relatively new and fairly experienced
practitioners. Instructions are given throughout the first few
days of the retreat. Participants sit in meditation for periods
of 45 minutes to an hour, alternating sitting with periods of
walking vipassana meditation for about 45 minutes. Sitting,
walking, sitting, walking. There are two main meals a day, with
tea and a snack rather than a full evening meal. Retreatants are
asked to be mindful in the eating periods also. There is no
talking or socializing during the retreat.
Each participant can participate in an individual or small
group interview with one of the teachers every other day. This
is the only regularly scheduled opportunity for retreat
participants to talk with anyone about what is going on with
their practice. If a meditator runs into special difficulties
between these times, however, a teacher is generally available.
Each evening there is also a talk on some aspect of the
meditation practice or the philosophy on which it is based.
As part of the discipline and psychological atmosphere of a
retreat, each participant agrees to abide by the traditional Five
Precepts. First, refraining from intentionally killing any life
form (vegetables are excepted, insects are included). This
creates an attitude of non-harming as well as a reverence for the
interconnectedness of life. Second, refraining from stealing.
Third, refraining from any sexual relations during the retreat1
1 Outside of the retreat situation, the precept is to not create
suffering through sexual conduct.
Fourth, maintaining silence, unless there is some important
reason to talk, such as in interviews or in group discussion with
teachers, or in talking to the managers or cooks about practical
tasks which need to be done. The fifth precept is refraining
from intoxicants, drugs (excluding prescribed medications for
illness) or alcohol2. Besides the moral and technical importance
of the precepts, there is a general agreement that this is a time
to focus inward and to get in touch with one's own process of
body and mind.
2 Imposing only five precepts is a small liberalization of the
tradition for the West. A more orthodox retreat includes three more
precepts, namely not wearing jewelry or ornaments, not sleeping on high
or luxurious beds and not eating past the noon meal.
Retreats vary in length from a single day to three months.
Weekend and ten day retreats are common. Very deep states of
mindfulness and concentration, specifically including feeling
clear, blissful, and particularly sensitivity to inner processes,
can result from the longer retreats, where the distractions of
ordinary life progressively fade. It is from the ten day and
longer retreats that J.B. and other meditation teachers have
observed important problems in the transition back to ordinary
life3. Beside being important in themselves, the fact that
disturbances and unpleasant experiences can result during the
transition away from the mindfulness and concentration acquired
in a long retreat can be an important factor in inhibiting the
generalization of mindfulness to everyday life.
3 The retreat conditions of minimal external disturbance and an
environment in which the meditator is continually encouraged to bring
the wandering mind back to the present results not only in strong
mindfulness but also, at times, in deep concentration. Some distinction
should be made between mindfulness and concentration, two separate
qualities both developed by the meditation process.
Mindfulness is the ability to notice clearly what is happening
in the moment without clinging to the pleasant, condemning the unpleasant
or identifying with the experience (taking it to be "my" or "mine").
Concentration is the ability of the mind to stay fixed on an object.
Although the two often appear together, it is possible to have
some degree of mindfulness without particularly strong one-pointed
concentration, or strong concentration (being absorbed in an object)
without particularly strong mindfulness. Moment-to-moment mindfulness
can also develop a kind of concentration as well that keeps the mind
fixed in the present through constantly changing experience.
As important as the difference in mindfulness is between daily
life and retreat, the contrast between concentration levels is equally
significant in discussing the difficulties in leaving the retreat.
When practitioners try to hold on to the calm and concentration
once the retreat ends, they are often very discouraged and frustrated.
Also, the heightened sensitivity of a concentrated mind leaves a
meditator especially vulnerable to the barrage of stimulation most
of us deal insensitively with in daily life: this can be quite jarring.
Problems in the Transition Period
In the first three-month course of this style in America, in
Bucksport, Maine in 1975, there was no transition period between
formal meditation practice and leaving the retreat. It was clear
from later feedback that this sudden transition created
significant problem. Besides J.B.'s personal experience of
finding such transitions difficult, in his later practice as a
meditation teacher many retreat participants coming from long
retreats have called on him for help. They would be in a shaky,
disturbed state of mind, not quite knowing how to integrate what
happened in their experience and how to make it meaningful in
their daily life.
There is sometimes a feeling of depression, for example, or
feelings of confusion; of alienation and not knowing whether they
really belong in the busy world; of inability to get themselves
in gear and go out and take care of very basic ordinary
functioning, like getting a job. When people have gone through a
retreat, especially the longer ones, they have cut off their
ordinary routines and the stability resulting from routines.
They are coming out into a world that has many possibilities, but
some find they cannot focus as needed on the necessary tasks of
If retreat participants do not expect difficulties at the
end of a meditation retreat, such problems can be made worse.
Participants may tend to think, "Well now, I've done the retreat,
I've gotten myself together, I'm all fixed!" Then on leaving
what they see, with much more clarity than they did when they
first started, is all the old automatic habits and fears and ways
that we "lose it." This can be very unsettling!
For example, the first time J.B. left a three month retreat,
when he started talking with people all the old psychological
"garbage" was still there, such as self-judgment and paranoia.
He went running to the teacher, saying that the meditation hadn't
worked. Indeed, he thought of asking for his money back! He was
reminded by the teacher that insight meditation is more about
making friends with those parts of ourselves that we reject than
about getting high, but he believes that if he hadn't gone
directly to the teacher in such a distressed state that he would
not have understood that. Many retreat participants leave
without getting that understanding.
Some retreatants have difficulty adjusting to the faster
pace of ordinary life, especially if they have been deeply
immersed in the retreat. They may experience headaches, nausea
and/or a sense of being overwhelmed by the barrage of
stimulation. These disturbances may last only a few days or
sometimes for weeks. Others find that their relationships to
previous habits and desires has changed dramatically. It is not
uncommon for someone who had a powerful retreat experience to
lose sexual desire for a period of time, for example. Ambition
and striving hard to become a success may likewise be curtailed.
While these may be viewed by some (including the retreatant
experiencing them) as positive changes, they can still be quite
unsettling when someone's self image (habits identified with) is
so radically altered.
Another not uncommon difficulty stems from changes in the
way retreat participants relate to people in their lives. When
one goes through a profound and inward experience, it is
sometimes hard to communicate with others, even people we
consider close. The feeling that "They just don't understand!"
can lead to a distancing or alienation that can be very
saddening. Further, a retreatant sometimes finds himself or
herself less drawn to people whose values seem at odds to those
discovered or reinforced in the retreat experience, values such
as sensitivity, integrity, kindness, etc. This can disrupt old
friendships, with consequent feelings of loss and grieving.
These and other major shifts in the way retreatants look at life
after prolonged deep meditation practice are major challenges in
the return process.
As a result of these observations, vipassana meditation
teachers instituted an integration week at the end of three month
retreats. This is a Western innovation: we do not know of a
comparable procedure in Eastern culture, and it may not be needed
much in many Eastern cultures, where meditation and associated
values are much more accepted. This integration week has been
helpful, but has not eliminated the problem of many retreatants
finding the transition into life quite difficult.
Integration week is a period when retreat participants, who
have been sitting together in quiet for three months, start to
interact, start to get used to talking and communicating while
still having many periods of meditation together -- perhaps for 5
hours instead of the usual 7-10 or 12 hours a day. So there is a
gradual coming back to conversing, with some sitting in between.
The topics of conversation in the integration week have
varied from year to year. Sometimes groups would meet to discuss
topics like livelihood or relationship, or communication.
Sometimes retreatants just go out and have fun, like going to the
shopping mall in Worcester where they might feel intoxicated from
the altered state of consciousness induced by the sharp contrast
of the shopping mall environment. Vipassana meditation
teachers have also modified the shorter retreats of 10 day to 2
weeks in a similar way the last few years. The silence is broken
the afternoon before the end of the retreat so there is some
talking. It is like taking off the lid of the pressure cooker of
the retreat situation. In the evening quiet is imposed again and
then the next morning there is more conversing. This includes a
group go-around where retreat participants introduce themselves
and start to relate to each other as ordinary people, although in
a rather minimal way. These modifications are only partial
solutions, however, as many retreat participants who do longer
retreats still have significant problems readapting to ordinary
To some extent these practices are mainly a "release of
pressure" process, rather than specific practice in mindfully
doing worldly kinds of tasks. Teachers would also give some
verbal suggestions to be mindful in everyday life, such as taking
a daily activity like shaving and doing that mindfully, or
remembering to come into your body and feel your body posture
when you are starting to get a little bit over-extended, or
remembering about sensing breathing as a grounding exercise, or
sitting in meditation every day.
J.B. also found it particularly important to let retreat
participants know that in the first few days of coming out of a
retreat there is such a sensitivity and openness that it is very
common for people to go though wide mood swings and energy
swings. He advised them to give themselves the psychological
space to know that such swings are OK, to take care of
themselves, and to monitor themselves so that if their system was
getting overloaded, they could process such material as the
There can also be a defensive reaction to the disturbances
resulting from reentering the ordinary world, what J.B. has
called the "retreat junky syndrome." Something very profound in
the meditator can be touched within the retreat. It seems so
real and the outside world, in contrast, seems so crazy and
repugnant, that people long to flee the ordinary world as soon as
possible, and so live from retreat to retreat. That is most
unfortunate. This "retreat junky" syndrome, however, should not
be confused with being in the middle of a very deep, inward
journey, which has its own cycle of completion. In the latter,
the main motivation is a pull to depend the profound inner work
that has been started, rather than avoidance. Such a journey
might have a cycle of six months, two years, or a life-time given
to the monastic life.
Aim of the Present Study
What we basically hoped to do with the experimental
mindfulness extension procedures introduced during these
retreats, then, was:
(1) teach retreat participants to let go of any
tranquil, altered states that had developed gracefully,
without the tendency to hold on or be attached to the
(2) to create a more meaningful transition from
retreat to ordinary life, so the ability to be mindful
that retreatants had cultivated would serve them better
when they returned home.
Most of the retreat participants were quite willing to try
the mindfulness extension exercises, although there were some who
later admitted they were upset with the change of plans. As it
turned out, by and large they changed their minds and felt really
pleased with the outcome.
Experimental Retreat Settings
The first retreat at which we4 introduced mindfulness
extension exercises was held in April l988 in the Yucca Valley in
Southern California. This was two 10-day retreats back-to-back,
a 20 day retreat for those who attended both. Thirty people
meditated for the full 20 days. An additional 35 people were
there for the second 10 day retreat. Instead of simply breaking
silence near the end, as described above, we began introducing
various mindfulness extension exercises two days before the end.
We began with some exercises that were fairly quiet, to keep
retreat participants in the quiet space most had reached and not
jar them too suddenly. The following day we introduced more
interactive kinds of exercises. Mindfulness extension exercises
were also used at the end of another 10-day retreat that was held
in Santa Rosa, California in June of 1988.
4 J. B., Jack Kornfield, Carol Wilson and Howard Cohn.
Easing the Transition
The retreat instructors had some concern that retreat
participants would be upset by this change of routine. There is
something very sweet about being in the quiet space that
prolonged meditation can generate, and often retreat participants
want to squeeze the last drop of quietness and mindfulness out of
their experience, knowing full well that they would be going back
soon to a very busy life.
To express it the way the drug culture did in the sixties
and seventies, at the end of a retreat people don't want to "come
down." They want to keep enjoying the "high," because it is such
a pleasurable altered state. Things are so clear and brilliant.
In addition, as previously mentioned, people are very open and
sensitive and are reluctant to jar their systems. In this state
of enhanced sensitivity, it can be, for example, quite painful to
be in a room with a lot of people talking at once.
Most retreat participants realize that sooner or later they
are going to have to come down, so often near the end of a
retreat people psychologically wince and put on the brakes, since
they know that there will be a crash soon. Experienced
meditators know that as soon as you open up your mouth (to talk),
the concentration flies out. This "knowledge" might set up an
expectation that the crash will occur, and so may partially act
as a self-fulfilling prophecy.
From a Buddhist point of view, of course, holding onto a
high is just one more kind of grasping that will create
suffering. Instructors try to convey the idea that practice is
actually learning to let go of what is passing, to mindfully be
with confusion and chaos as well as desirable experiences, but it
is hard in practice to not grasp at the clear states meditation
can bring about.
These are the reasons we introduced the mindfulness
extension exercises gradually.
Mindfulness Extension Exercises
Fetching and Walking:
As the first mindfulness extension exercise, we asked
retreat participants to bring sweaters or coats to the next
session, but leave them outside the hall itself. It was very hot
in the day at that time of year, so there was a non-sensical
quality about this that caught retreat participants' attention.
The first exercise was to go put on their coats and shoes
at normal speed (not the slow motion moving people at retreats
deliberately adopt), then to walk over to the dining room (about
200 yards away) and put their coat or sweater down over a chair
which they were going to be returning to later on during the day.
Then they were to walk back to the meditation hall, at normal
speed, and then sit quietly meditating for five minutes.
What makes this and all the other exercises to be described
a mindfulness exercise is the instruction (followed by
appropriate attentiveness) to be attentive to and clearly mindful
of what you are doing in every action. Being mindful in this
specific exercise would usually include keeping a sense of body
awareness as you shift into and move in that "new" speed of a
normal pace. It may include doing some mental noting, a tool
sometimes used in vipassana meditation, a matter of bare labeling
of ongoing action. Perhaps you will be noting "tying shoes" or
"putting on coat," for example.
The next exercise that we did was learning to mindfully say
hello to someone and seeing what experiences arose as a result of
this. We specified that this was not to be a lot of conversing,
but just greeting each other, as at a party, for example, where
you know peoples' names. You didn't go through the formality of
introducing yourself, you just said hello and shook the other
person's hand. You could say a couple of words if that seemed
right, but there was no real urging to do that. After each
hello, a bell was rung. Retreat participants had five such
interactions, saying hello to others near them this way. After
doing this, everyone sat in silent meditation for 15 minutes.
Waiting in Line
Participants lined up at the drinking fountain. After they
received their drink, they were asked to go to the back of the
line again so that the experience of waiting was emphasized,
rather than that of getting some result. While on line, the
instructions were either to be mindful of thoughts and movements
as the line inched forward or to do metta, loving-kindness
meditation5. The metta was done silently, without making eye
contact with others. This exercise was meant to give some tools
for common waiting situations like traffic jams, movie lines,
5 Metta is a complement to vipassana practice that comes from
the Buddha's teaching. It is usually done on retreats, as well as at
the end of ordinary sitting practice. It involves a repetition of
phrases such as "May you be happy," "May you be free from harm,"
etc., directed in a systematic way from oneself as a starting point
out to all beings.
After about 15 minutes of waiting in line participants were
asked to silently come together. They then received instructions
for the next exercise, hurrying.
Paired with the Waiting in Line exercise was one to train
mindfulness in a typical everyday situation, hurrying. What is
it like to hurry?
The retreat participants had left their coats in the dining
hall, which was 200 yards away. They were to imagine that a talk
was about to begin in another minute or so and they needed to get
their coats and come to the talk. They were to observe the
things that came up while they were hurrying and how much it
threw them off balance. Is there a way to move quickly while
being centered, rather than toppling forward? Is there a way to
experientially stay in your body, yet hurry? Can you observe
the pain that comes from hurrying?
After these two exercises participants sat in silent
meditation for 15 minutes before some reporting of their
experiences with the group.
Then we had the last exercise for that day. Later on we
went into silence for rest of the evening. It was tea time at
At tea time, in the late afternoon, retreat participants
were asked to pair up with another person as they came to the
door of the dining room, sit down across from each other and then
one person, Person A, would ask Person B what he or she wanted
for tea. This was a practice in giving and receiving mindfully.
The only words spoken were "What can I get you?" Person A would
go and mindfully get the order, bring it back and give it to
Person B. Then they switched roles. The rest of the tea time
was done in silence.
After tea there was formal sitting meditation, an
instructional talk and then more sitting.
Preparing for Everyday Life:
The next day we had a few more exercises. First, people
were asked to write down a list of activities that they needed to
do the first day or two after the retreat. They then shared
their list with their partner, discussing ways that mindfulness
practice might be incorporated into these practical activities.
This exercise was to address the question of mindfulness during
planning and writing, as well as reflecting on practical ways to
maintain mindfulness in typical daily activities. Participants
then spent some time sharing their experiences and ideas with the
group in general, and then ended with 15 minutes of silent
Next the participants went through an exercise that has been
regularly used at the end of retreats for the past 10 years,
namely a go-around of introductions. Each person got up and said
their name, where they lived, and a few words about themselves,
while trying to be mindful throughout this activity. This kind
of practice is important as many people report that it is very
difficult to be mindful while speaking.
We then left the meditation hall for the facility's parking
lot. Drivers stood by their cars. Passengers6 selected cars and
silently got in. In silence, they were to drive slowly around
the front part of the facility. Each retreatant was to mindfully
observe what it was like to be a driver or a passenger, both
physically and mentally, while taking this 5-10 minute drive.
Driving and riding in cars is, of course, a major everyday life
activity for many Westerners. After the ride the participants
gathered again as a group and, following a 15 minute mediation,
shared their experiences.
6 Many participants had flown to the retreat facility and
so did not have their own cars there.
In general, the results of introducing these mindfulness
extension exercises were extremely valuable. Retreat
participants found that they did have to let go of the altered
state of blissful clarity they often developed during the
prolonged sitting meditation in order to do these mindfulness
extension exercises. When you change from just sitting to
walking, to doing anything different, the feelings of clarity
start to get shaken up a bit, but that was a useful experience to
see as well. Retreat participants felt a lot more grounded and
less confused than at the end of a more traditional retreat, and
many remarked that this was something that should be done
regularly. We will now describe results of specific exercises.
Waiting in Line
The Waiting in Line exercise, and the Fetching and Walking
(putting on coats and shoes at normal speed) were early
exercises, and retreat participants felt comfortable doing them.
We feel that "easy" mindfulness extension exercises like these
should start the series before moving on to more complex tasks.
The Waiting in Line exercise was an especially useful one.
Retreat participants reported a wide variety of reactions,
typically seeing how frustrated they get when they are waiting.
Often this was just a restlessness of just needing to go
somewhere, a motor tendency to just "topple forward!" Sharing
these reactions allowed retreat participants to laugh about
The Hurrying Exercise
The Hurrying exercise had varying responses that seemed to
be influenced by how deep the participants' retreat experiences
had been. Many of those who were still very sensitive as a
result of intense practice found this exercise to be quite
painful and jarring to their systems. Through seeing this, they
could appreciate in a new way the turbulent effects hurrying has
in their ordinary lives. Others, who were ready to let loose
from the confines of the slow pace of the retreat, found this
exercise to be exhilarating.
Perhaps the imagined pressure of the situation (with most
people obviously having fun in the exercise) did not adequately
simulate the pressure of hurrying in everyday life. Most
participants seemed to experience being less mindful than they
had been, in addition to feeling off center. A few found that
they could use the gross movements of the body in hurrying as an
effective focal point for staying grounded and present. There
was general agreement that hurrying in one's life detracts from
centeredness and should be avoided when possible.
Interacting with Others
Retreat participants had a variety of reactions to the
mindfulness extension exercises that involved interacting with
each other. The most striking was the one where retreat
participants serially looked at each other and said hello.
Retreat participants had been so inward that many felt very
vulnerable to others.
Most retreat participants felt that they needed more time to
process their inner reactions between each interaction. They
wanted to let them register more deeply: what does that mean to
let someone in, let yourself out? In the future we will allow at
least a few minutes between each interaction.
Some retreat participants found the Saying Hello exercise
and the wide spectrum of people's reactions very stimulating.
They got very high and loving, they wanted to take people in. On
the other hand, some retreat participants reported they were
really fearful, or they saw themselves close down. Some found
they were defensive with some people while not with others.
Some retreatants had a feeling that they wanted to send
something in these interactions, they had to communicate
something. Some were just dying to send their love, beam their
love out. Others had difficulties and noticed their bodies
contracting, some were mindful of their bodies being open. Some
had an experience of really being touched by the commonality of
life, others felt other people as really separate.
As instructors we tried not to put any kind of value
judgments on people's reactions to these mindfulness extension
exercises. It was not a pass/fail test. It was practice in just
observing. The more we observed with clarity, the more we could
start to understand.
The Driving exercise brought up many useful self
observations. For example, some of the retreat participants cast
in the role of drivers, for example, wanted to be creative in
their exploration. Rather than just circling around the islands
and coming back, they wanted to take an interesting drive.7
Others just followed the instructions to drive around the
islands. Some drivers saw how they liked controlling situations,
controlling their passengers, others saw that they became very
anxious and felt on the spot, that they were responsible for this
whole journey. Were they doing it well enough? What did other
people think about them?
7 Wanting to make things "interesting" is a frequent obstacle to
the meditative aim of trying to be mindful of things as the are,
rather than manipulating them.
The people in the role of passengers were very aware of what
their drivers did, and many saw very clearly how they were
terrible "back seat drivers," nudging and pointing, wanting to
control the situation. Many retreat participants saw that they
act in these ways in ordinary life, but are not mindful of it
then. What became obvious through all these mindfulness
extension exercises was that it is not a different mind that you
have in the retreat: it is the same mind, with its habits and
patterns of thoughts, you are just seeing it a more clearly.
When retreats are held in Yucca Valley, there is a custom of
driving up to the Joshua Tree National Monument at the end.
Driving there proved to be a much more grounded and integrated
experience, rather than the typical chaotic kind of "Whoa, its
amazing and here we are!" There was more of a sense of a
community and a carrying over of mindfulness in ordinary actions
from these mindfulness extension exercises.
Another positive aspect of doing these exercises was that
when silence was formally broken at lunch time, before the
driving exercise, there was not an explosion of energy as often
happens in the traditional retreat. Perhaps the exercises made
the process of relating more gradual and so more grounded and
integrated. Rather than wild talking and intense energy, as if
the lid of a pressure cooker had popped off, people were calmer,
talked in small groups or dyads, and felt more at ease with the
process of talking. The usual frenzy of energy itself leads to
burnout and an unbalanced mind.
A primary point of the original article (Tart, in press) and
the primary purpose of the mindfulness extension exercises
introduced into these two retreats is that mindfulness is not
just a "luxury" item to produce a high in special retreat
situations. Mindfulness is essential in all activities of life
if we want to understand ourselves and our lives better and to
reduce unnecessary suffering.
Our informal observations of reactions to mindfulness
extension exercises are just a beginning at answering questions
as to whether and to what extent such exercises can assist in
generalizing the mindfulness experienced in retreat situations to
everyday life, but it is a very encouraging beginning. J.B. has
spoken to a number of retreat participants since the end of these
two retreats, and many found the modified procedures resulted in
a noticeable increase in their everyday mindfulness and
groundedness compared to previous retreat experiences, at least
during the first period of reentry.
One should not expect too much of mindfulness extension
exercises as such, of course. They are tools, not solutions, and
their effects will depend on a person's general ability to be
mindful, the power of the retreat experience, the effort he or
she puts into being mindful in everyday life, the mindlessness
provoking qualities of the situations he or she returns to in
life, the strength of habits of automated, mindless functioning,
unconscious emotional factors, and of other factors which we do
not yet understand.
All of the retreat teachers were pleased with the initial
results of the mindfulness extension exercises and plan to
Goldstein, J. (1977). The Experience of Insight. Boulder:
Goldstein, J. & Kornfield, J. (1987). Seeking the Heart of
Wisdom. Boston: Shambhala.
Goleman, D. (1988). The Meditative Mind: The Varieties of
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Ouspensky, P. D. (1949). In Search of the Miraculous: Fragments
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Tart, C. T. (1986). Waking Up: Overcoming the Obstacles to Human
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Tart, C. T. (in press), Extending mindfulness to everyday life.
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