When the Buddha wished to praise someone, he had a saying: Kuta Karta Niem – they did what needed to be done. Kuta Karta Niem. They did the work. And so I say to all of you: Kuta Kara Niem (bow). You have all the reason in the world to feel very good about yourselves. Upon leaving retreat there are a lot of things you need to know – especially if you’ve never done or left a retreat before. Big Picture-wise, after a retreat, exactly one of four things happens: (why does this not surprise us) you either get afterglow, aftershock, both, or none/neither. Afterglow - tranquility, energy, cascading insights, pleasant emotions… more and more that becomes the predictable result of a retreat. However, at the beginning, not necessarily so – there are other possibilities. You could have sort of the opposite of that – aftershock. Vulnerability, disorientation, all sorts of… stuff, bubbling up from the inside because it’s no longer held down by concrete. You become porous in respect to what’s inside and you become porous in respect to what’s outside. My standard remark, only because I have so many times experienced what I’m about to describe myself upon leaving a retreat, I’m shocked to discover the that entire population of North America has become… Insane. I walk into a 7-11, I’m driving down the 405 freeway and one has stop think: they all went crazy, completely berserk, since I was away on retreat? There can be that sense of vulnerability to the outside world.
In the afterglow and aftershock discussion, there’s only two things you need to know: why it’s happening and what to do about it. Why it’s happening is not because you did something wrong. In fact, it’s a consequence of doing something right. I say this at the end of every retreat, and for many people it’s just words, but at some point you’ll say to yourself, “My goodness, I know now why he says that after every retreat”. First of all, we are in this for the long haul as far as I’m concerned. It’s a life-long endeavor, but doable by a householder. The spiritual path is a sequence – not one, not two, not three, not four, but dozens and dozens and dozens of acclimitizations over the period of a lifetime, to a state that is less fixated and progresslively more attenuated. That is the very meaning of Spirit. Spirit in English from the Latin Spiritus from the Greek Pneuma from the Hebrew Ruach And it means Wind! The wind is powerful, but it’s unfixated and attenuated. It is There. But it is not there.
The LITERAL spiritual path is different from the content spiritual path which is, “I have spiritual images I have spiritual self-talk I have spiritual feelings, in the physicality of in my body.” But the spiritual SUBSTANCE is… quite a different thing. And those are the two sides of the spiritual path and of course they both have their validity. But the substance of enlightenment – which is what we’re really interested in, in which the practitioner becomes less and less fixated and more and more attenuated – that takes acclimatization. My Father was in the Navy during World War II and he relayed the saying to me “Getting your sea legs”. When someone is first on a ship, it’s unfixated right? They’re holding on to the railing, they have difficulty walking, and then at some point they acclimatize to the fact that there’s no solid ground underneath them. And then they’ve got their sea legs. This is a little bit like that but even more so. The ground will be ripped away from under you moment by moment, and your being will be scattered to fill the Universe moment by moment. And that takes some getting used to.
The old coping mechanism which sorta works is to tighten up and turn away. The new coping mechanism is the diametric opposite - open up and turn toward. It’s rather difficult then to avoid the awkward, intermediate steps, and not just once and not just twice. What happens though eventually is that you get so used to it that it’s a non-issue. So if one experiences after-shock, it’s simply of result of that process - the old armor is no longer sufficient to ward off the stings and bites of the material world. But the new coping mechanism - which is that you’re so open and porous things pass right through – takes a bit to establish itself. What to do about it? Just keep up your four pillars of practice – and you know what they are – organized retreat practice, organized daily life practice, get support and give support. Regarding aftershock and afterglow then – enjoy the pleasant part and you know what to do about the other side. And then the neither. You don’t have to have dramatic things occur on this path to be making progress. Actually, a lot of times, people don’t quite realize how far they’ve gone because they’re acclimatized to that, and then something comes up and they realize, “I really, really have changed.” More killer articles from Shin’s talks and teachings to come, as well as some new stories from the road. For now, Chao tam biet.