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We gain more benefits if we apply the principles of meditation. Regardless of our reason for meditating -- perhaps for relaxation, centering, peace of mind, or spiritual awakening -- we can apply many of the same principles to our daily life. When we do this, we multiply the rewards simply because we are increasing the amount of time during which we are attending to our inner states, and we are sustaining the momentum which we cultivated during meditation. We also have the opportunity to test any revelations which we acquired during meditation; when we try to apply these new ideas on a subject such as "divine love," we gain feedback which adds new dimensions to our understanding of these abstractions, and we can see how this divine love (for example) takes form in our activities, our home, our friendships, our job, our finances, our physical health, and other situations. The feedback assists also to keep us solidly based on the realities of our human world. (The "real world" has ways of rudely pointing out any bizarre misconceptions that we might have created in the isolation of our meditating mind.)
We don't have to view our everyday life as a distraction. Outside of meditation, whatever attracts our attention -- our interest, our desire, our emotional response -- is not a diversion from some ideal spiritual state. On the contrary, we might find that the reason we are enticed is specifically because there is something for us to learn -- a spiritual principle, a karmic situation which we have created, or an attachment which needs to be released with love.
We can adapt any meditation style to our everyday life. If we use a "concentration" type of meditation, we can practice concentrating on any task, such as driving or reading. If we use moving meditation, we can use the same principles in every motion -- when we are typing or gardening, for example. Be creative with the adaptations, and enjoy the exploration of these states as expressed in the outer world.
We learn about dualities. We might see the ways in which we separate our life into "meditation" and "non-meditation," "spiritual" and "secular," "inner reality or illusion" and "outer reality or illusion," "inner thoughts and feelings" and "outer manifestation of those thoughts and feelings," "passive" and "active," and so on. When we bring meditation into our daily existence, we learn more about such dualities and the common ground that lies beyond them.
We sustain love toward our human existence. As we find a commonality between our inner and outer worlds -- principally with the idea that our outer life is a reflection of the inner -- we are less likely to think (mistakenly) that the inner world is the only sacred one, and that our physical life is nothing but illusion or evil or sin. On the contrary, many meditators develop a greater love and acceptance for their own humanity, and they feel that their spiritual challenge is to find the sacred within the mundane. We can receive the physical world for what it is -- our temporary home, our place for learning, and a creation which evokes our compassion, natural affection, and desire to serve. This outflow of loving energy helps us to live fully in the world and yet simultaneously to experience the loving divinity beyond this world; if we were to scorn our physical life, we would be succumbing to the illusion rather than seeing the light and truth behind the many elements of our life.
We can maintain the qualities which we develop in meditation. Certainly, we must shift gears for whatever activity we are doing; our sitting Zen practice might not be easily adaptable to our fast-paced restaurant job. But we can try to re-create the same inner quiet, like the calm at the center of a hurricane. Other qualities which can be brought into daily life might include love, attentiveness (mindfulness), joy, simplicity, clarity, compassion, relaxation, poise, and a feeling of connection to the rest of the world. As we apply these principles, we will discover a depth to our everyday life which will make each moment more interesting and more joyful.
Do we change or transcend? Although the expression, "Before enlightenment, you chop wood and carry water, and after enlightenment, you chop wood and carry water," might imply that spiritual evolution doesn't spur us to express our new realizations, "chopping wood and carrying water" refer to basic activities and responsibilities of life (like eating and sleeping); the expression doesn't say that we won't change at all. Spiritual growth and enlightenment might be based somewhat on acceptance and transcendence and bare observation (which imply not changing ourselves or our personal world), but our expanded awareness introduces elements which alter the dynamics of our mental processes; the mere presence of these new ideas and energies will change our ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving.