Quarantine: Your Involuntary Meditation Retreat

“My emotions are up and down like the stock market,” a friend told me this week. I can relate! All of our normal social routines are interrupted, many of the things we once thought were reliable have shifted, people are ill or dying in a sudden and unexpected way, and we don’t know when (if) things will stabilize or when the path will become clear.

I could be talking about any meditation retreat, ever.

When you go on a serious meditation retreat, you shed your skin. You leave behind the everyday routine, put yourself on lockdown and just sit with the feelings that arise as you walk from your cushion to your room to the meal hall and back with the same people-all day, every day. Everything you had pretended to yourself you were coping with is laid bare. Your deepest fears and anxieties rise to the surface and stare you right in the face, mocking you. Your deepest cravings plague you night and day and you can do nothing to assuage them (I once spent an entire 10-day meditation course dreaming of chips and salsa).

We are all being invited right now to an involuntary meditation retreat, but without the guidance of a teacher or the positive atmosphere of a course. In fact, if you’re not careful, you can be surrounded by the negative atmosphere of constant fear-based news. There’s a difference between sitting with your real fears, honoring them, and working with them-and just imbibing more fear and feeding it.

Over a hundred couples lined up to file for divorce the day the quarantine was lifted in Wuhan, China. Whether in relationship with ourselves or with each other, we survive on a daily basis in part by avoiding what makes us uncomfortable. When we have no choice but to sit still with that, when we can’t escape ourselves or those around us, we often don’t know what to do. Everything we were pushing out of our consciousness is suddenly unavoidable, and we are left with whatever coping skills we had already brought to the table.

When you go on a meditation retreat, you make a choice. You close down business as usual, willingly suspend communications with the outside world, and choose to limit external stimuli so that you can focus on what is happening within. You might eat simpler foods and sleep in a simpler place. You might talk less, or not at all, and you may stop hugging or engaging in physical contact. You might sit still for hours every day, mostly indoors even if there’s perfect weather outside. And as you do, your deepest demons might rise to the surface and make themselves known.

In a regular meditation course, you’re there by choice. You ideally have a positive environment, the support of a loving teacher and team of staff or volunteers tending to your needs, and a host of modern or ancient techniques for how to focus your mind and attention and clear your path. It’s designed as a pressure cooker of sorts, a place to bring your patterns to the surface and work with them in a constructive way. Quarantine is also a pressure cooker, and you can make the most of it if you so choose.

Here are some basic principles of how a retreat is organized. Take what you can and apply it to your own living situation. Even if you are considered an essential worker (THANK YOU FOR WHAT YOU DO!), you can take some elements of this into the field, and apply other parts at home:

  1. Create Your Atmosphere: A meditation retreat is set up to be a supportive, positive atmosphere because it is REALLY HARD to face your demons! Many people right now have no control over their wider circumstances, but it’s amazing what you do have control over when you slow down and look. You might choose to: Play beautiful, healing-oriented, or spiritual music in your space. Keep flowers in a vase Burn, steam, or diffuse aromatic plants, resins, or oils. Arrange meaningful photos or objects in a way that inspires you. Limit the amount of news you consume each day (including via social media). Read or listen to deeper, archetypal, personally meaningful stories, possibly including ancient spiritual texts, poetry, or fables meant to focus and clear your mind and spirit.

Originally published at https://www.ecospiritualeducation.com on April 10, 2020.

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