It is strange times we are living in these days. The setting and the environment are marked with tension, social distancing, and a total shake up of the daily routine. I watched as schools shut down, corporations began sending employees home to work remotely, businesses shuttered their spaces or enforced limited contact, and the state of Massachusetts banned gatherings of more than 10 people.
The two courses I’m taking, MBSR and the Self-Expression and Leadership Program (at Landmark Worldwide), were affected this past week and while SELP was postponed until April 26th, MBSR transitioned into a remote classroom.
As for me, not much else has changed in my life. I continue to hunker down even more in this lake cabin in New Hampshire, a veritable fortress in this burrow of forest and trees, surrounded by a moat of dirt roads and countryside. With nowhere I have to be, I’ve not left the house all week, stepping out only for groceries. Although, I’ve not been too impacted by the pandemic, my life and sense of normalcy have been shaken up. I find myself living on the edge in this space of the unknown. No one knows how long this quarantine will last, but it is widespread nationwide, and global. I’ve been leaning into this. I feel like I’m living on the edge.
This past week’s MBSR classroom was offered as a hybrid. One could either attend in person or log in via the Zoom conferencing platform. At this point, I was still living business as usual so I didn’t think twice about my attendance. When I arrived in Cambridge, I stopped by All Stars Pizza Bar and got myself a vegan pizza with pickled onions. What a treat! Greedily, I considered a second slice but more pragmatically, moved on to class.
When I arrived, only a few others had shown up so far and by the time class was under way, only half had arrived. It was a quiet and small class. Everyone else was checked in on the screen taking a trip over the digital waves. It was an interesting experience having the change in energy of the room, and yet everyone was there.
It makes me question what the deal is with presence. What is it about Live in person that Digital presence cannot replicate? I wonder what that Thing is called.
Later this week, the scheduled retreat was changed to exclusively online-only. I had no choice but to tune in digitally this time. It bothered me. I wanted to be there in person. I wanted the experience in person. And we don’t always get what we want. It’s about riding the waves. Choosing how one responds.
That morning, I drag myself to attention. It is slow moving. Lethargic. I feel out of my head. I tune into Zoom. I am there but not really. At this time, it escapes me why this feeling of lethargy. I am half awake throughout the meditations. I remember it like a hazy dream. There was meditation after meditation. I found myself wandering that state between Wake and Sleep, and slip effortlessly between the two. And for the remaining hours, I continue through the haze.
Later, after the retreat closes, Jim and I argue. He wonders aloud what I got out of the retreat as I certainly do not seem to have found peace nor relaxation. I wonder this myself. I wonder why I am fighting and arguing when not two hours ago, I was meditating. I think about how tired I felt. How out-of-my-body I felt. I recall the reflection of the sun off the lake washing over me, its brilliant light bathing me in its particle resonance. Maybe I was an ant burning under a giant’s playful magnifying glass, torching my innards.
The lake is so serene sometimes it instills a sense of trepidation, an almost certain chaos on the brink of erupting and breaking the stillness.
I am left with this mirror of the outside world. A breaking of serenity, a seam in the blanket of normalcy, of daily life. This week’s homework was to notice my consumption, what I take in – including food, entertainment, social, and everything else in between.
Although I am getting practiced at taking moments throughout the days to take note of myself, it is still something that requires effort and intention to remember to do. It’s not difficult, but I have to want it in order to even remember to do it. When something comes up that distracts me, mindfulness takes a backseat. This is okay. I am only learning this practice now, it is just a matter of keeping this practice close to me. Practicing daily so it becomes a habit. Re-wiring the neural pathways, like the teachers said at the beginning of the course.
Already, the most profound effect I’ve discovered is self-compassion. As the week comes to a close, I have noted moments where I have been kind with myself, compassionate. Previously, this way of being was foreign to me. My immediate response with myself is harsh, unrelenting, judgmental, and full of fear, blame, shame, and guilt. Now, as I observe my thoughts and feelings – I find compassion and warmth. I find myself liking myself. I witness myself being gentle with myself. This creates even greater desire to continue the cycle of compassion.
This past week, I’ve finished reading The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by the Dalai Llama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Abrams. At the time, it hadn’t even occurred to me how fitting the book truly was in light of what’s spread across the world, as well as with my own MBSR class.
The book talked about how joy starts with getting out of one’s own head. For so long, that was where I lived. I was so wrapped up in my own self, my own problems, and really mostly just castigating myself for not being ____ enough.
It is like everything in this area of understanding had been swirling and swirling, culminating to this point of understanding where finally I’ve broken through a veil that was hidden from me and am learning that I can be kind with myself. Hidden from view of the MBSR classroom, I’ve also been unwrapping family history.
This past week, I spoke with my aunt with whom I hadn’t ever exchanged more than pleasantries. She shared with me her experience growing up in the family and what our family dynamics are. As a child, you miss these things. As an adult, the pieces start coming together. Now I see being unkind with oneself has been passed down through the generations. It’s how my mother was taught to be, and her mother was taught. Knowing this as a learned way of being, I’ve now begun to unwind the spinning spool that binds me tightly to the story that’s woven itself into the history of the past.