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While in the shower the other day, I was brought back to a conversation I had with a student right before this Covid-19 emergency broke wide open.  D. has a real interest in meditation and silent retreats.  That night she was asking me about the Vipassana retreats held up around Barrie, ON.  I’ve never attended these retreats but have met several people who have.  They’re intense.  10 days, 20 days, 30 days of silence and seated meditation.  In this tradition, food is limited, contact with others is prohibited, as is physical exercise, reading, writing, texting, and so on.  The day’s schedule is set and does not waiver.  Hours and hours of seated meditation with a videotaped teaching by Goenka in the evenings.  There is no hugging.  No consoling your neighbour should they fall apart.  No eye contact.  You exist within a community but are very much focused on being a single cell of the community.  These retreats are meant to take you deep inside. They turn up the heat of transformation.  They are meant to strip you down so you can emerge a truer form of yourself.

That night at the condo D. asked, “How do you prepare for one of these things?”  I had to admit that I did not know.

I remembered all of this the other day and, standing in the shower, I burst out laughing.  I spoke to D (possibly out loud just so I could hear a human voice) and said, “THIS! This is how you prepare.”  This strange Covid-19 situation.  Right now I think I would take it even one step further and say this is the retreat and this virus is our best teacher for it.  Nuts, right?  But hear me out.

We are being forced inside.  For those on total lockdown, care needs to be taken about how much food is consumed so that there’s enough to last the duration.  The rest of us are left to our own devices.  Many are able to work from home but many others, like myself, are out of work.  There is so…much…time.  And this is where it gets interesting.  Out of a regular routine, out of our connections to our work-time labels (teacher, engineer, etc.), nowhere to go because things are shut down, unable to meet up with friends and family to pass the time, our shit comes bubbling up.  We find ourselves heating up.  We become impatient, moody, argumentative.  We search everywhere for a distraction.  And let me tell you, there is no shortage of Covid-19 “distract yourself” stuff out there.  Online classes abound.  Downloadable colouring pages to keep the kids occupied.  E-books to read.  And, of course, there are all the streaming services offering visual entertainment to numb your mind.

But none of it really seems to be helping us feel better.  Everywhere I look people are freaking out.  But damnit, aren’t we making like it’s business as usual?  Hey, we have video conferencing and the internet!  We can keep working like it’s a regular work week.  Miss your Yoga?  Here are 3300 online options for you.  You, Yoga teacher.  You’re out of work?  How about filming some classes for sale, or record some meditations?

I’ll admit it, I’ve been sucked into it as well.  I’ve felt like a colossal failure for not hopping on the bandwagon when everyone else seems to have.  And then, last night, I came across this blessed quote by Emma Zeck:

With this open time

You do not have to write the next bestselling novel

You do not have to get in the best shape of your life

You do not have to start that podcast….

What if we became curious with this free time,

& had no agenda other than to experience being?

When I read those words, something in me let go.  This is no time for me to go on like nothing unusual is happening.  I’m on retreat.  This is no time for me to be a leader or a teacher.  I’m on retreat.  This is no time for me to spark up the old webcam and pretend like I have my shit together because, my friends, my life and everything all around me is on totally new ground, and my stance is pretty unsteady.

I’m on retreat.  Covid-19 retreat.  And so are you.  The whole world has joined this transformative process.  When I drop my trauma, my drama and my suffering for a moment, I am in absolute awe over this whole thing.  To stand here as a witness.  To know there will be another side to this and that I will likely be here to see that other side.  It is so intense it leaves me speechless.

The fire of deep transformation burns like nothing else.  It is meant to take us down and incinerate us so we can rise up, stronger than we were at the beginning.  Blacksmiths know this as they forge metals.  Alchemists know this as they use fire to transform materials to create something new and unique.  And Yogi-s know this.  So they fast and sit and meditate in silence for hours and days and years.

What would happen if we all symbolically stripped bare and sat right at the centre of this enormous fire?  I guess we’ll find out, hunh?  Cuz we’re in it, like it or not.  I do hope to meet you on the other side.  😉  I can’t wait to see what this Phoenix will look like.

Offering so much Love,

Tabitha

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Hi friends!

How are you holding up?  These are oh-so-strange days, aren’t they?  When I knew that all of my work would be shut down for an indeterminate amount of time, I thought, “Okay, I’ll use the time to try and make some sense out of this from a Yogic perspective.”  Lofty goal.  Since then I’ve come to realize that in order for me to make sense of anything, I need to be clear of crisis.  I need space and time and perspective and OXYGEN in order to process things, to sort them and to put them together in a reasonable, sensible way.  But here we are in the midst of this Covid crisis and my head really isn’t clear enough to make sense of anything.  How about you?

Here’s one thing I have observed, beyond the weird obsession with toilet paper and hoarding:  there has been very little space given to free expression of feelings like fear and confusion and grief.  There are so many wonderful online things going on – concerts, group choir events, dancing, Yoga, movies.  I honour these things.  I honour the immense efforts of people who are trying to keep us all calm and feeling okay in this world.  AND….

….And I think it is so incredibly important to provide a platform for people to say those taboo things like:  I am terrified; What if I get sick and die; What if there’s honestly no food left?  That is also part of our experience and I think if we don’t give it some air, it takes over our minds.  When it takes over our minds we end up in situations where we have a grocery cart full of paper products that we will protect with a knife.  Don’t let it get there, friends.  Know that this is a forum for you to be honest about the feelings you feel are too difficult to air elsewhere.  You don’t have to do it in public.  You can send me a private message.  I have absolutely NO solutions for you, but I am open enough to hear you.  Sometimes that’s what we need.

I’ll tell you that even after so many years of mindfulness practice, I have been losing my shit this week.  The intensity of losing work plus working with my partner to ensure we have enough supplies to weather the storm was big enough.  Add to that the sudden health crisis of one of our cats and you have a situation that was too much for my mind and nervous system.  I melted down.  No, that sounds too gentle.  I went nuclear.  I yelled things that I don’t actually remember yelling.  I stomped around like a crazy person.  I was a crazy person.  A living thing I love immensely was in trouble and the helplessness of it heaped on top of the other helplessness and WHAMMO!  I was in orbit.  I knew I was in orbit but I just couldn’t stop myself.  So the practice is helping but I have a loooooong way to go.  🙂

I mention this in case you have found yourself in similar circumstances.  Maybe you consider yourself to be a fairly peaceful person but suddenly you’re yelling and swearing at people on the street.  These are extraordinary times, friends.  We are in survival mode.  Survival mode is fierce and efficient.  When we’re in it, we make mistakes.  We’re human.  We’re very scared and exhausted humans right now.  And you’re not alone.  The whole world over there are scared and exhausted creatures just trying to live.  In a strange way, this virus leads us straight to that interconnected reality.  We want to live just as all living creatures want to live, ironically, just like this virus wants to live.  When you can feel that in your heart, that I want to live just as all other beings want to live, something has the chance to soften within you.  This is Life trying Its best to live through us.  Ultimately, it’s okay.  It’s just a bit intense right now.

I exercised my precious freedom to get outside for a walk today.  Have you been outside lately?  It’s my favourite season – Spring.  I’ll tell you what I saw in case you haven’t been out in a bit.  I saw buds fattening on the branches of the maple trees.  A pair of purple finches chirped away while sitting on the branches of a tree in our local park.  Beautiful light green and blood red things are poking their way up from the depths of the earth.  One neighbour solved the problem of lawn mowing by astroturfing their entire yard.  And I met the beautiful, smiling faces of community members who were also out for a walk.  One of them was even kind enough to ask me how I was doing.  It was a lovely moment of precious connection.

We’re still here, loved ones.  Nature (and we’re part of it) is chugging along.  The sun rises and sets.  The clouds gather and part.  The tides come and go.  And if we’re so, so fortunate, we’re here to witness it all.

Let us send beautiful wishes of love, health, peace and solidarity to one another.  And if you happen to have an extra roll of toilet paper, give it to someone who needs it!  😉

Sending you so much Love,

Tabitha

ps.  The cat, mysteriously, is perfectly okay.  Oh, Nature, you do confound me!

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