‘First of all, let me start by saying, everything is mostly just fine.’ These were the first words one of our teachers spoke after our last meditation on Sunday. ‘Please sit with that sentence. Notice how it feels in your body.’
So I sat and felt the anxiety beginning to bubble at the pit of my stomach. What would he say next?
I had been living a mostly monastic life of physical and radio silence for six days. Sharing quiet space with 100 humans I had never met before Tuesday. No sounds but the shuffling of slippered feet in the hallways, the clanking of spoons against bowls, the occasional sigh or sneeze during seated meditations, and the soothing sounds of our teachers voices during instruction times and dharma talks.
This final talk was about re-acclimating to life after retreat. Things would be different after today.
Living in complete silence, doing nothing but meditating for days, sitting or standing or walking while concentrating on the soles of your feet is a very grounding practice. I felt more stable and calm and grounded in the present moment than I ever have in my life. I knew that things would be different at home because 2 cases of the corona virus had already hit New Jersey before I left. Occasionally during the week I wondered what was happening outside. But I returned to my anchors, the breath, the sit bones, the soles of my feet.
Right before this final talk, we had our first small taste of speaking. We broke into groups of three, talking for 2 minutes each about our own experience of the retreat, with a moment of silence in between, to pause, process, and honor the words.
Six days of turning inward had made me acutely aware of how my body reacted to thoughts, sensations, and actions. The speaking and active listening had left me tingling, all buzzing, and I could feel myself physically lifting a bit from the groundedness. We had been told that speaking and interacting for the first time would be odd. But I had no idea how much my entire body would vibrate.
‘The virus is spreading’ he continued. Heat and tingles rose up from belly to my solar plexus, my chest tightened, my heart and my jaw clenched, the tears welled up behind my eyes. And the thoughts rushed in, seemingly all at once. How is Charlie? How is my mom? John and the girls? My friends? Neighbors? Humanity? The tears streamed down my face.
‘We know that there is an arc that the spread of the virus will follow, based on what happened in China.’ China. What was happening in China when I left? Cases were declining. New cases were declining. There is an arc.
‘Feel your feet on the floor. Feel your sit bones on your seat. Notice how your body is reacting. Return to your breath.’ An arc. There is an arc. Where are we on the arc? It’s only been six days. How much higher can we be on the arc in six days?
He went on, one or two sentences at a time, pausing for a few moments in between so that we could process each new bit of information in our minds and our bodies. A bit of information, a pause to process, reconnect to our anchor, ground down, feel the words. There is an anchor.
‘You will be extra sensitive when you come off the retreat’ another teacher said. Holy shit, am I in trouble! I’m already extra sensitive on a daily basis. ‘Remember to pause and come back to your anchor; your feet, or your breath, or your sit bones.’
Just about an hour later, I was in my car, driving home. I called John to hear his voice, to make sure everyone was okay, to get the updates. With each vibration of his voice through my car speakers, I tingled, I buzzed, I clenched, and I cried. I felt my self sitting on the seat. I paid attention to my breath. I anchored down.
Since I left Massachusetts I’ve been trying to continue the practice of receiving and processing information in small bits. Speak to one person, then pause and breathe for a while, process what’s been said. Read only one email or one news item, then sit and breathe, process what’s been read. I was without any information at all for six days. It will be too much for me to process the live stream of it all at once. It will overload my system. I am certainly extra extra sensitive.
But it has always been like this. Too much information, not enough processing time. Too much receiving, and not enough pausing.
We will all benefit now from this necessary social distancing. Taking time to turn inward. To pause and to process. To feel.
There will be an arc. Find your anchor and ground yourself in the present moment. There will be an arc. But first of all, everything is mostly just fine.