Dear Friend of Yoga,
On a normal night of a normal day, I mentally check my calendar, and then physically recheck it, as I begin my mental, physical, and spiritual preparation for the next day. But this is not a normal time, so when I habitually move to check and recheck my calendar, I am quickly reminded of the cessation of my need to check the calendar right now. There is nothing there tomorrow that I have to do, and it appears as though there won’t be anything there for the next series of indefinite days. With this realization, I find my breath almost being sucked out of me by the thought that I not only don’t have anything to do tomorrow, but I can’t have anything to do tomorrow because I have been told to “stay at home!”
I suspect that most people who have been tethered to a work-schedule or a retirement-routine are, like me, more than a bit thrown off by this “forced seclusion.” Ironically, most of us have also long-desired an extra day in our week, or savor that one extra hour each “fall-back” time change we get in late autumn; but this “blessing” of extra time just seems overwhelming! (Of course, the loss of income is no small concern either!) When it first fell upon us, I truly viewed it as an amazing opportunity: the Great Mystery/the Divine/God/the Universe (yes, whom or whatever!) was offering human beings an opportunity to step away from the mean-spirited, self-centered, market-focused mentality that has rippled across the globe, and to rediscover the kindness, the compassion, and the connectivity that could unite us all. While countries, especially our own, were adopting a more isolationist approach, a virus comes along that says, “Oh, so you want ‘isolation’? Try this on for size!” And in this time, yes, are we not seeing (okay, alongside some hoarding hysteria) new “heroes” and servants of kindness stepping up from all walks of life? But underneath the generosity and sacrifice of volunteerism, there is the more challenging opportunity “to face one’s self,” and one’s very existence.
There are so many neglected projects about my home that I could likely spend a whole year busying myself over things that I have long said that I want to do but never have the time for. So here it is – that time – but to just “busy myself” seems to squander an important part of this “blessing” we have unwantingly received. Yes, there is extraordinary goodness in stepping up and being of service to the needs of others, but as this virus has moved us toward isolation, perhaps we should also better realize the opportunity for self-care, at the deepest and most important spiritual level. And here is where so many of us trip and fall into the oblivion of this indefinite period of quietude.
Our present reality reminds me of the throes of starting a practice of meditation. At its deepest level, meditation is the slowing down of thoughts, the emptying of the mind that allows the soft voice of the Self (yep, our connection within to that Great Mystery) to be heard. But such cessation of mental activity, much like the forced cessation of physical activity that we know right now, takes time, and lots of discipline! So, one can begin with “mindfulness” where, instead of emptying the mind, one simply, calmly, and even graciously acknowledges and accepts the feelings, thoughts, and sensations that course through the mind and body incessantly. In this state of mindfulness, however, one might also reach a plateau of awareness from which the observation of these feelings, thoughts, and sensations, leads one to the realization that all of this “busyness” is not as important as one once thought it to be; and so begins the more difficult challenge of letting go of the busyness, setting it aside so that we “hear, feel, and experience” what is truly important.
In a way, perhaps, your practice of yoga has given you the start-up tools for this deeper settling in that has fallen upon us. The practice of yoga invites you, automatically, to take that step of “letting go of the busyness” and to just be present to the movement and the sensations of your practice. But that is the “mindfulness” of our period of isolation. After your practice of yoga, beginning even with your period of Savasana, try to just be still and empty enough – no judgments, no “looking for” – so that as the noise of busyness peels away, perhaps that soft voice, like a subtle incense, will waft up from within, offering you the rhythm of a melody from which you can live more truly. You and I have probably spent the better part of our lives filling our calendars with doing; right now, we have an opportunity to return to our Self, to close the planner and sit still, and to be a human, being.