Retreat of Choice

Do you feel your life has been metaphorically paralyzed? By now, the novelty (if there was any for you) of staying home has probably worn off; and your patience and capacity to deal with the day-to-day reality of social isolation is likely wearing thin too. At the same time, during this insidious pandemic I have been deeply moved hearing the remarkable stories of human compassion, dedication and leadership by the many who are serving on the multiple front lines; thwarting this coronavirus and its wrath from doing more harm.  

The passion and devotion of those who have purpose amidst this crisis, is inspiring and heartwarming. In contrast you may feel like your well-thought-out plans, your once burgeoning project, your special  “this year’s event” has been hijacked and blown-up in midair. And it has. And yes, it stinks. 

It’s not easy when your world changes instantly from order to unprecedented uncertainty. The unimaginable challenge of losing your life as you knew it coupled with not choosing, is the existential crisis we’re all dealing with. When I became paralyzed one of the ways that I was able to navigate the intensity of the similarly unthinkable massive change was to surrender to it entirely, not to fight it. That doesn’t mean giving in to something. It just means allowing and accepting the situation for what it is right now, along with the crucial attitude of curiosity.

As one of my favourite non-dualist teachers Adyashanti, would say, “You can’t argue with reality and win. You can try but it’s futile. So, what do we do?” Stay curious.

Curiosity is the essential ingredient that monks, scientist, meditators, healers, creatives, artists, inventors and seekers bring to any meeting with ‘the unknown’ to allow for the gifts of that entity or experience to reveal themselves. The quest to understand oneself and life, has been the curious thread weaving our collective evolution through time. In truth this quest has always been to understand the unknown, the power of the Life Force, the Divine, God or whatever ‘it’ is behind this all.  

For many and in days gone by this perennial search for meaning and for a deeper understanding of the source and nature of the Life-force was facilitated by retreating into a cave, a monastery, mountain cabin or a mountain peak. The concept to leave the rat race behind and retreat to a place where the societal and personal distractions are minimal is as old as civilization. The current trend of forced isolation doesn’t really capture the aesthetic concept of a retreat, nor of some form of chosen renunciation. It does however qualify as a lifestyle pivot, an abrupt 180. And in stepping back from the world as we know it, the opportunities inherent within a retreat are at our disposal. 

But How Do I Find Purpose When My Life has been Side-Railed?  

A couple of the things that still amaze me after 16 years of living with paralysis is 1) how busy humans can be at insignificant pursuits 2) how crucial our body-mind relationship is no matter what our physical state or lifestyle and how abusive we can be to our bodies. Think about it, we either adore and enjoy our body from an egoic place or we abhor it from a similarly distorted entitlement. In fact our bodies are a sacred system of energy and matter and our only way in, to a deeper and richer understanding of ourselves and our maker. Recent research is proving more and more that the neuroplasticity and agility of the brain (hence mental health) is directly related to the capacity to fully embody oneself physically, mentally and, yes, energetically-spiritually.  

Be fore-warned, when we slow down things that were muffled, drowned-out, tend to get louder. The bird song we are all hearing as a result of planes, traffic and construction shutting down is a wonderful example of this. The more difficult example is the tension you were holding in your body from overwork now feels more acute, the underlying anxiety you could avoid by keeping busy is now disruptive, the difficult relationship you put off until now, or your compulsive habits are all right at the surface, just like the bigger global issues, shouting – Pay Attention to Me! 

When instantly paralyzed most all physical and external forms of choice got taken away from me and I couldn’t ‘get away’ from anything, especially myself anymore. Choice is the coveted trophy for us twenty-first century beings, we really are attached to our power of choice. For us, it is the difference between having arrived and become successful or not. It is also the linchpin in any spiritual relationship.  Humans have for centuries sought out choice and free will, grasping for more and more choice and freedoms. This ‘power’ that we have attained through our minds, innovation and technology is a live fuse if not grounded in earth our bodies and what matters most. With our freedom and choice stripped away so abruptly, we can see the illusion of the power we gave it. We are at a time now where we can live very selfishly or we can couple our capacity for choice and free will, with Divine will.

This may sound somewhat lofty, but in truth it’s what the Mystics, Buddhists and the sages have been saying forever, that a simple life where we acknowledge that the only true power is love; That the true purpose of life is to love and to delve into all of the places where we feel separate from love, or question it – is the most fundamental accomplishment of life. Ultimately by remembering and acknowledging we are not separate from Love from the Source, we can fully embody and fulfill our relationship to It. 

On a simple day-to-day level that means dissolving all the places where you self deprecate, where you doubt yourself, where you detach from your body, your feelings, yourself. It means not projecting, but sitting with your anger, your restlessness, your resentment’s and allowing them to teach you self-compassion and loving kindness.  It means being mindful of your body and your ‘felt sense’ and attending to the simple movement of your breath. It means letting go of ownership of your body and your breath, even of your life and appreciating and living like it’s the gift that it is. 

Slowing down and retreating from the busyness of our consumer world has given us the opportunity to remember the basics: eating well, taking care of each other in ways that stretch our imagination, taking up a creative project or endeavour, reading a good book, teaching your child, growing your own food and long walks in nature.  We are realizing that so much of what we have been doing is taxing the earth, ourselves and our relationships more than we have admitted, especially our personal relationship to the Divine Life-force.  

As I mentioned earlier, becoming paralyzed made physically escaping myself or situations almost impossible, which is similar for many now. Words of another teacher rang in my ear on those long days when I was wondering “how I am going to get through this” to the tune of: “We create our heaven or we create our hell.”  In all honesty, that is the only choice we really have: the choice of how we will respond, who we will become and how we will meet each day. Who we are at a time of crisis or uncertain change, says more about who we are than any job title or sense of power we may have derived from the external world.

So at a time like now use your one mechanism of choice wisely, for yours and the greater good. Take care of yourselves and each other. Be well.



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