What were you supposed to be doing in the life you had planned before the pandemic changed everything? I was supposed to be leading a yoga retreat in Rishikesh. They say you should prepare for the unexpected, but there are some things you can’t imagine preparing for.
Safe and socially distancing in the comfort of my apartment, I was faced with a sudden shift in my schedule and unexpected free time. For a Type A New Yorker used to being on the go, this was somewhat jarring. I, like many people, derive comfort from my routines and activities, which can provide structure and a sense of purpose. At the beginning of the pandemic, I had to adjust to working from home and teaching virtual yoga classes. I was no longer commuting on the subway, which provided structure for my day, as did seeing my coworkers and students in person. Many of our behaviors throughout the day tend to run on autopilot, leaving us unconscious about what is absorbing our attention. Our routines and activities can also be used as a coping mechanism to distract us from discomfort, just as we may use food or a beverage to soothe ourselves when we’re feeling stressed.
While I couldn’t lead my retreat in India, I made the decision to still participate in a retreat led by one of my teachers—a virtual weeklong silent retreat, here at home. Disconnecting from news, communication, responsibilities, and all other activities, I joined 15 other people from around the world on Zoom to practice silence, movement, and meditation.
Each day of meditation and mindfulness practices offered new insights and challenges. The noises coming from my neighbors and the construction outside my windows reflected what was going on in my head. My thoughts were loud. I vacillated between drifting into autopilot mode and nudging myself back into awareness of the present moment. On my mindful walking breaks outside, I felt the fear, hope, and humanity in people. As my senses started to sharpen, nature became more well-defined to me. Each leaf, each petal stood out. I allowed myself to rest when I needed to, without feeling guilty. Toward the middle of the week, I settled into a rhythm of daily meditation and mindfulness. I was able to get quiet and understand how I interact with my surroundings. New pathways in my brain were forming and old patterns were shifting.
Several months on from my virtual silent retreat, I realize that it allowed me to not only create space for self-discovery but provided structure for self-care in my home during a stressful time. Certain things I had once been attached to and defined myself by have shifted. Before the pandemic, I didn’t think twice about how overcommitted I was or how much I was running around. Now I have grown to appreciate the extra time I have to take care of myself and my home, to be in nature, and to create more time for what I truly value.
Whether or not you are able to join a virtual silent retreat, you can use this time at home as an opportunity to observe your behaviors and the way you live. One way to start is to journal about your daily activities and assess whether they are nourishing or depleting, whether they add value to your life or not. This practice builds awareness about how you are spending your time, and how fulfilling it is. If you’d like to experiment with being silent, pick a day when you can turn off your technology, be mindful, silent, and observe. It can be very revealing.
Traveling to a peaceful destination for a retreat where you can completely withdraw from your daily stressors and responsibilities may sound ideal. But what better place to practice structured self-care and mindfulness than in your own home in your everyday life? What better time to take stock, slow down, and reset?