When I first thought about this topic I seemed to know the answer right away :

I was finally going to do all the dreary things I ought to do but never somehow “got around to”. I was going to empty my inbox in my apple mail which had grown to an alarming 3496 mails, 270 of which I had not even opened. Next I was going to polish my ten items of silver plus work my way through the piles of paper on my desk which needed to be filed away. And lastly I would write overdue mails to friends whom I had neglected.

 Well, you guessed it; three weeks into more or less total isolation and I have not done any of these tasks. I discovered that, even with a lot of time on my hands, I still do not want to engage in any of these boring activities.

 What do I do instead? I am a daily meditator and always wonder whether I am ready to go to a meditation retreat for a weekend, a whole week or even a month. Would I be able to meditate at least twice in the morning, interrupted by a walking meditation, the same in the afternoon without speaking to any of the other meditators?

 So here was my chance: I would do more or less the same in terms of the amount of meditating but of course cheat in terms of staying away from my computer or Netflix at night.

 I am happy to report that meditating twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon (each time for 30 minutes) has been no problem whatsoever. In fact, it is something of an adventure. You never know what comes next. Will I be bored? Will something hurt in my body? Will it take a long time for my heart beat to slow down? Will some painful feeling from the past push to the surface? Every time it is different, sometimes so pleasant that I do not want to stop, sometimes painful.

 Admittedly, I have developed my own style of meditation. I don’t believe in the harsh boot camp kind of meditation where - for instance - you sit in lotus position facing a wall and your teacher hits you with a bamboo stick when you move. I allow myself to lie comfortably on my sofa, close my eyes and watch my breath as much as I am capable of. Sometimes I fall asleep in the process, sometimes I massage a part of my body which is hurting. Maybe I should not give it the lofty name of meditation but simply call it lying still and  do nothing while watching your breath. You could call it a form of mindfulness meditation.

 When I studied Psychology I learned that there are two parts of our autonomic nervous system: The sympathetic nervous system, or the “fight or flight” response, prepares our bodies for action when in danger… and the parasympathetic nervous system - “rest and digest” -  which helps produce a state of equilibrium in the body. It seems to me that during much of my life - due to childhood trauma - I have subconsciously been in the “fight or flight” response, hyper vigilant, always waiting for the next shoe to drop. Maybe now I can more often shift to the “rest and digest” mode. Surprisingly, this time of enforced solitude  is indeed a unique chance for me and I will try to stick to this routine.

 After I retired I fell into the same trap as so many of us: became busy with all sorts of courses, travels, joined groups, volunteered etc. As I realize now I have been running, away from the feeling of not being useful and productive anymore.

 Well, over the last three weeks I stopped running and it feels good. Until now, a day for which I did not have any plans seemed an empty day that needed to be filled somehow. That has changed. I now wake up in the morning looking forward to a day where I only go as far as my balcony to sit for fresh air but otherwise  meditate, read, write, talk to people on the phone, dance around the apartment  and even bake a cake (something I have not done for years).

 I am deeply sorry for the millions of people for whom the situation is stressful and anxiety provoking. Fortunately, my financial situation is not threatened so I have the luxury of concentrating on my inner life. My health is not compromised as long as I stay put and I learn to be more in the present because the future is utterly unpredictable. Who knows what will happen even next week? So why not stay in the present - something the sages of all ages tell us - but we never seem to listen.

 

Maria von Finckenstein

April 5, 2020