About six weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to practice social distancing, a small group of residents at my retirement community began a weekly meditation session. The activity fell under the umbrella of “Health and Wellness,” and the meditation we practiced was purely “secular.” Each week the same core group of meditators gathered for half an hour of sitting (or lying down) in silence and stillness, focusing on our breathing and relaxing our bodies.
Proof that we found it helpful lay in the fact that we kept coming back. Some of us were new to meditation, and others had practiced for years, but meditation is an “equalizer.” We are all beginning again, each time we sit in silence.
In early March, the decree came down from on high (the management) that we must not gather indoors in groups of any size, we must stay six feet apart at all times and, eventually, wear face masks. The cottagers were told not to come to the main building where the apartment dwellers live. So, reluctantly our little band of meditators “disbanded.”
Before “social distancing” became the rule of thumb, I invited the group to try walking meditation. But while we could gather indoors, there was not much interest in it. Then, as hints of spring began to appear in the world around us, as we became tired of long days inside, I asked again if anyone would like to join me outside for a meditative walk. This time it appealed.
We gather on the open patio behind the main building. Fortunately, two paved paths lead off in opposite directions from this central point, bordering the large triangle of lawn on which we play croquet in the summer. The paved walkways are safer for those of us who are unsteady on our feet, and those who use canes or walkers.
We begin at 1:15 p.m. each fine day (but not during rainy weather.) The small masked gathering of five or six seniors stands quietly in a large circle with the appropriate distance between each. A singing bowl chimes three times, and we start off at a snail’s pace, down the left walkway and back to the patio, down the right walkway and back to the patio. We again gather in a circle, hear three more chimes, and end by bowing to each other and offering the greeting “Namaste,” “the light in me honors the light in you.”
Such a simple practice, but one that we find meaningful and helpful during this stressful and tumultuous time. Focusing on the breath as we walk gently on the earth awakens us to the present – to what we see, smell, and hear, to the warmth of the sun and the touch of the breeze on our faces. We thank each other at the end of the walk. At first, the “thank-you’s” were accompanied by smiling lips, but now, we see only smiling eyes above our face masks.
I don’t know what my fellow meditators experience during our daily ritual. For me, it is a welcome break in the middle of each day. My days are not exactly “busy” anymore, but they’re still full and purposeful. Our walking feels like an anchor that holds me secure amid all the uncertainty around me. I take deep breaths and allow my “self” to sink into my body. As my mind quiets and my body awakens, my senses are heightened. I see more clearly and hear more acutely. My brain stops whirling like a dervish, and my time-conditioned mind drops into the timelessness of “now.”
The enormous pine tree in front of me waves in the breeze with a “whishing” sound. The birds chirp, and so does a brave little chipmunk who is determined to warn us away from his territory. We notice first the crocuses, then the daffodils, and eventually tulips leaves and tiny red buds on trees that will soon flower in glory. I totter along, wondering at how unbalanced I feel when I walk slowly. I hear the gentle scuff of feet behind me. I disengage from planning. I stop analyzing and dissecting the circumstances of my life. Someone told me that other community members look down at us from their apartment windows. I wonder what makes them stay inside. We are an open invitation to a simple and mindful pause in the middle of the day.
No matter how slowly we walk, the meditation ends too soon for me. I ask myself, again, to carry this slow “nowness” into the rest of my day.
What sustaining rituals have you created during the Coronavirus pandemic? What new practices are your anchors at this time of worry, fear, political confusion, isolation, loss, unemployment, poverty, sickness, and death? If you have found some inner peace and reassurance during this time, can you carry it forward into the future? Can you join it to the various awakenings experienced by many others in this unprecedented situation? Might it be a “change-agent” for your life after COVID-19 is vanquished?
So might it be.