Of Virus & Virtues – A Voyage Within
It’s probably worth mentioning here what I mean by isolation.
A friend of mine owns a small farm in the jungles of Peru. She has a handful of little cabins that sit on her large duck pond. A few times annually over the past five years, I have spent ten days isolated in one of these rooms, benefiting from the remote nature of being isolated in a place with no electricity and only the sounds of exotic animals singing me to sleep each night.
In my November retreat, I had decided that when I returned in February, it was time for me to take my practice to the next level and go from ten days of isolation to thirty.
In line with various proven ascetic and renunciation practices for spiritual growth, I also choose to fast with limited amounts of bland food (bananas and oatmeal for breakfast; lunch rotates between rice and boiled potatoes one day, and grilled fish for protein the next) and drink only water – copious amounts of water. I refrain from any stimulations (no caffeine, alcohol, sex, online activity, music, podcasts, conversations with others, or pleasure reading, to name a few). I do not even go outside of the cabin.
The goal here is to strip you down to nothing but yourself so you can truly see yourself. This is where our wisdom resides.
I have learned many times in these isolation retreats that right when I think I might break is actually when I find my strength to transcend.
Jungle selfie! Day 18
I will tell you more about what I have learned in these moments of extreme isolation, but first, let’s return to my re-entry story.
I started to read some news coverage from the New York Times so I had a slightly better sense of what was happening. Sports seasons cancelled. Schools temporarily closed. Flights between U.S. and Europe ceased. Cases of coronavirus spreading like wildfire across the globe. The new epicenter in Italy. Death tolls rising. The U.S. increasingly following in its shadow.
I went down to ticketing to check in my bags for my flight. I began to notice the number of people wearing face masks and moving with an air of panic. I asked the woman at my check in counter if it was true that the border was being closed the next day. She told me, “Yes. You’re likely on one of the last flights out.” My plane was scheduled to leave at 11:59 P.M.
After navigating one of the longest immigration lines I have experienced in a dozen trips back and forth from Peru, I finally made it to my plane with about fifteen minutes to spare before take-off. I relaxed into my seat and said prayers of gratitude that I was getting out, given how long I had already been away, and without connection to those who mean the most to me. I was ready to be home.
I couldn’t believe it. I happened to be sitting in a middle seat over the left wing and looked out the window. Yep, there it was, a food delivery truck stuck up under the wing of the plane. Deep out breath.
People are freaking out. This energy is a bit much to withstand given that I had just spent an intense month isolated in a tiny room with only my own energy.
So, I did what my isolation had taught me how to do best:
Meditate to connect with the serenity that is always available inside me.
Meanwhile, the airline was sweetening the benefits they offered to entice volunteers (hotel rooms, food, transportation, $500…$700…$900, it kept climbing). After getting the thirty-five people they said they needed, they came back on the intercom to say they miscalculated; that half the plane needed to be empty, and another thirty-five people would need to be removed. And here’s the kicker — we only had fifty minutes for this to happen because we needed to leave by 4 A.M. if the flight was going to be able to depart the airport before it closed.
Now the collective blood pressure of the plane was at a maximum boiling point. I still remained calm. I had a strong feeling in my meditation that I was going home. And I also knew I had the skills necessary to handle the situation if I were forced to stay. I have learned many times in these isolation retreats that right when I think I might break is actually when I find my strength to transcend. Yes, I want to go home; and if I am stuck here, it must be that I have more to learn.
“We have dumped all the bags from the plane. We are able to leave now.”
Once I got to Fort Lauderdale, I was able to book a new connecting flight later that night, which made my entire trip home about ten hours longer than it was supposed to be. But that inconvenience seemed like a pittance. I was just happy to be stateside, knowing that no matter what was going on at the airports, I could make my way home via car if necessary.
I pray daily for the health care workers, first responders, and COVID-19 patients and their families who are experiencing the most devastating impacts of this illness. They are shouldering the unspeakable, nearly unbearable weight of this novel virus. Our sheltering in place is the smallest of sacrifices we all can make to keep from adding to an already overburdened health care system.
The distress reaches beyond the sick and those so heroically caring for them. Parents juggle working from home while also needing suddenly to have the skills of a homeschooling teacher. Essential employees scramble for child care options while being overworked and underprotected from exposure. Service sector and other non-essential employees are laid off and small business are closed with no sense of when economic life might return to some form of semi-normal. Rents, mortgages, and car payments mount as incomes decline or vanish.
On the surface, this feels like a catastrophe from which we may never recover. But dig a little more deeply, and with the help of some inner insight, and we can find our way to holding this with more patience, hope, and love. We are more resilient than we know. Our ancestors have walked this path before us and leave their imprint within us. Our DNA records the wisdom of generations. We must find silence to listen to their subtle promptings from within.
I am now seeing the ways that radical love is the equal and opposite counter to this novel virus. They both force us inside ourselves, in isolation. Just as the darkness of the coronavirus spreads from individual to individual and multiplies exponentially throughout the world to become a pandemic, each one of us can be a host for “the love bug” – equal in scope and power, with the force of light to become a transcendence of higher global consciousness. This work is not easy. It starts with having to walk through the fire and dis-ease within ourselves to realize an individual awakening that ignites the collective. It takes radical courage, radical honesty, and radical compassion. And from this, we will see the radical change that comes from a rebirth.
Will you walk with me on a journey to explore how we might embrace this as an opportunity to reflect, renew, and rebirth an improved you and a better world?
We are more resilient than we know. Our ancestors have walked this path before us and leave their imprint within us. Our DNA records the wisdom of generations.
Inquire, examine, and be curious about yourself. Removing external distractions forces our gaze inward. Most of us do not know who we truly are. We refuse to look inside. Periods of isolation help us become more familiar with our patterns of thinking and our triggers, including how we respond to provocation and what matters most to us – if we pay attention. This is a chance to notice what you are noticing; to become an expert on you.
It is easy to see our good stuff. It’s an entirely different skill to dig into our unflattering bits. When observing ourselves, we must do so with an open heart that welcomes seeing the full truth. For too much of our lives, we have been conditioned to honor our light and reject our darkness. This fractures us and makes most people scared of being alone or isolated because there are things about us we do not want to see. However, there is no greater strength of character than a willingness to honestly review our shadow selves. When we shine light in these dark places, we allow space for transformation.
Jungle Heather has wrestled with coming to terms with my need to take credit for my good works and seeking attention and recognition for it (apologies to my former colleagues in politics who I may have elbowed out of the way at a press conference podium). I have a history of wanting to be the smartest person in the room, which drives perfectionism and competition. Scarcity has been a driving force that perpetuated a false belief in limited resources, which meant I could be stingy with money and food or the limelight. I realized how often I was body-shaming myself. And I have faced how often I render judgement against someone. Even as I write this, I had a teachable moment – I initially wrote this section in third person pronouns as if that Heather is someone else. I nearly started to cry as I forced myself to correct the “she” and “hers” and take full ownership with “I” and “my” words, stripping myself fully naked for you to see. And yet I know I must tell my story if you are going to have the courage to investigate yours.
The beauty of what comes on the other side of this work is beyond imagination. By naming my dark impulses, I gain control over them and I stop mindlessly indulging their promptings. In this, I have found an exquisite freedom buoyed by a boundless sense of happiness and connection to my best self. Looking at our darkness does not have to be scary. I won’t lie, it will feel that way at first. But in this examination of conscience, we are opening a path for liberation.
Contrast is a great teacher. Pride is being replaced with more humility. I embrace collaboration now more than competition. My perfectionism has given way to patience and seeing how I and others do not need to try so hard all of the time – we are perfect just as we are. Scarcity is a false sense of security, wrapped in a giant lie. Abundance is everywhere if we embrace it. My body is my temple and it is beautiful and wise. Compassion is replacing my judgement and opened me to deeper connections.
In all of this, I have learned to love myself and others more fully because I am no longer actively or subconsciously separated from any part of myself. This is not to say that I do not fall back on old patterns ever. My darkness will always be there. But now I have the tools to see and hold my darkness without serving or rejecting it. It is just the other half of my light. It balances and teaches me. Profound healing has blossomed in this exchange.
We are experiencing a special global moment. Crisis and trauma have birthed many awakenings. I encourage you to rise up to this challenge to put radical love into action. Let us all become more intimate with the spirit that animates us. Do not think of social distancing, isolation, or quarantines as a prison sentence; rather, because we cannot change the circumstances for now, joyfully accept the opportunity to go within and find your deepest truths, your greatest fears, and your unopened gifts. The world needs us to heal ourselves. Now.
There is no greater strength of character than a willingness to honestly review our shadow selves.
Far too many of us are human doings rather than human beings.
I learn a lot by watching the wisdom of nature. A turtle is the most yin, yielding and receptive of animals because the only way she can defend herself is by withdrawing into her shell. We are all turtles right now. This slow-down of our regular, hectic life can be embraced as a gift if we yield to it and are willing to receive.
Get plenty of sleep.
We are all stretched too thin in the effort to balance work and life. This great collective pause gives us permission to cultivate new sleeping patterns and to finally give our body the rest it needs and deserves. For the month I was in the jungle, I was shocked to find that I naturally slept between nine and twelve hours every night. My body has never felt better.
Eat mindfully and hydrated often.
Food is medicine and water is life. It is tempting to cram comfort foods during stressful periods, but this robs our bodies of the nutrients it needs to stay at peak performance. A balanced, healthy diet of home-cooked meals is essential for boosting immunity, mood, and clarity of thought. Drink more water than you ever thought imaginable. Make it your go-to beverage all day long. Water has a very high energetic vibration and it will naturally lift your spirits in addition to keeping you and your skin healthy – a first-line defense against illnesses.
Movement releases trapped energies in our bodies and fuels the complex systems within that regulate emotions, outlook, concentration, and overall feelings of health. It also supports our process of detoxification. Trust me, after “walking” for thirty minutes each day in my tiny retreat hut (six steps forward, six steps diagonal, turn and repeat with great vigor), I can confirm the ability to exercise regularly without regard to weather and with no gym membership. Bonus points when we combine our exercise routine with our time in nature.
Meditate & Journal.
Setting aside time each day to explore our inner lives will install neural connections and pathways for peace, calm, and serenity (in addition to the opportunities to cultivate mindfulness and self-mastery, as discussed in the section on reflection). When I first started doing my retreats in the jungle, I could only meditate for about twenty minutes. With more practice, I gradually upped my game to easily sit for an hour multiple times each day. Start with five or ten minutes and work your way up at your own pace. Breath work is another helpful tool for self-care and we become most mindful of our breath in our meditation practice. Journaling is also an incredible way to explore our inner workings and record our insights and deepest revelations, as well as measuring our progress over time.
We feed our souls when we are at play. Work on a puzzle. Create art. Listen to music (or great podcasts – hint, hint). Read an inspiring book. Put on a talent show with your family. Break out the board games or a deck of cards. Write a short story. Turn your current feelings into poetry. Color!
Get out in nature.
While we are indoors numbing ourselves in front of TVs, computers, and cell phones, the wisdom and spirit of nature is inviting us to an awakening outside. Whether it be a part of our exercise routine, putting hands in the soil of our garden, pulling weeds from the sidewalk, planting some flowers, fishing, or napping on a hammock, Mother Earth calls us to come closer to her for more self care and inspiration.
Which brings me to some guidance on things that would be helpful for us to detox during this time of personal renewal.
Go on a social media diet.
Most of us are guilty of spending too much time scrolling and not enough time truly connecting with family, friends, nature, and our inner lives. Social media is an illusion of connectivity. Sharing photos, memes, or news articles is no match for a heart-connected conversation with someone you love; a stroll in the woods with your dogs; or reading a soulful book instead of mind-numbing screen time – not to mention just savoring some time alone, without distractions. I was surprised at the withdrawal symptoms I showed from not having my phone to mindlessly engross me throughout the day while I was in the jungle. Every time I noticed an impulse to reach for it, I instead looked at what was going on inside me that I was unknowingly seeking to ignore.
Turn off the TV.
Make conscious viewing choices of programming that nourishes us in some way – comic relief, entertainment, historical teachings, documentaries, etc. But just leaving the TV on non-stop – especially on cable news networks with their never-ending pundit cross-talk and political fighting – feeds the beast of anxiety. Silence helps us listen within.
Limit the influence of addictive substances.
Alcohol, sugar, junk food, and recreational marijuana (among others) seduce us in times of crisis as a self-medicating balm and it is easy to over-indulge. It would be smart for us to exercise caution and use any of these in moderation. They are distractions from our inner wisdom and steal the clarity we need right now.
The more we engage in reflection and renewal, the easier it is to see through the illusion all around us and become more empowered to manifest the world we want our grandchildren to inherit.
The way humans have been living and interacting in the world is unsustainable. We need a new perspective. Mother Earth is putting humanity in a time out. This collective pause is a chance to redefine ourselves, our habits – our way of being. As systems and structures that no longer serve us start to collapse, it is time to dream a bigger dream.
Our country is steeped in toxic individuality. It is a legacy of colonization and our annihilation of tribal cultures. We see evidence of it in the capitalist mindset that promotes scarcity and hordes supplies; in the general discarding of our elderly rather than holding them in a place of sacred honor; in policies that have failed to assure access to basic needs like health care, sick leave, living wages, and healthy foods; in a politics that divide us by appealing to our basest instincts rather than our highest ideals; in an unwillingness to change behaviors to lessen the threat of climate change; and in the domination of white supremacy structures that most refuse to see, let alone name.
We can choose to let these ways crumble and instead dedicate ourselves to bringing forth strong, resilient, inclusive communities of mutual connection and benefits. In this moment of crisis, we are pregnant with possibility. There is no other time in the history of this world where an entire global community has experienced such a collective calling to work in collaboration for the survival of our species. We can harness this energy of solidarity to bring about great change as we recover and rebuild. As we step into this work to remake ourselves, we find a deeper connection to unity consciousness and begin to understand more readily that there is no such thing as “us” and “them.” We are but “One.”
Our hearts and minds are capable of transcending the limiting beliefs that have separated us from each other, with a vigor for the work ahead of rebirthing a new way of being that benefits all of Earth’s creation. We were made for these times.
Mother Earth is putting humanity in a time out. This collective pause is a chance to redefine ourselves, our habits – our way of being. As systems and structures that no longer serve us start to collapse, it is time to dream a bigger dream.
Resilience and Reciprocity
Engaging in the work of reflection, renewal, and rebirth helps us to fortify our resilience and connect more deeply to our sacred, reciprocal relationships.
The “original form” we are returning to in this process of becoming resilient is not who we were before the coronavirus rocked our world, but the version of ourselves we were always intended to be from the first moment of creation – the person we are rebirthing from our reflection and renewal work.
While we might feel lonely in the isolation, remember that none of us are facing this alone. The entire planet is of one mind right now. Feel the strength and possibilities in that sacred connection to each other. And pledge to be a positive contributor to this human and planetary chain. As we go inward to make ourselves more whole, we create a force for healing that extends to all with whom we are in a reciprocal relationship.
In my meditations, I give deep gratitude to my lungs and pray, while I inhale, that my breath be support for a COVID-19 patient struggling on a ventilator. As I exhale the carbon dioxide, I thank the plants and trees for filling the world with more of their healing oxygen. They continuously model for us the gift and responsibility of mutual exchange. The root word for inspiration derives from the spirit that is called in through breath. I breathe deeply and honor the divinity in all living things – in me, in you, in the plants, animals, and minerals. We are an interconnected web of life. I offer apologies to Mother Earth because her lungs are on fire and burning at a rapid pace because of human indifference. “As above, so below. As without, so within.” She cries for us, too, as we are facing a pandemic illness that also attacks respiratory systems. We breathe together. Human bodies are a fractal of the planet. We are mirror images, reflecting each other. We are both sick. And we are both strong. We have each other, in reciprocity. She loves us deeply. When we radically love ourselves, we will be able to see, embrace, and return her affection. We will heal together. We will survive and thrive again as one.
May Great Spirit bless each and every one of you on your journey.
This essay was written by
Heather R. Mizeur, CEO + Founder, Soul Force Politics.
We ask how the world would be different if politics were rooted in radical love? She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and welcomes your feedback and engagement.
You can tweet about #RadicalLove with @soulforcepol or connect with us on Facebook or Instagram @soulforcepolitics and on our website at www.soulforcepolitics.org
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