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Apr 7, 2020

Voyage Within

Written by Heather Mizeur

Calamity is a fierce teacher.  She has birthed many awakenings.  When I stepped outside of the tiny shack that had been my isolated retreat home for 30 days in the Amazon jungle, I was entirely unaware of the unique global moment that had unfolded around me.  This is the story of clueless re-entry into a world-wide pandemic and the wisdom this experience offers to navigate these challenging times.

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.

Within these walls, I knew I was either going to find myself or lose my mind

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.

On March 15th, I emerged from a month of solitary confinement in the Peruvian jungle to find that the world was very different than when I stepped out of it.  My retreat teacher had told me that she heard the U.S. had no toilet paper and there was growing panic about the Coronavirus.  But neither of us knew the extent to what was actually happening.  We presumed it was an internet-fueled panic that was emblematic of scares that can ripple through a consumer culture – much like what happens right before a big snow storm and all the bread, milk, and toilet paper vanishes from the grocery shelves.
Before I went into isolation, I had followed in the news the growing epidemic in China.  But at that time, it seemed likely that this threat would be contained before creating any health concerns at home.  Over my month of isolation, I had forgotten all about it.  I shrugged off the mystery toilet paper conundrum and headed to the airport with my motorcar driver (think motorcycle with a covered bench seat behind it).  I could barely hold my giddiness at being back in the world and the excitement I felt to see my wife, my pets, my friends, and family again after not speaking to any of them for such a long period of time.  Even the walk from my little hut out of the jungle was one of the most precious moments, as I had finally been liberated from the walls of my 8×10 room for the first time in thirty days.

Jungle selfie!  Day 18

The tiny room that was my laundromat, bedroom, puzzle play station, gym & yoga studio, meditation space, writing desk, and hammock napping spot for 30 days
The first text my phone downloaded was from my wife, Deborah (top left in photo)

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.

While I was at the Lima airport, I got access to the internet for the first time in a month, anxious to reconnect with my spouse, Deborah.  Her most recent text was the first to download.  It was a picture with some of our girlfriends with this message: “Oh my goodness!  You did it!  I can’t WAIT to see you and to hear all about it.  You are re-entering at a crazy time.  Please avoid your texts and media.  Just focus on the beautiful faces in the photo.  You will be home so soon!”  I dutifully ignored my phone other than to touch base with my family and a few friends.  Ignorance can be bliss sometimes.  I appreciated her warning.  It can be a bit of a shock to reenter full force into a society that never sleeps after being totally isolated for thirty days. 
While enjoying my first tastes of freedom – a meal of chicken, cilantro, and vegetable soup with avocado at my favorite airport restaurant – I noticed when everyone stopped with urgency and gathered around the restaurant television.  The soccer game was interrupted to air a national address from the Peruvian President.  Restaurant patrons and airport travelers crowded in with rapt attention.  One person said, “No, treinta dias!”  My Spanish is good enough to know that she was asking the President to do something for thirty days.  I asked her after it was over what he had said.  She told me in English, “He is closing the border for at least fifteen days starting tomorrow.”  She thought it should be for longer.  I could barely believe it.  Had chance really worked in my favor to get me out of Peru immediately before the border closed?

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.

 

First taste of freedom — an indulgent meal by comparison 
Then an announcement from the cockpit, “Good evening everyone.  This is your flight deck.  We have an update and ask for your patience as this might take a while to address.  A catering truck hit the left wing of our plane and we need to assess damage before we can leave.  We will be back with you when we have more information to share.”

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.

Another announcement: “So we removed the catering truck and assessed the damage.  It’s only to the wing tip – which is not necessary for safety.  Its only purpose is to improve fuel efficiency.  We have taken photos and are sending them to the U.S. to get approval for take off.”
By this point, at least they had the in-flight entertainment system on and I was well into watching the new Mr. Rogers movie, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” when the next update fell like a giant thud on my heart:  “Well, folks, it turns out that while it is okay for us to leave without the wing tip, we are now facing a weight penalty because of the added fuel and so we are going to have to remove some passengers in order to take off.”  They start calling names of passengers that must leave the plane.  I get a glance at passports in the hands of the somber faces walking down the aisle with their carry-on luggage and piece together they are first removing Peruvians.  However, that was not enough to ameliorate the weight problem. They came back on to declare that if thirty-five passengers did not volunteer to deplane, the entire flight would be cancelled.

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.

I was so intrigued to see how simple it was for me to stay calm while others were unable to deal with their emotions.  A peace that passeth all understanding.  I was already witnessing a real example of the skills I had gained from my sacrifice.

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.”

As we approached the witching hour, the final announcement tells us, “We have dumped all the bags from the plane.  We are able to leave now.”  As this four-hour delay draws to a close, I am more than happy for Peru to keep my bag of stinky jungle clothes.  I’M GOING HOME!

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.  

 

Apotheosis Farm is my slice of heaven on Earth
I have been back at the farm for two weeks of travel quarantine and reintegrating into the new normal that is upon us.  As a general rule, our rural life here is by design a form of social distancing with a good amount of preparation for when weather or other events isolate us against our will.  We are readier than most to ride out this twist of circumstances.  Though, to be sure, we also have been hit with new economic uncertainties and miss seeing our friends and family.  But for the most part, life for us on the farm does not feel terribly different than it ever did.
But I know most are not so fortunate.  For many, this is a wrenching change of circumstances that brings with it mounting fears and significant anxiety.

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.

Without minimizing any of the suffering, I am writing to offer some silver linings that might help us cope with this rapidly new life we are maneuvering.

RESOURCES
When more of us find our calm still point within this storm, we are better able to thrive in the chaos and can even help to shift it.  This opens pathways to love ourselves more fully and to mindfully put that love out into the world by how we choose to engage with others.  This is radical love.  It is the medicine we need in this moment.  And this is the work of Soul Force Politics.

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.

 

 

Reflection

Adventures in Shadow Diving

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.

Before I went to the jungle for these isolation retreats, I knew some things about Heather. I have a good heart that is eager to serve and help others; a strong intellect and impeccable midwestern work ethic; courage and willingness to speak uncomfortable truths.  I stand for justice and equality.  I cultivate the empowerment of others.  I am a fearless risk-taker.  I give damn good motivational speeches.  I am gregarious, fun-loving, humorous, and inspire creativity in myself and others.  I am full of fire and thrive in environments where I can step into leadership roles.

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. 

Renewal

Self Care Is Not an Indulgence

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. 

Exercise.  

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. 

Play. 

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.

Rebirth

Dream a Bigger Dream

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.

What we say and think matters.  They are our tools of creation, carrying energy and meaning to shape our perception of reality.  We are great storytellers.  Our minds are continuously weaving a tale.  But not everything we think, see, or believe is true.  We have been living in a story that reality is one way and now we are being shown that it can also be something quite different altogether.  It is fluid.  It can change.  We have choices.  What do we want to create?

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

We Will Survive and Thrive Together

Engaging in the work of reflection, renewal, and rebirth helps us to fortify our resilience and connect more deeply to our sacred, reciprocal relationships.

Could there be anything more important right now?  Resilience is defined as (1) the power or ability to return to the original form, position, etc. after being bent, compressed, or stretched; elasticity (2) ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like; buoyancy.  Yes, more of that, please.

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 heather@mizmaryland.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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