Two weekends ago I attended an online meditation retreat through the Insight Meditation Society. I had thought I would attend the retreat in person and was grateful for the opportunity to take part in at least one of the activities I had planned back when we used to make plans. The retreat became a link between the life I was living prior to this pandemic, and the life I live now. It also reminded me of the stabilizing force of my meditation practice. The retreat title, “Finding True Refuge,” turned out to be very apropos as the instructors and participants alike were sequestered in our various homes, protecting ourselves from the very real threat of the novel coronavirus. As instructor Chas DiCapua pointed out during the event’s first series of talks, the title also suggests a dichotomy of kinds of refuge. If there is true refuge, there can also be false refuge.
Lately, I have found myself buried in a novel or movie thinking it will offer me some relief, only to feel a rush of despair followed by intense anxiety when the distraction ends. We all likely feel quite stripped from our usual ways of finding comfort and stability in an ever-changing world, even as the frank truth of the nature of impermanence glares at us like never before. This would be the “false refuge” we so often look for in daily life- trying to find a permanent satisfaction in pleasurable experiences which provide transient pleasure at best.
During the past 5 weeks, I have been trying a different strategy. When I have found myself flooded with a surge of fear or anxiety about the uncertainties ahead, I have asked the question “am I OK right now? Am I safe, am I healthy, am I OK right now, in this moment?” I do not ask these questions in a rhetorical way. I expect an answer. For if we are not OK in the moment, we need to know that. If we are not OK, there are things we can do to help ourselves. Fortunately for me, the answer has been “yes.” I take a moment to let that sink in- right now I am OK. I then look around my house, or the woods I am walking in, just to notice what is happening. I will try to feel my breath, or try to feel my body. I ask myself “can I just do this moment?” I find that I can, every time. Eventually, the fear and anxiety do pass.
Finding present moment awareness is finding refuge in the Buddha. As I was reminded in my retreat, Buddha is a word that means “awake.” Every time we return to the present moment, we rediscover our own inherent capacity to be awake. The practice of being fully in rather than shutting away our experience is a sanctuary that doesn’t crumble the moment the credits roll, or the last page of the novel is turned. There has never been a better time to practice the skill of present moment awareness than now.
Michelle Downing, DPT, OCS, CFMT, RYT
Weekly Pranayama & Meditation sessions are offered for free or by donation at Evolution:
Mondays 9:30 -10 am Pranayama & Meditation with Meagen Satinsky
Wednesdays 7:15 – 7:45 pm Pranayama & Meditation with Meagen Satinsky
Thursdays 8:15 – 8:45 am Meditation with Martha Whitney
Fridays 1:20 – 1:50 pm Loving Kindness Meditation with Michelle Downing
View our full schedule and sign up for a session here.