My view of the mind is that it is a landscape. Yoga or meditation can help us explore our inner worlds. We learn how to navigate the terrain, the rolling hills and dark corners of the psyche. We can see where the light is shining through the trees, and where it’s precarious. Sometimes we need to have a hand to hold our feet or better boots. It’s vital to have the ability to rely on internal reinforcements in times of uncertainty. mindfulness is a way to find this steady ground.
The outside world was changed in 2020, and we’ve struggled to hold on since then. In the early days lockdown, I recall having a conversation about Buddhism with a Buddhist friend. She jokingly said, “It’s almost like everyone suddenly goes on a meditation retreat that we didn’t sign up for.” We both laughed because it was necessary. Sunshine through trees.
A retreat however, is a controlled and peaceful environment that’s wrapped in quiet. Nieves. Serene smiles. There’s no need to worry about what’s for dinner. Meditation bells are available. Retreats can be difficult. I will take caffeine and withdrawal via social media over an unrelenting epidemic any day.
Other entry points
The pandemic is not an excuse for retreat. First, no one signed up for this. I don’t have to re-catalogize the extent of illness, loss and grief of the past two year. The most vulnerable were the ones who suffered. The inequalities caused by systemic injustice were exposed. I don’t need to go into detail about the mental health statistics. However, I can say that 100 percent of us were 100 percent not okay at any point in the past few months based on my own and unscientific findings.
My Buddhist friend still has a point. Many of us felt trapped in our own world without the ability to escape. Without being able to move freely and keep the routines that allowed us to deal with reality (and sometimes avoid it), many of us were forced to retreat. Many people are considering major life changes because of this. We are reassessing and recapping the ways that we have been moving around the world, in both individual and collective matters.
Reentry is a complex process. It’s also been frustrating at times. An exhausting journey doesn’t mean mindfulness isn’t possible or that we are doing things wrong. These are common misconceptions. It’s a reminder that the terrain can be difficult and that we are humans. What can humans do to make the terrain more manageable? What can we do to find stable ground, when the ground is constantly shifting under our feet?
Ayurveda is a system of health care that developed alongside yoga. It states that our bodies are made up of all the elements that make up our planet. These elements include earth, air fire water and space. Recognizing each element can bring about balance. It reminds us of our ground. Our practice, no matter how it looks today or whether it is surrounded by Lego or laundry, does not alter life. It simply helps us to be gentler in our relationships with it.
Meditation on the elements
The following meditation was created because it is a powerful and regenerative act to see what remains during this prolonged, devastating period of loss. I hope that in a time of uncertainty, we can still find inner refuge and that we have the strength to carry on even when things seem uncertain. To get your attention, take a few deep breathes. You can sit, lie down, or walk with your attention. When you feel ready to do so, let your awareness drift towards each element in turn.
- Earth Feel your bones, the source of structure and strength of your body. Connect to the ground where you stand or sit. Your spine will lengthen.
- Air: Watch your breath move in and out. The temperature and quality of the air you breathe on your skin is important.
- Fire Watch your body’s heat. Your “metabolic fire” might be a way to ask yourself if you are hungry. What do you want? Notice how fast that thought fades. It’s like a weather system moving through your inner landscape.
- Water: It might be interesting to consider that your body is mainly water. Think about the fluidity in your blood. Consider how much you owe the ocean for every breath you take, regardless of where you live.
- Space: Be aware of the spaciousness that you have. As you breathe, feel the volume expand in your rib cage. Think about the empty space between your fingers, toes, and nostrils. Your awareness should be like a field.
You can use a affirming mantra to each element while you meditate. You might think I’m earth, air, fire, water, and space. You can expand this affirmation to I contain or I have . You can also follow the yoga tradition by repeating the Sanskrit mantra “I am”– Hum. Because you are.
Rebecca Pacheco is an award-winning blogger and the author of Still Life: The Myths and Magic of Mindful Living . In Still Life , Pacheco deconstructs common misperceptions about meditation—that it’s a cure-all, that it’s blissful, that it’s easy. But her no-nonsense perspective offers a mindful pathway to a life lived fully.