Last year, one evening, while spending a few quiet moments to myself, enjoying the gentle pitter-patter of the rain, my mind raced past and went back to our pre-pandemic days.
I started longing for the days when vacations were a normal thing and I recalled the excitement with which we usually planned our trips and how we used to travel, at least twice or thrice a year, eager, as we were, to get away from all the busy-ness of our lives—away from the regimented, time-boxed schedules dictated by school routines and office hours, to soak in the much-needed quiet and calm, away from all the noise and the humdrum of city life!
The best part about going on vacation was that one didn’t have to worry about the mundane everyday chores. Instead, one was spoilt with indulgences of every kind, from nature walks and lazing on the beaches, to trekking uphill and getting to capture magical skyscapes and gorgeous sunsets. Add to it, the sheer bliss of enjoying great food without having to spend hours sourcing it or having to cook it! What a blessing it was!
Recalling those wonderful days made me wistful and sad. Life had changed in the wake of the pandemic that had started to surge in the early part of 2020 and by the time we were halfway through the year, it had turned our lives a full 360 degrees, beyond our wildest imagination. What a year it turned out to be. We went through a steep learning curve and just when we thought we had all learnt our lessons and were ready to embrace the new normal, the second wave unleashed its’ fury upon us. Having gone through the worst so far, we’ve now so much more appreciative of how fortunate we are to have made it this far, sane and alive, despite the losses and the heartbreaks of seeing our loved ones in pain.
And, somewhere in between all this, we also came to realise that through these challenging times, we desperately needed to delve deep into a retreat within—a place to be who we are, to soak in the much-needed peace and quiet, that we had earlier sought in fancy places and exotic retreats. We needed this quiet and peace for our sanity and our mental health. To stay strong for ourselves and our loved ones.
The pandemic has certainly taught us many essential life lessons, and one of them that I find absolutely wonderful and totally worth sharing is this—
The best retreat is within the quiet confines of our minds. We do not need to look elsewhere.
Often we look forward to taking a few days off or travelling somewhere else to recharge ourselves. We think to ourselves that we must take that much-needed break after we are done with something. But, we don’t actually need to do that. The best retreat is within us, all the time.
Last year, at a particularly stressful period in my life, I came across the teachings of the Zen meditation teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn, and his words made a tremendous impact on me. It brought me peace and calm and showed me a way to access my inner retreat every time life overwhelmed me. I realised, over time what he meant. In his words,
“Wherever you go, there you are.”
It’s ironic that what one most seeks outside, one usually finds a wealth of it, within. As I sat with my eyes closed every morning and felt my breath moving in and out, I learnt to tune out the noise. And while I was at it, I learnt to tell myself that there was no yesterday and no tomorrow. Nothing before or after. No worries and no regrets. I am here and now. I kept focussing on my breath.
Tuning out the world was challenging when I was new to this practice. But, with time and patience and focus, I learnt that I could shut out the world and enter my inner retreat any time I wanted to. It helped me then. It helps me now. This is one practice that keeps me sane through the madness. This helps me find myself anew again and again.
I’m so glad that I’ve found my inner retreat and I no longer have to travel anywhere else to get my peace. My secret getaway is right here, within me, always.
Written as part of our #SoulfulSunday freewriting exercise—along with Vinitha, Shilpa and Anamika.