What surprises me most are human beings. They sacrifice their health in order to make money and then they sacrifice money in order to recuperate their health. And then they are so anxious about the future that they don’t enjoy the present. The result being, they don’t live in the present or the future. They live as if they are never really going to die and then they die never having really lived.”
~The Dalai Lama

Dearest friends,
I have spent the better part of the past 3 months on a long meditation retreat. A beautiful and challenging period of solitude, meditation and contemplation on the nature of change, impermanence, life, death and the beauty of all that is. Here is my hut:

And it has been interesting to emerge from that silence and contemplation and enter onto the scene of a global pandemic that seems to be changing the face of the world very quickly. While we often think that life is predictable and known, it is in moments like this that we are shaken from our slumber and wake up to the reality that things are, in fact, always uncertain. While this can activate a lot of anxiety (I have watched waves of it rise and fall in this body since I turned on the internet), it can also invite us into a beautiful, peaceful, letting go. It is an invitation to release into a refuge that is true: the refuge of this moment and the constancy of change in the realm of experience. When we start to really truly, deeply appreciate this truth, when we see that everything is always changing, our bodies, our minds, our thoughts, emotions, the weather, the vibrating atoms that make up the world around us, our feelings and perceptions… we can start to relax into the way things are. I learned this lesson on retreat over and over again. Countless times I practiced breathing in, breathing out, and surrendering to the constant flow of change. Eventually I started saying thank you to each offering of the mind whilst finding a deeper stillness and awareness that was not changing.

“Now, it is like this…”.  Moment by moment by moment…. 

I am deeply grateful for my two and a half months of meditation practice which feels like the perfect preparation for the letting go, flow and adjusting that is required now and in the days to come.

I frequently find that times of apparent calamity are very rich. I have traveled many times to conflict zones and lived in places where chaos and insecurity are the norm (the Middle East, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Nigeria, India). Although it is heart wrenching to witness human suffering and the suffering of other life forms, I also love the aliveness and vibrancy I find when my only certainty is that the next moment is unknown. In these contexts, I have seen human resilience, generosity, and kindness beyond anything most of us could imagine in the West. This is because people know, in these circumstances, that life is fundamentally interconnected, that we must take care of each other and that we must stay awake, live fully, and cherish each person and each moment. Anything can happen any time… It can.  While some people turn to survival instincts and self-preservation, we also see others opening their hearts and minds, allowing the  expansive qualities of generosity, compassion, and goodwill to flow. Since I returned to Toronto, I have found people to be much more open, kind, and connected than they usually are. It has actually been quite extraordinary and is something I feel very grateful for. We ARE waking up!

COVID-19 is giving the world a huge dose of “spiritual vitamins”.   Now is a time we are being invited to truly practice mindfulness, to stay alert, engaged, and aware of just what is happening right now. Can I relax into this cup of tea or a heart felt smile shared with my neighbour? Can I take joy in looking at the sky or bringing food to a friend in isolation? Can I meet and welcome the fear that is arising knowing that it too is changing and will pass?  Can I drop all my ideas about the future and allow creative solutions for work, family and other life situations to emerge as the situation unfolds moment by moment? Can I let go of the clinging to ideas of what I want, how I want things to be, and how other people should be so that I can open to the way things are? Can we dive even deeper and see that the very sense of who and what we are is also inconstant, changing and uncertain? Can we hold it all – the ups and downs of life’s unfolding – with compassion and, dare I say, even a healthy sense of humour, as we see how impersonal all of our conditioning and mind states are? Can we remember that death is a certainty for all of us, whether now or later? Can we hold the understanding that this is an exceptional opportunity to reflect on our mortality and come into closer contact with how we want to live our life while we’re still able? While retreat in the forest was wonderful and challenging, this new containment in the city has already been equally challenging and enriching. I hope that each of us can find a way to grow, deepen and connect to what is most important and valuable in life at this time AND PLEASE STAY HOME AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE!

With Much Love,
Shira

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