Quarantine Or Retreat? A Reflection On Shifting Inwards

What can we learn at times such as this? How can we transform a catastrophic circumstance into an opportunity for self and others? Is it possible to embrace the inevitable challenges and difficulties of human existence that threaten life and emerge wiser, more loving, and alive? These are some of the great spiritual questions that throughout time have engaged humankind.
Elliott Dacher, M.D., is a physician, meditation teacher, and author.
quarantine or retreat
Elliott Dacher, M.D., is a physician, meditation teacher, and author.

Seen from one perspective, human life is a folly. Fraught with lifelong challenges and ending with the pain and struggle of disease, aging, and death. So what, we rightfully ask, is the meaning and purpose of life? How is it to be lived? Is there a “way out” of this dilemma that binds us together in the difficult effort of finding serenity and purpose in what seems like a cryptic and unchosen human fate?

Throughout time and across diverse cultures humankind, enmeshed in physical existence, has searched for a remedy. In modern times we have been conditioned to go down the path of outer accomplishment – name, fame, affluence, achievement, transitory pleasures, and so on. But temporary distraction and relief is not a permanent remedy to the reality that all things material are perishable and will certainly be lost to the invariable change — ego and body included. There is no exception granted here. It may seem an endless and futile effort, leading to exhaustion and final failure. And even our efforts to temper this seeming fate with “healthy” approaches – relaxation-based meditation, physical yoga, fitness, nutrition, psychological development, and so on – help, but miss the point. The fundamental shift that heals has not yet been taken.

I would like to break the flow here to speak about my last few months. I planned time away from my usual home to be near my children and grandchildren. I expected to meet new friends, attend gatherings, and enjoy a variety of activities. But something very different happened that is difficult to convey in words. I noticed after a few weeks that I was spending much time alone and was losing interest in the “outer” world and its activities. I began to meditate more, read, write, and listen online to teachers that touch my soul. What is becoming of me, I thought – a hermit? To be honest, I was a bit concerned.

And yet, I was deeply serene and happy for no apparent reason. I was touching, it seemed, an inner something that although unnamable and indescribable, seemed hardy, reliable, unchanging, and life-sustaining. I can’t tell you exactly what this deeper “something” is, although many have given it names. So perhaps I can call it a deeper, more authentic sense of self. It felt quite real, stable, and precious. It took me more than a month to realize that something, perhaps aging and its difficult and unavoidable questions, had thrust me out of worldly activities and unknowingly into an unsuspected retreat – not withdrawal from danger, unless one’s ego delusions are considered an enemy rather than a teacher. But, rather a pull, or push, towards something within that seemed the only meaningful and trustworthy response to my human existence.

Regardless of common belief that faith is an excess of religious thinking, I found that faith was unexpectedly there in my inner travels. How can you journey inward towards what in modern times seems invisible, immaterial, and unreal without faith? And, yet that is the nature of consciousness and the inner source of healing. It cannot be known through the senses. It can only be known through heart and faith. And so here it was that I was encountering an “acceptable” and essential faith in an essence that seemed very real, although invisible in common terms.

My time away ended abruptly as I chose to return home when the realities of a runaway virus became evident. And, it was then that I realized that the forces of life, unsought and unchosen, had landed myself and all of us into an unexpected solitude and retreat, offering a unique and once-in-a-lifetime forced withdrawal from outer “doings.” Please understand that I am not romanticizing the challenges and suffering that this imposes on many, but rather looking at what we can gain as humans from what is.

Serendipitously, I began re-reading the Bhagavad Gita, the holy Hindu text in which the god Krishna, Arjuna’s charioteer, teaches Arjuna, the leader of an army, about the true nature of life and existence right there on the battlefield moments before the battle begins. That is where we are – on the battlefield in the midst of a great challenge. We are now forced to stop our doings. And, if we see the opportunity we have been thrust into, we can allow ourselves to sit still, rest and relax, surrender to what is, look within, and explore the invisible and life-sustaining dimensions of our deeper self.

If we can stop watching the news, let go of electronic distractions, embrace with heart the care of others, and surrender to the great challenge that confronts us, much as Arjuna, we will have gained the most precious of all gifts. We will touch into the immense and simple beauty of presence, the irrefutable realization of our interconnectedness, and the unchanging immortal nature of soul and spirit. We will have won the only true battle – the battle between light and dark – a battle that can only be won at the level of soul and spirit.

With a small tweak, chosen or forced, our attention can shift inwards. And, that makes all the difference. Some simple Suggestions:

  • Surrender to the reality of what is. We never had the level of control our ego deluded us into believing. Let go. Let be.
  • Find a small space in your house that can be your sacred space for quiet, reflection, and meditation.
  • Schedule time each day, preferably in the morning, to be still, meditate, self-reflect. Allow yourself to “do” nothing. It’s OK.

You might like to start unwinding with these guided meditations by Elliott Dacher— also available for free in the Insight Timer app:

  1. Cutting Through To The Authentic Self: A Lifetime Practice Elliott Dacher, M.D. 14:23
  2. Stillness, Well Being, And Beyond Elliott Dacher, M.D. 14:19
  3. Calm The Mind In Minutes Without Mental Effort Elliott Dacher 12:56
  4. Happiness Without A Reason Elliott Dacher 15:48

Can you turn one room or space in your home into a meditator’s cave, a monastery, or a seminary? If so, self-isolation and quarantine can become sacred retreat. We may never have chosen retreat, but in a cryptic way it’s been forced upon us. Please use it.

Read more: Explore three ways to do a retreat at home for your wellbeing.

Meditation. Free.