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Meditation in times of Corona (Update of May 2021)

Dear Friends,

More than one year has passed and we are living still in the midst of a disaster. We have to live with the breathtaking Corona virus pandemic. The virus is invisible, so that there are even people denying its existence, and breathtaking in a double sense: in the speed with which it’s spreading and in the damage it induces in human lungs. A deadly disease, which is flooding the intensive care units all over the world with patients who need artificial respiration.

How quickly humans adapt to such circumstances! We’ve learned that strange behaviors became quite natural. Staying away from each other two meters away and not shaking hands, no hugs, not even with closest friends. Waiting in the rain outside a shop with a mask on the face. Showing the certificate of a negative corona test to be permitted to enter a fruit and vegetable market. This is by far nothing we have anticipated a year ago, but it is all spooky normal now. Sometimes it feels to me, as if a year was enough to forget, that we are living in an extraordinary time.

Even though it is natural that we almost feel normal in the midst of this crisis, we should not forget how dangerous it is. While I am writing these lines, about 160 million people in the world have suffered Corona virus infection and more than 3 million have died. Vaccination is in progress in the rich countries, but billions might have to wait a long, long time until they will be protected from the virus threat. Many more people will suffer and die until this pandemic is over.

What does this all mean for our meditation work?

Amazingly the pandemic is less disturbing than I had expected. Yes, we are longing for meditation with personal contact. We want to meet in person in our meditation groups meetings and retreats.

However, we have found ways to cope with the situation. We have discovered that our small moving images and distorted voices can serve as an appropriate substitute when personal contact is impossible. A year ago I did not believe it, but yes, it is possible to meditate, have affectionate communication and intimate exchange in a videoconference setting.

My first virtual retreat organized by Springwater Center last June was a very positive experience. With all participants sitting at their homes, meditating together, connected only by a computer or smartphone, at first I anticipated an extraordinary challenge. But nothing of the expected difficulties became true. I spoke into a microphone and was amazed, that I felt deep in contact with my listeners. Even an interruption in the midst of a talk caused by a computer problem, turned out to be no problem at all.

Isn’t it amazing? Human beings can be in very good contact, even when only sparse information is transported back and forth among them.

Group dialogues in a video conference setting were also functioning much better than I had expected. The technology requires, that only one person speaks at a time. To me the core of a group dialogue is listening to each other, and I learned that the videoconference setting is even conducive to evoke such careful listening.

Toni Packer once said, that awareness can happen everywhere, and many of us have already experienced the truth of it at online meditations.

Again, this spring and summer, the retreats, I will offer at Springwater Center and in Poland, have to be virtual and our retreat in Poland has to be shortened to a weekend retreat only.

Nevertheless, I am an optimist. It means, there will be a chance for those who have never tried it, to discover, what it means to participate in a virtual retreat.

I hope, you all, new or experienced with online retreats, will embrace this opportunity. It is not like walking with crutches. I have learned, that a virtual retreat can be a true enrichment.

What’s more, there is now light at the end of the tunnel. Vaccination is going ahead, at least for us in Europe and North America. For me there is hope that next year we will be allowed to travel again and we can meet in person.