In order to slow the spread of the coronavirus and buy valuable time for our medical services (see my previous article) people are doing ‘social distancing’. This means, for some of us, adopting the ‘namaste’ greeting of hands in prayer, rather than shaking hands. Even Donald Trump seems to have picked up the vibe. It’s lovely to see such behavioural flexibility and support for cultural diversity from the President of the USA. Well done.
Meanwhile there may be times when we are ‘self isolating’ or as I prefer to describe it ‘going on retreat’. Here are a few things for you do while on retreat to help ensure you have a magical time.
The Invocation of Hygieia. It’s common practice before beginning any magical or devotional ceremony to clear the working space and prepare the temple. Your home is your temple so the first process for your retreat could be to undertake a banishing ritual. Tidy up! Double bag any things you don’t need and, mindful of contamination, give them away or set them aside to share with others later. Clean your space. Let the light and the fresh air in, put on some energizing music (like some of the tunes on my COVID-19 Pandemic Party Playlist) and get to work! If you’ve got a home altar space this is the time to cleanse that too. Once you’ve done the washing up go a stage deeper and do a spot of cleaning that you rarely get round to (that oven could do with some attention…). Really honour the goddesses Hygieia and Hestia in your work. Once that’s done perform your favourite cleaning/banishing/creating sacred space practice. By analogy, tidying our bedroom (as a species) is what we have to do now. We’ve made something of mess of the biosphere so perhaps, when this pandemic is over, we can seriously set out to address the issues of climate change and the sixth mass extinction.
Do some meditation. Whatever style(s) you favour this is a time to go deeper into your practice. If you’ve never done meditation in a disciplined, regular way this is your opportunity to get serious. Start with some mindfulness meditation, maybe some object concentration. Explore the multiple resources online and give it a go. Doing meditation can also help you manage any fears you might have in this time of change. Meditation boosts our individual immune response and can enable us to be in a good cognitive state. This means we are more likely to make sound judgements (rather than decisions guided by fear) for the benefit of ourselves and those around us.
Do some bodywork. Tai Chi, Qi Gong, yoga, weights whatever. Keep your body moving and in shape. Again this is good for you and those around you. Try some freeform movement or dance such as Gabrielle Roth’s 5 Rhythms. If you have access to a green space get out and into the fresh air and sunlight. Do some breathing exercises. If you do contract the virus this is going to be where it hits. Stop smoking or change your method of delivery (use your vape).
Connect with others. Hopefully the internet will stay on; assuming it does, use it to reach out to your community. For the benefit of your own immune system and the sanity of others try to be kind and considered in your interactions. Don’t feed the fears or the trolls but use this opportunity to find the others. Encourage and support the real life humans on the other end of the keyboard. Phone your friends. Where possible see if you can interact directly with folk around you in safe and mutually beneficial ways, like those people holding block parties in Italy. If you’re following an online course of study this could be a great time to focus on your learning.
Make prayers of gratitude. Thank your gods, spirits or simply providence that you got sufficient food, water, community and shelter (if you are fortunate enough to have these things). Pray to the Great Spirit, however you conceive that to be. Even if you prefer to regard this process as a neat neuro-hack to improve your immune system give it a go. Verbalizing prayers aloud helps since we get neurological feedback, via our environment, when we speak to ourselves. That’s why repeating the name of the thing you’re searching for helps find it. Or how by explaining your problem to the dude on the IT helpdesk you can see what…oh yeah, OK I see what’s wrong…
Plant something. Think about the future. Invest time in growing a seed. A tree to set free when your retreat is over, flowers for the garden. Food plants, even just a little salad in a window box. Watch as the spring comes and new life returns to the world.
Read an inspirational book. Whether you choose get to grips with a new text, or one you’ve been putting off because of lack of time, retreat is the perfect time for reading. Read lots and catch up with that pile by your bed of half-glanced at texts (ahem… well perhaps that’s just me?). Here are two recommendations. The first is the captivating story of LSD chemists The Rose of Paracelsus by William Leonard Pickard. This exquisite book was written in cell where Pickard still dwells 20 years after being busted for allegedly making planetary scale batches of acid. Much of the book follows the work of clandestine chemists, themselves cloistered in remote laboratory sites. Same same but different as they say in the East, the second is Cave in the Snow. This is the tale of Tenzin Palmo, an Englishwoman who, following her Buddhist vocation, secluded herself in a remote cave 13,000 feet up in the Himalayas, where she stayed for 12 years between the ages of 33 and 45. Palmo became a spiritual leader and champion of the right of women to achieve spiritual enlightenment. A remarkable and beautifully written tale.
Make something. Create some art. Play with whatever resources you have to hand and allow yourself to explore without necessarily any predetermined goal in mind. Whether it is music, sculpture, baking or something else see what you can produce. If you’re able, learn a new skill (thanks internet). If you’ve always wanted to play guitar this could be your moment! Learn to knit. Consider what skills might be useful for you and your community and will impress your friends when you meet up again. You may be about to discover your aptitude for any any number of crafts and the joy in being a producer as well as a consumer.
Day dream. Spend some time, as the Romantic Poets John Keats would say, in diligent indolence. Now you’re out the thick of the capitalist rat-race take some time to loaf about. Just lie on the coach and stare out the window. Let your unconscious have time to unwind. Don’t mediate, listen to music or whatever. Just be in your own space and let the time drift by and allow your self to day-dream.
Have a psychedelic experience. If you lucky and have supplies then that’s all well and good but if not, there’s always connected breathwork. Connected or holotopic breathwork can be used to induce the psychedelic state in which novel connections are made in the brain and our content processing and connection finding systems get all fired up. Allowing for your skills in holding the psychedelic state it can be deployed for numerous purposes. To reboot the brain, potentially resolving blocks and trauma, and to give our minds a proper spring clean. I’ll take the liberty of recommending my book on psychedelic ceremony Getting Higher and David Lee’s definitive text on breathwork Life Force: Sensed energy in breathwork, psychedelia and chaos magic to get you started.
Do some ceremony. You could try adapting the six month retirement of the Abramelin grimoire to your situation or go for something quite different. A period of retreat is ideal for devotional work. You could perform daily puja to Ganesh to break down obstacles, to Shiva Lord of Creation and Destruction, or whatever spirits you groove with. This could be your chance to undertake a Chaos Monasticisms or follow the obligations of Resh. Alternatively, at the risk of annoying the neighbours, there could be plenty of time for a shamanic journey or nine… Your retreat would naturally be a perfect time for doing magic to aid the healing of our species, our relationships with each other, and with the biosphere as a whole.
Remember, if we want to slow this virus down the best attitude is to assume you already have it and therefore behave in ways that are less likely to pass it on. Don’t think of this as cowering in your rooms like the Prince Prospero in Edgar Allan Poe’s Masque of The Red Death (read here by William Burroughs). Rather, this is an opportunity for us to stand together to support people like this Italian doctor in the front line of the COVID-19 pandemic. Respect.
Make your retreat be full of rest and joy, of well being and of wonders.
P.S. As many of us are now on retreat in our homes I’m doing extra online one-to-one sessions of mentoring, tarot reading and other services. If you’d like to arrange a video call please let me know firstname.lastname@example.org