Wearing a Global Pandemic in a Backpack

This pandemic is calling forth the voices of so many teachers. One of my teachers in Northern Thailand is often present with me and especially now in these chaotic days. The first time I went to study with him, I would find myself wondering, “when are we going to get to the substance of what we are here to learn? when are we going to get to the mats?” (we were there to ‘learn Thai massage’). We’d sit with him for hours while he would repeat phrases and stories again and again — crazy mantras that seemed to be half in english, half an ancient forgotten language. Some of the mantras were familiar and made sense, others I didn’t understand at that time, and even some of them I have yet to grasp today. Many of the students left on the first or second day, never to return. I didn’t judge them and if I am being completely honest with myself, I had thoughts of disappearing too. We were there to “learn Thai massage”, none of which many of us, on that first day, could grasp, that was exactly what we were learning….and so much more.

At the end of the first day – still no one went to the mats, we all just sat around him taking in his mantras, listening to the sound of the huge fans straining to cool the hot and sticky room, phrases becoming a constant backdrop like ocean waves or traffic. I knew I was being prepared for something that reached far beyond the realm of the Thai healing arts. When I came back to Portland, I felt like I knew nothing about Thai massage and bodywork – the waves would take some time to settle in through my bones and flow out into my practice… 

The other day one of his constant mantras, “too much thinking!! Headache!! Feeeel – sense! uh-oh BACKPACK!”  came to life in an unmistakable way:

I was out for a walk with my husband, Daniel, and I told him that my shoulders hurt and asked if he wouldn’t mind carrying my backpack for me.  He looked at me a little confused and concerned and said, “Um, you’re not wearing a backpack”.  I laughed out loud!! I heard my teachers voice so clearly “uh – oh! Headache!! Too much thinking!!”  I knew that I was indeed wearing a backpack but it was the mental kind – heavier than any made with canvas and zipper.   

Well, that was a major wake up call.  So what to do?  Our bodies and minds are intrinsically connected!!

I unplug completely for a spell, I return to body-mind practices. I sit in the sun with my feet in the grass and tune in to my surroundings. To the front of me, warmth on my skin from the sun’s light. To the back of me – the sound of hammer and nails, someone’s work or hobby, and a gentle breeze raising the hairs on the back of my neck. To the right of me – my cat Murphy sitting beside me following a winged bug flying from flower to flower in the grass. To the left of me – the scent from my neighbors cherry blossom and clematis on the gentle wind, below me; the grass and earth rising up to support my feet. Above me – the endless blue sky. I breathe in deeply; my body expanding. I surrender the breath back out; my body softening. I feel my heartbeat slow and sync with the rhythm of my breath. I come into the rest of the day more connected to the stillness, the foundation of being that is always there, in each of us.

Little by little I’m unpacking the backpack – it’s a daily practice and some days I must start all over, but it is a worthwhile practice.

May we all find moments of great peace in these times. May we all find ways of helping others. May we all find the strength to ask for help. May we all find moments of joy and laughter. May we all be safe from harm. May we all find our own ways of putting down the backpack.