• Maria Grzywacz

Corona-crisis as a catalyst for increased spiritual awareness

I kind of spoiled the conclusion of my most recent observations in the title above, but this ost will be slightly more complex than a stay-at-home-and-meditate-and-you-will-feel-great kinda "advice". I am ready to share with you a part of my personal journey, how removing myself from a known environment has allowed me to tap deeper into spiritual practices, and how the claim that we need to "separate" ourselves in order to find spirituality is actually supported by scientific research and studies of the human response nervous system. Ready?

Note from Maria from the past

When I lived in Denmark my daily life was filled out almost to the minute. There was a time where I simultaneously studied at the University of Copenhagen, worked as a waitress (for around 20 hrs a week), had an internship in an art gallery, was responsible for running a household and, on top of that, was doing a Bikram Yoga challenge (with the studio located around 40 minutes away by bike from where I lived). Every morning I would wake up at 5:30 - long before the (Danish) sunrise. I would eat something sugary to signal the body to wake up (still a healthy option like a couple of dates or some other fresh or dried fruits because my food-controlling-mind was HIGHLY alert at the time) and chuck down this wake-up snack with (good quality - I could afford it!) coffee. All that in order to get myself to study and read through the homework for the day. I would prepare for my lectures, head to university (luckily the campus was close to where I lived) or to the gallery where I was doing my internship. Then I would go for a 90-minute long yoga class and afterwards, around 6 or 7 PM I would go to work (and come back around midnight, at earliest). While physically doing all of the above, my mind was focusing on how and when to do groceries, how much to spend on groceries, when to do the laundry or fix other practical things. I was obsessing about food too. I was never present.

Life on auto-pilot

I was doing it all on auto-pilot. And obviously, I didn't enjoy any of it. I was just checking things off my list. Even the yoga I was attending wasn't a spiritual practice; it was a challenge that I had taken on with myself. Bikram Yoga, which is a very physical and hard practice, was my way of withdrawing from years-long fitness-addiction. For a couple of years, I was addicted to fitness; an addiction that followed after my anorexia. So even though yoga was this "conscious" practice, I wasn't in it spiritually. I sure had spiritual moments, but I was almost too busy to even register those.

I was on auto-pilot, and that auto-pilot was steering my body. I was disconnected, in fact so disconnected that I didn't notice the stress that I was under. Both my mind and my body were under a lot of pressure. The pressure came mostly from me but also from my boyfriend at the time and his family. In a way, I did feel that the pressure was (coming from) everywhere, the list of expectations was endless, but I didn't even "have time" to pause and reflect on how it actually felt in the body. I was so busy stressing, that I didn't notice how stressed I was. As paradoxical as it might sound. Does this, maybe, sound familiar to you? Running the proverbial hamster-wheel made me so tired that I could barely see the wheel itself. It was just what I did. This was my life. The hamster wheel was my life.

Breaking the habit

Things started shifting for me when I moved to China in 2016. I distanced myself and physically left the environment in which both myself and my external circumstances were (both conscious and unconscious) stress-factors. I removed myself and re-planted in a place where I could emerge anew. Funny thing? I had no idea at the time. I didn't even think about it much, but I assumed that I would continue my life as I knew it, but on the other side of the globe. Now it seems paradoxical because this way of thinking is what I have been blaming my parents for when we moved from Poland to Denmark in 2005, so I knew that moving to a new country meant adopting a new mindset, or at least drastically changing one's old, but it didn't strike me at the time. I simply wasn't aware of the opportunity.

Now I see that this "rupture" that moving to China has brought, the people that I had met, the experiences that I had gone through and situations I had been exposed to... were rewiring me! The change in the environment, entering a realm where things were not as "defined" as they were before (whether by myself or by external factors doesn't really matter here), inspired me to... start looking around. I distanced myself from a structure that I had held as "one and only truth" for myself. I met people whose values weren't re-confirming my hamster wheel. Quite the contrary, I was meeting people who were challenging the auto-pilot so well known to me.

And after moving to Hong Kong in 2018 and becoming my own boss, things became even clearer. I realized that... I could design my life! I was in charge. I didn't (have to) rely on my known structure any more, which meant more "responsibility", but also led me to a previously unknown/previously unexperienced sense of freedom! And tapping into a bigger and wider spectrum of emotional and mental liberty has allowed me to create the mind-space where I could foster curiosity. That curiosity was leading me onto "new" pathways that in hindsight weren't new to me, but for my "old self", for the professional hamster-wheel-runner, they would've been unheard off.

The (spiritual) doubts

Breaking a habit is never easy. Breaking an addiction is... even worse! And I, indeed, was addicted to that hamster-wheel that I had come to know so well. In hindsight, I understand that I was addicted to my own suffering. I was addicted to how (in my own head) I could model and tell myself a story of who I was, based on my "misery" and this "trap" that my entire life was taking place in. And when I started revisiting spiritual teachings, when I started opening up to practices that allow breaking out of habits, addictions, limiting beliefs, the ego's red alert went off. "Before" I wouldn't do spiritual practices like meditation, oracle card readings, I wouldn't engage in rituals, I would practice yoga and focus on the asanas, not the philosophy behind. I would be focused on the body-level, and I would rigorously not-allow myself to go anywhere beyond the body. And when I finally started transgressing that inner "prohibition", when I started tapping deeper into spirituality, engaging in practices and rituals, the nasty, self-diminishing doubts and questioning would come up. "Is this really me?" "Am I even spiritual?" "Or am I just jumping on a trend?"

Now I know that the spiritual part of me has always been there but I have been so focused on the body, my material surroundings and so obsessed with controlling every single aspect of my life that I didn't allow the metaphysical to occupy any or my mind- or emotional space. The "spiritual voice" was always in me, but I would refuse to give it "stage time". Throughout the last 2 years, and especially after finally completing a yoga teacher training in 2018, I have not only allowed the voice more "stage time"; I have now given that voice a microphone.

Disconnection was a blessing

I didn't "discover" spirituality. I tapped back into it. The past years of studying more (Western, Eastern, conventional, religious and New Age) spiritual philosophies as well as physically engaging in healing practices and attending several plant medicine ceremonies have only re-confirmed my understanding of humans as spiritual beings in physical bodies. Hence, "discovering" spirituality doesn't really make sense. It was never covered, it has always been there, ready for you to tap into it, but you were probably too busy hamster-wheeling (as was I) to pause at the stop called "spirituality". For me, disconnection was a blessing, and it's why I believe that there is immense potential in the highly unfamiliar situation that the world is facing now. Coronavirus is forcing us to break a lot of habits. Coronavirus is forcing us to wave goodbye to a lot of external stimuli, many items/practices/habits that we have/use to constantly re-validate ourselves. Coronavirus forces us to sit still, Coronavirus forces us to spend much more time alone. Coronavirus forces us to forget who we were "before the virus" because now, new rules apply. Coronavirus is an ultimate ego-stripper.

What does science say?

My thoughts on this topic are not only inspired by the current situation and the recollection and reconnection to personal experiences from the past. I am currently reading "Breaking the habit of being yourself" by Dr Joe Dispenza who only confirmed that we can only tap into our higher potential when we move out of living in survival (mode). Survival mode stands in opposition to our "mode"/mindset of creation, and it's the limited field of "operation" that we function within when under stress. People who live under constant stress (pressure, worry, limiting beliefs, obsessive craving for control - and I was experiencing and living through/with all those while in my "hamster wheel") live with a constantly activated sympathetic nervous system. It's the body's rapid, primal and involuntary response to stress.to dangerous or stressful situations, also referred to as the "fight or flight" response.

The body is "knocked out of homeostasis" and you're prepared by the nervous system to run or fight. [...] You condition your heart to race all the time, and you may be headed for high blood pressure, arrhythmias and so on. [...] If you are putting the bulk of your energy towards some issue in your external environment, there will be little left for your body's internal environment. - Chapter 5, "Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself"

Dr Joe Dispenza dwells on how (even though both humans and animals experience stress), only humans can pre-experience or re-experience stressful condition. When strong hormones of stress and survival are in the driver's seat, we focus on three things: the body, the environment (where can I go to escape the threat?) and time (how much "do I have" before the threat reaches me?). According to Dr Joe Dispenza, living in survival mode is the reason why we are so focused on the three factors mentioned, and essentially we begin to define ourselves based on those factors.

We become less spiritual, less conscious, less aware and less mindful. Put in another way, we grow to be materialists, that is, habitually consumed by thoughts of things in the external environment. Our identity becomes wrapped up in our bodies, we are absorbed by the outer world [...] things we own, people we know, problems we face, our weight, our looks in comparison to others, how much time we have or don't have. [...] And we remember who we are, based primarily on what we know and the things we do. Living in survival causes us to focus on the 0,00001 %instead of the 99,99999 % of reality. (Relation of matter to energy) - Chapter 5, "Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself"

With an excessive focus on the body, on the material surrounding as well as the time, we don't have the mind-space to invite anything beyond that in. When we constantly live under stressful conditions, all that matters is what is immediate to us. Excessive focus on the physical doesn't give us mind-space to tap into the metaphysical that, actually, is there more so than the palpable material. And this was exactly the case for me, a few years back. I wasn't able to see beyond matter; I was focused on my body, on material goods, on (measuring) time and in desperate need of "control". Living under constant stress programs us to only recognize the physical.

The potential of Coronavirus

The Coronavirus is surely causing a lot of stress. It has given people reasons to worry about their health, their material well-being, the future. You could look at the current situation and see only negatives. But the Coronavirus and the restrictions and regulations that followed the outbreak, have also been the reason/catalyst for many people to remove themselves from their daily, personal hamster-wheels. And sure, for some this is yet another reason to activate the fight/flight response. "What about our summer holiday?" "What about my workout routine?" Not much about 'em, these days. Times of social isolation, times of quarantine, as inconvenient as they may feel for someone who's addicted to their own stress, force, but also allow us to sit still. Finally, there is nothing we must do, there is nowhere we must go, there is nothing we have to catch/fix/sort out. Whether the situation is voluntary or involuntary, doesn't actually matter. What matters is the situation itself, regardless of why or how it came to us. Our "now" might not be as we have envisioned it to be, but it is nevertheless. And that "now" has removed us from doing, fixing, checking the time and obsessing. That "now" has made us pause and take a break. Regardless of whether we wanted this or not, whether we invited it in, or not, we have been given this situation. We have been granted this opportunity. An opportunity to pause, observe and (hopefully) rewire.

Where were you when the world stopped spinning?

Maybe, during the first days of your respective country's lockdown, the "initiation phase", you will feel miserable. Maybe. And it's not bad! Observe it. And also observe, how you are trying to forget about this misery! How are you trying to distract yourself? What are you obsessing about now, in times where you can't obsess about getting late to work, confronting the annoying coworker or having to go for dinner with the in-laws? Can you see that your mind is trying to recreate known (stress) patterns? Is your addiction clear to you now? Becoming aware of the pattern is the first step towards breaking up with this addiction, the first step towards rewiring. And when you start shifting your attention away from the material stress factors, away from the obsessions, away from your constant craving of control, naturally, you will float more towards... your inner self. And what is spirituality if not a journey inwards, to discover what's beyond (what you perceive as) your own matter? I am not saying that the Coronavirus is a blessing in disguise. It feels much more like the "disguise" part, these days. I go through daily waves of frustration too, trust me. But there is light in every tunnel, and since this tunnel is a pretty collective one, so is the light - it shines broadly. There is more than one universal teaching in this "craze", but I see clearly that we are urged to internalize. To leave what's out there, what's superficial, what's causing stress responses. And go back (with)in, go back "home". And since we are spiritual beings going through physical experience, going "home" essentially means going back to... spirit(uality)!

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© 2020 by Maria Grzywacz