2020 Taught Me That Being “Zen” is a Privilege.
A lesson learned in spiritual bypassing.
The last year of my forty’s potentially announced itself as the height of my life’s work. I was unstoppable, in control, and “zen.” In Kerala, India, I sat at the edge of the Arabian Sea in a daze. My dreams had led me there, my bucket list; India, check, Nepal, check.
If you knew about my past, you would understand why this was such an important milestone. My life had been a series of trials and errors during my first thirty years on earth (a story for another day). I am not just a girl, but a wise human (or so I thought), happily married, with four kids, four grandkids, and turning fifty in a few months. I am also a street dancer, by the way. That’s the ambiguous path. (Also, another story.)
At first, when COVID-19 covertly showed its ugly spikes, I was on a roll. I was touring the world teaching dance. I wasn’t on top of the world; I was immersed in it. In India, my eyes were shown what kindness, abundance, duty, and sacrifice really meant. Every cow roamed in peace, every starving street dog fed.
Thanks to my cocoa shea lotion (yes, not so wise), even my flesh served its purpose. Swarms of ravenous mosquitos loved what I was offering — a daily delicacy of sweet foreign blood. I was reminded of the simple yet powerful words of the Dalai Lama, “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”
After a week of eating spicey vegetarian Indian dishes, I broke out into a full-body rash: all delicious, all defined as “not spicey,” all “wayyyy” spicier than Indian food in America. And to test my zen, a red ant bit my eyelid to add a little visual drama. All this within the first week. Although I should have lost my composure, I knew it was destined. I had asked for this, so I took it all in.
I sat, meditated, drank tea, and asked for more fruit baskets to help settle my stomach. (I get it now.) I would be spending a full month abroad only to return in the first week of March. To adapt to a new culture, one needs an open and flexible mind. What you learn is life-altering.
India was phenomenal. But upon returning to America, I was still glad to find my comfort zone — the food I was so accustomed to and the peaceful sleep without that incessant buzzing. It was a short rest week before my next gig, this time back to the homeland of Canada. But the dissonance I now witnessed in the media began to trigger some old wounds. I couldn’t believe people were fighting over toilet paper, and frankly, those of us who had traveled to countries such as India couldn’t keep ourselves from becoming judgmental.
When I made it to Toronto, countries were beginning to close their borders. I taught my classes, protocols were in place, but we were all dancing without masks. I had no idea at the time that this would be my last contract for a while. Things began to escalate fairly quickly. I was glad for my so-called “zenness” when the border agents decided to funnel me through Los Angeles and cancel my nonstop flight to Vegas. (I was red-flagged because my connection back from India had happened in London… UGH!)
I also remained “zen” when they told me the airline wouldn’t pay for my flight home. After a full day of traveling lunacy, I finally made it home, exhausted but happy I was able to return to Vegas without getting stuck in these endless airport lines. When COVID-19 was tipping the world on its head, I was proud to say, “Life prepared me for this moment; just take a deep breath!” But then, the unexpected happened. George Floyd happened.
Suddenly the whole world was on the edge of the precipice. My “zen” was on trial, and I, the judge. The PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) we felt within the Black community added to the pandemic was terrible chemistry. A psychological molotov cocktail, to be truthful. “Take a deep breath” took on a whole new meaning.
With no warning, anger took the lead. People had time to argue, post online, accuse and blame each other. I was angry at my friends for not listening and mad at myself for expecting more. Still, relationships and friendships were severed. Social media blew up our lives existentially, statistically, and metaphorically. Death was all around us.
As I look back, 2020 was a test, and I must say, it also was a covert blessing (for me.) Most of us, artists, still have careers on hold, and people from all walks of life had to rethink their livelihoods. We all know this story already, but 2020 taught me that being “zen” is a privilege. I had to unlearn and dig deeper into my past.
I suddenly remembered her, the sixteen-year-old teenage mother raising a baby (my younger-self), trying to finish high school, with no time to meditate but would give anything for an extra hour of “zen.” I now understood what spiritual bypassing meant. Is that what I had been doing for the last few years? Now that I am “somewhat” comfortable, am I bypassing the old struggles by asking others to view the world using the new-age spiritual lens from my pedestal?
It’s so easy to forget that I, too, was once ignorant. Enlightenment is not being filled with light and watching people from an elevated stance. You become enlightened when you see the error in your ways. To do this, you must ground yourself in reality, accepting that everyone perceives the world differently and remembering that not so long ago, you also did not see the world clearly.
2020 also taught me that we cannot blame 2020. HA! There it is. That’s one truth.
2020 was an opportunity to open our fear closet and see all the ugly monsters run wild. Although I lost my zen, I can say I grew exponentially wiser. There are things I have learned that will forever change the way I see the world.
What did 2020 teach you?