He entered into a silent meditation retreat in a remote part of Mexico on March 12. When he emerged, the coronavirus had dramatically changed the world around him.
- Peter Bocian, a 31-year-old automation engineer from Los Angeles, embarked on a silent meditation retreat in a remote part of Oaxaca, Mexico, on March 12.
- As part of the retreat, he spent nine days completely cut off from the outside world, with no cell phone or personal belongings.
- When Bocian emerged on March 21, the number of novel coronavirus cases had spiked around the world, leading to travel bans, flight cancellations, and country-wide lockdowns.
- Bocian called his parents in Los Angeles and was filled in on over a week’s worth of news about the novel coronavirus spread. “They were just like ‘wow, you’re in for a whole new world.'”
Peter Bocian was ready to completely change his surroundings as he handed over his cell phone and personal belongings to the instructors at the Hdriya Yoga Silent Meditation Retreat in a remote part of Oaxaca, Mexico.
The 31-year-old automation engineer from Los Angeles was initially hesitant about being completely cut off from the outside world but soon embraced the silent and introspective experience he had signed up for.
“The teachers were just amazing,” Bocian told Insider. “I chose to go on the retreat because I figured, why not? I’ve never done anything like this and it’s completely out of my element.”
But when Bocian emerged from the refuge of the peaceful yoga center nine days later, the world around him had changed dramatically. From the time Bocian sheltered himself from outside distraction, the number of novel coronavirus cases began to spike around the world, leading to travel bans, flight cancellations, and country-wide lockdowns.
Data from Worldometer indicates that the number of COVID-19 cases began to hit exponential growth in mid-march, growing by tens of thousands of cases each day. On March 12, when Bocian entered into silent meditation practice, the number of confirmed cases around the globe was around 134,000. By March 21, when Bocian finally made contact with his family and friends, the number of cases rose to 305,000.
Several major events also happened while Bocian was tucked away from society. The US declared a national emergency on March 13, the number of global coronavirus-related deaths topped 10,000, and his home state of California declared a statewide stay-at-home order on March 19.
By March 20, the State Department had raised its global health advisory to Level 4, which means “do not travel,” and advised all US citizens abroad to return home immediately.
But Bocian was blissfully unaware of these developments as he silently meditated along with dozens of others in Mezunte, a small beach town located 150 miles from Oaxaca’s international airport. People in the program stayed at the retreat for 10 to 49 days.
“We’d get up at 6:30 a.m. every morning and we’d meditate for two to three hours,” he said. “The center has these brick walls and bamboo ceilings with palm leaves everywhere. It’s very beautiful.”
“Nobody was allowed to look at each other or speak to each other,” he continued. “We had lectures throughout the day. They put us on a strictly vegan diet, where we ate a lot of papaya and lentils.”
“It’s something you’d never encounter in your normal life,” he added.
But Bocian said as the days went on, he had a hard time connecting to the strict routine.
“I thought it all sounded really nice, but I just couldn’t relate,” he said. “The experience was very interesting, but by the end I was so bored.” Bocian left on day nine out of 10.
Bocian said that the retreat organizers would occasionally update participants on major border closures, but did not stress the growing intensity of the coronavirus situation.
“They would put up signs,” he said. “But everybody there had no idea of the magnitude of what was going on.”
Bocian said he felt worst for the people who were engaged in silent meditation for over a month.
“They haven’t been disturbed, and this is, like, a life accomplishment for them,” he said. “They had been in there for so long that they probably don’t even know what the coronavirus is.”
Bocian retrieved his belongings on March 21 and headed to a small restaurant in the town of Mezunte to charge his phone. He said only when his phone began to buzz non-stop did he realize what had been happening around him.
“All of these messages started popping up,” he said. The first person that he called was his employer, who filled him in on restructuring within the company due to coronavirus.
He then called him parents, who updated him on over a week’s worth of pandemic news. “They were just like ‘wow, you’re in for a whole new world.'”
He says he didn’t fully grasp the seriousness of the situation until he arrived back to Oaxaca City.
“There were people in the markets, still walking around. It didn’t seem like that big of a deal,” he said. “I thought about staying in Mexico for a while, I came up with a plan to FedEx my work laptop down and start taking Spanish lessons,” he continued. “I had it all worked out. I was like, ‘this is my life now.'”
But when he arrived at the airport and saw people wearing masks and taking extra safety precautions, the state of affairs set in.
“They checked my temperature at the airport,” he said. “That’s when I started to understand.”
He finally arrived back at Los Angeles International Airport on March 23 and says he immediately went into lockdown at home.
“I’ve just been in my apartment by myself for the last week or so working,” he said, noting that life back home isn’t much different than how his life was practicing silent meditation.
“After almost two weeks in solitude, I’m now continuing my solitude in my apartment,” he said. “I’ve just accepted that this is the way of life.”
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