Molly Babbin, a 20-year-old student at Middlebury College in Vermont, spent January in Peru on a college internship. When she returned to school, she got involved in various clubs around her passion topic: climate activism.
“My life has been very active and very social. I’m a student, ”she said. “I’ve joined new groups. It really felt like there was such a move forward where more people come together and build relationships. “
That changed drastically in March when, like college students across the country, she had to abruptly leave campus and go home amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
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As the pandemic continued, she felt a growing sense of helplessness brought on by home inclusion, the social unrest in the country, and the impact of the coronavirus on people’s health and economic well-being.
When she read about a personal meditation retreat in July specifically aimed at people aged 18 to 30, she was intrigued.
The three-day yoga and meditation retreat that a group called “Dharma Gates” held at the Garrison Institute in Putnam County was the reset she needed.
“We’ve been able to connect in ways that really can’t be reached on a computer screen,” said Babbin, who lives in Connecticut. “After all these months of quarantine, it really gave me some energy back.” And I think the other thing is how important it is to move to another place after you’ve been isolated in one place for about five months. “
In August, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported alarming levels of pandemic-related mental and behavioral disorders across the US population. Most alarmingly, a quarter of young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 said they had considered suicide in the past 30 days.
Aaron Stryker, a 24-year-old co-founder of Dharma Gates, who works primarily with college students, believes meditation can provide tools for young adults who can deal with difficult emotions.
“In fact, having people around who are happy, only able to show up and love in difficult circumstances, helps other people remember how to do this,” he said. “You learn to make room for other people’s pain and actually heal communities.”
Interest in retreats increases
Jonathan Wiesner, who took over the management of the Garrison Institute in January, said the institute began offering “virtual sanctuary” programs such as online mindfulness meditation sessions during the first few months of quarantine.
“We were expecting about 100 participants and we had a really limited zoom space for them,” said Wiesner, who previously served on the board of the International Rescue Committee, one of the world’s leading humanitarian aid organizations, for 25 years. “But a thousand people signed up. It gave us an indication of what our church needed. “
David Ellenbogen, a Brooklyn musician and artistic director of Brooklyn Raga Massive, had a long waiting list for his Unplugged: A Sound and Yoga Retreat, so he and his co-teachers decided to offer two more sessions at the Garrison Institute in October.
“The concept of our retreat is to unplug and do a digital detox, move away from your device and computers, and find a space for a grounding experience,” said Elbow. “And what we found is that there is so much desire from people who only find they are just more connected.”
Overlooking the Hudson River, the forested 93-acre Garrison Institute was converted from a former Capuchin Franciscan monastery into a meditation retreat location in 2003, where contemplative training could be conducted to address social and environmental issues.
In one of his webinars, offered free of charge during the pandemic, psychiatrist Dan Siegel spoke about how contemplative practices can help process loss and trauma, build resilience, and develop a sense of openness to the realities of challenging times.
For the past six weeks, the Garrison Institute has worked to reopen safely to personal contemplative retreats, lodging, and catering services by working with health professionals to introduce new protocols.
The facility, which can normally accommodate 165 overnight guests, limited its capacity to 50 in order to comply with all security protocols.
The guests are assigned to each other room and the bathroom and shower cubicles were intended for three participants each. Meals cooked on site are now individually wrapped.
Carol Calta from Norwalk, Connecticut, attended the Unplugged: A Sound and Yoga Retreat for a three day stay.
Calta, who is negotiating technology deals for her company, said her calendar was cluttered with zoom prompts for almost everything: work, social interactions with friends and family, and her yoga classes.
As a single woman, quarantine alone was a challenge, she said.
“It’s an added challenge because I have a very large social network, I have a lot of friends, and I do a lot of things, but with the quarantine you basically closed the doors to all of that,” Calta said. “It was a real adjustment. Yoga helps me keep my feet on all the things in the world that have to do with illness and black lives matter, crazy politics and economics. There is a balance between how much you protect yourself by staying indoors and managing your own mental health. “
Personal retreat was a cornerstone for Calta.
“The place has great energy,” she said. “It’s like something you can’t explain, but you just walk in and everyone you talk to just feels this really positive, good energy and I felt totally charged.”
Calta felt comfortable being there in person. “They had masks and hand sanitizer everywhere, and we had bathrooms assigned so they had proper tracking mechanisms in case of problems. They had markings on the floor so you could keep the correct spacing between the mats. So I felt super safe. “
Ellenbogen, whose music collective showcases Indian classical and intercultural music mixed with other traditions, said people are looking for connections.
“What used to be social interactions is now done on the computer and feels like an extension of work. There is such a need for a real human connection, ”he said. “A lot of people were just grateful that they could safely interact with other people. It was a long time for many people. “
Dharma Gates co-founder Stryker, who graduated from Wesleyan College last year, said he was drawn to yoga and meditation after experiencing psychological problems like depression and anxiety as a freshman.
He took a year off and traveled to India to study yoga and work on some of his problems in a way that did not “pathologize” him with medication.
“I also realized that I wasn’t the only person in my situation. I have a feeling that many people in my generation are in a difficult position these days, ”he said. “It is unclear what we could do, what would actually be of benefit, actually help the situation, and how to be happy, ethical and live well in the context of the present world.”
Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy reports on women and power for USA Today Network Northeast. Click here to read their latest stories. Follow her on Twitter at @SwapnaVenugopal. Support to local journalism; You can find out how at lohud.com/specialoffer.