by Molly Tamulevich
To be honest, I almost backed out of the Farm Animal Meditation retreat. I found myself vacillating the weekend before, struggling with the idea of disconnecting myself from my work for an entire 72 hours. I was afraid that I would miss something important, that I wouldn’t be there to solve a crisis and that if I made myself unavailable to others, life would somehow continue chugging along without me and there wouldn’t be a place for me to return to. I have never felt able to completely disconnect from the distractions of daily life as an adult. For months, I had been reminiscing about what it was like growing up in the 90s before communication became ubiquitous. The prospect of being free from constant stimulus was ultimately the deciding factor. In the middle of the pandemic, it was more important than ever to find peace, and so I decided to follow through and attend. I am so happy that I did.
As someone who meditates regularly for very brief periods of time, I was initially intimidated by the schedule when I read that we would be spending upwards of 6 hours a day in meditation. The exceptional organization of the retreat, however, ensured that we were never engaged in practice for an unreasonable length of time. Group sessions were interspersed with opportunities for solitary contemplation and lectures. As someone who routinely has more on her plate than she can complete in a day, the structure and discipline of the schedule ended up feeling like a relief. The meditations, led by Tashi Nyima, were soothing and achievable, while the talks about compassion and activism reenergized me and renewed my sense of purpose.
The hours we spent in silence and reflection were both difficult and nourishing. Initially, I found my thoughts racing. Perhaps selfishly, I’m happy that the retreat was conducted remotely. The time I was able to spend in independent practice has given me a new appreciation of my home, my animals, my garden, and my own ingrained habits. As I became more receptive to staying in the present moment, Tashi’s words began to resonate within me: thoughts may come, thoughts will go. Just breathe. This sentiment lingered as I meditated through seven hours of fireworks going off in my neighborhood, the loud music of block parties, the unseasonably warm weather that left my house feeling like a steam room, and the demands of my litter of foster kittens who didn’t seem to care that I was supposed to be focusing on meditation, not their amusement.
My home became a peaceful oasis, and without the influx of news and information that usually pours into my awareness through my phone, I felt able to use these distractions as learning opportunities. Irritations became passing thoughts that I could breathe through, release, and observe.
Attending this retreat with so many other activists from all over the world was a humbling and inspiring experience. On one hand, learning to stay in the present moment and focus has prepared me for work in hostile environments where I often feel isolated in my commitment to animal welfare. On the other hand, cultivating this detachment and independence in the presence of so many kind, driven and likeminded people left me energized and full of purpose. The weekend felt like some ephemeral moonflower, people joining together briefly and then dispersing to do our lifesaving work in our own small corner of the world.
The skills that I learned from the Farm Animal meditation retreat have been a valuable addition to my life. I touch base with the practice daily. It has made me a better advocate and, personally, has shown me that I am absolutely capable of changing my relationship with technology, work, and making myself available to others. It may have been a struggle to make myself attend, but now that I have experienced the serenity that comes with noble silence, I know that if I make the space for it, peace is available to me. I’m very grateful that I had the opportunity.
Molly Tamulevich is a board member for Attorneys for Animals, a Michigan-based non-profit connecting animal advocates with animal law. She also serves as a state director for a large animal welfare nonprofit. She is celebrating 13 years of veganism this year, and shares her home with two Feline Leukemia cats: Freddy, and Mr. Handsome.
Click here for the recordings of the Retreat