Man Emerging from 75-Day Silent Retreat Hit with Reality of Pandemic, Protests: 'Hell of a Drug'


A man who embarked on a nearly three-month-long silent retreat recently returned to reality — and he had one simple question: "Did I miss anything?"

That's what Daniel Thorson asked his Twitter followers after spending 75 days living in a cabin in a remote area of Vermont, according to The New York Times.

When he returned to society in late May, Thorson, 33, found himself overwhelmed with the current realities of the coronavirus pandemic and nationwide protests over policy brutality sparked by the death of George Floyd.

"I feel like an oddity, I feel like a curiosity. I don’t know what they expect me to say," he told the Times. "This whole thing is a hell of a drug. It really, really, really has an impact on my nervous system."

Thorson, who works at the Monastic Academy and hosts the Emerge podcast, is part of a Buddhist monastic community in Vermont, according to the Times.

Over the years, he's been involved in current events, like helping organize the economic inequality protest movement Occupy Wall Street, and has promoted technology as a way to achieve enlightenment with the Buddhist Geeks movement, the outlet reported.

On March 13, he announced on Twitter that he was headed "off into silent retreat (aka voluntary physical and memetic self-quarantine) for the next 75 days or so," inspired by his Buddhist group's teacher, Soryu Forall.

While in isolation, Thorson recalled to the Times how he wondered about everything he would be missing out on and if he would be able to process it when he returned.

"There was a collective traumatic emotional experience that I was not a part of," he said. "To what degree do I have to piece it back together?"

"I was thinking, is it going to be Mad Max out there, like are we the last survivors?" he added. "How is humanity doing?"

On May 23, he finally learned the answer to that question, coming out of isolation and making one of his first stops at a grocery store, where he unknowingly failed to practice social distancing and was confused by other people's reactions when he did so.

"I would turn a corner in the grocery store, and someone would be there, and they would recoil," Thorson recalled to the Times. "I haven’t installed the COVID operating system. At first, I was, like, 'Whoa, what did I do?'"

From there, Thorson continued to learn more about what unfolded in the past few months from people online.

He said he was shocked to see how there wasn't any news focused on the election or Australian wildfires, and at times became overwhelmed with the intensity of re-engaging with people.

Days later, he restored the color on the screen of his phone, which he kept on grayscale during his retreat. Even that was a shock to his system, as he told the Times that the color hurt his eyes and was a "super-stimulating thing" because it was nothing like colors in real life.

Despite differing opinions from internet users, Thorson said he was able to gather one major takeaway from his time in isolation.

"Everybody has extremely strongly held, very different opinions about everything: how dangerous it is, what the response should have been, how it’s going, whether or not we need to isolate, how to treat it if you get it," he told the Times.

"There is one consensus proposition that, it seems to me, everybody holds. It’s that whatever happened in the last three months is one of the most significant events in modern history," he added.

Thorson's perspective is what Forall, who embarked on his own silent retreat with a group of students in mid-March for only a week, believes is essential to share.

"His clarity is just what the world needs now," Forall told the Times. "He's been hit by all of it in one wave."

As of Thursday, there have been over 1.8 million cases and at least 107,728 deaths attributed to coronavirus in the United States, according to the Times. In Vermont, at least 1,026 cases and 55 deaths have been reported, according to the Times.

To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:

• Campaign Zero (joincampaignzero.org) which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.

• ColorofChange.org works to make government more responsive to racial disparities.

• National Cares Mentoring Movement (caresmentoring.org) provides social and academic support to help black youth succeed in college and beyond.

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