After returning from a month-long retreat, as you might expect, people are curious about the experience. It’s difficult to formulate a concise narrative that I can resuscitate when someone casually asks, “So, how was your retreat?”
However, if there’s one deeply impactful lesson I learned in the month of sitting in silence it is this: how to be with the sorrows, challenges, heartbreaks of life.
These types of life challenges can present themselves in many different flavors — unexpected death, illness, heartbreak, interpersonal challenges, and work-related strife.
What we often tend to do is to try to escape from these difficulties because it’s painful to face.
When you’re on a month-long silent retreat, it’s hard to escape these themes that come up because there’s no digital technology, no alcohol, no distractions you can use.
At the retreat, I practiced being with the many sorrows of life through kindness, love, and compassion.
For example, when I remembered a very painful childhood memory, rather than turning away from the experience, I took a deep breath, and invited the memory, the experience of what it felt like to remember to simply exist.
I didn’t try to ignore the memory, judge it, fix it, or do anything with it (as we are trained to do as lawyers). I sat with the sadness, the sorrow, the pain. I watched the memory form like clouds in the sky, watched the landscape of my mind turn dark, into thunderstorms, then eventually pass.
Often, when faced with a sorrowful memory, it felt as though the pain of remembering would last forever. However, what I learned was that by not reacting, by taking a neutral stance, by taking a friendlier stance towards myself and the experience, the negative feelings disappeared and what was left was a deeper feeling of inner peace and ease.
What I learned is by making space for the sorrow, it opened up and created the space for a deeper knowing of joy. Not joy or happiness that comes from achieving, doing, or proving our worthiness, but simply a deep feeling of wellness, of contentment.
I spent the past weekend in Lummi Island and randomly stumbled onto an artist — Ann Morris. Her life-sized sculpture has a powerful way of making you feel. To me, that’s an incredibly powerful gift. Wandering through her garden was magical.
My favorite piece was titled, Acceptance of Sorrow. The sculpture captured the vulnerability and the physical pain of accepting sorrow. The woman in the sculpture appears to be cringing away, trying to shield herself with leaves.
The sculpture visually represented my own experience at the retreat of standing before the sorrows of life, surrendering, and accepting what is.
This is the essence of mindfulness. Opening to whatever life may be presenting to you in this moment, and taking a gentle stance.
No doubt this is a lifelong lesson and journey.
This article was first featured on Above the Law.