Jon Kabat-Zinn tells the story in the introduction to his powerful book Coming to our Senses- Healing Ourselves and the World through Mindfulness. (2005) of a retreat leader asking him as he entered the retreat, “How is the world treating you?” Then the retreat leader immediately followed up with a second question, “And how are you treating the world?” To which Jon wrote, “I realized in that moment that I had a lot to learn about why I was even there in the first place, what meditation was really all about, and underlying it all, what I was really doing with my life.” (p.3)
Stepping over the threshold into our 4 day/3 night woman’s mindfulness retreat at the Rocky Mountain EcoDharma Center near Jamestown, Colorado, was a similar courageous moment for 14 women. These questions bring us to the brink of the present moment. Why do we come here to practice mindfulness? Paying attention to our lives, exploring through our senses the fullness of each moment through mindful presence, helps us answer these questions. Every single one of us counts and every single step along the way counts! This is what we explored each moment at our 4 day mindfulness retreat that ended this beautiful October. We gathered to practice deeply together, to witness each other’s truth, to tell our truth, and to hold each other in deep compassion. The healing would happen naturally. The final circle that threaded us together was Joanna Macy’s spiral called Active Hope.
MOVING THROUGH THE MIDLIFE VOYAGE OF DEEP DIVING—WE START WITH MINDFULNESS
“Turning arrows into flowers” is where we went in our practice together, yoga and sitting and walking — finding healing and balance within ourselves in order to find a compassionate container to ground us going out into the world….Thich Nhat Hahn guides our practices with learning to bring presence within so that our anguish, pain, fears, anger driven by thinking mind can be transformed into flowers. Learning to treat ourselves with kindness and generosity prepares us for how to treat each other and the world around us. Why do we practice mindfulness? To bring peace to what is at war inside of us.
“For me, mindfulness practice is really a love affair, a love affair with what is most fundamental in life, a love affair with what is so, with what we might call TRUTH, which for me includes beauty, the unknown, and the possible, how things really are, all embedded here, in this very moment…and everywhere at the same time. “ Jon Kabat Zinn, Ph.D
We began our first day in deep practice together learning to let go of the dying world we grieve for a moment in order to drop more deeply inside… to explore a new way of being: mysterious, silent, not knowing, patience, beginner’s mind, allowing, non-judging, dropping deeper into the wisdom that is in our bodies and our senses. We celebrated our Gratitude for our Earth and our lives on this earth, and witnessed our joy and gratitude that brought us here to this beautiful nature retreat center.
AWAKENING OUR HEARTS TO KINDNESS
Day two began with deep self-compassion practices and finding our softness in yoga poses. Learning to face our fears about the pain and grief inside by slowing down and allowing it all to be there among us — beside us. Noticing what can happen when we slow down, we walked the land and opened to the goodness coming from nature. We felt our feelings in their intensity and breadth from joy to sadness; the trees can teach us so much about love and how it is the underside of our deep grief. Sitting by the river, wandering through the aspen grove, feeling the sun on our faces in the meadow— all moments in time of deep listening together.
Can we bring this goodness in to ourselves?
WITNESSING OUR TRUTH TOGETHER
Bare Witnessing became our guide as we built our container of physical, psychological and spiritual safety. “To sense without judgment and with empathy and only responding in a way that allows a mutual exchange in the relationship.” Taken from Roshi Joan Halifax and the Zen Peacekeeper’s Path, this way of being together creates deep trust and healing. Going into the darkness together on Day Three, we spent time in silence and solo spaces journaling and self-witnessing.
From this place we began our ritual of speaking our truth to each other, guided by the Truth Mandala and Joanna Macy’s spiral which we had wrapped around our work together. We found that shared grief is deeply felt and it offers a pathway to healing and finding meaning in the deep losses and that it is possible to heal from deep abandonment, betrayal and abuse! Woman after woman released her burden of pain and sorrow, anger and emptiness into the powerful symbols of the Truth Mandala.
TAKING OUR PLACE TO BUILD ACTION FOR OURSELVES, OUR LIVES AND THE PLANET
Our final circle together was the completion of the last two phases of Joanna Macy’s spiral, Going Forth into the world and Seeing with New Eyes. We learned how we can each find our place in this healing story of “The Great Turning” and that we simply need to find the next step that’s right for us. This brought great relief and calming to know that we could already be helping by our caring and our action steps towards our own active hope. We were awakened by this new perspective; alive and not frozen, freed from our fear and overwhelm.
Many tools of the second half of the Midlife Voyage to Transformation were flowing forth: witnessing, naming your feelings and needs, self-compassion, deep compassion for all beings, authenticity and strength, unburdening, awakening new parts to come forth and gratitude, courage, connectedness and the 8 C’s of Self Energy were flowing. Deep diving is following the path through Grief leading us to Rebirthing and back to Grief. The tools for holding it all were those we learned in the silence and darkness—steadiness, trusting, patience, not knowing, self-witnessing, and acceptance—and holding it all in a deeply woven self-compassion container that we had created together. Join us next October 2022 for this powerful woman’s retreat: Healing Ourselves, Healing the World–A Self-Compassionate Healing Path through Grief.