This last weekend I attended Tara Sophia Mohr’s Fall retreat. And it was fantastic. Tara did an outstanding job of facilitating and the group of women that gathered was such a kind, safe container for the deep inner work we all did.
And I was struck by a couple of things that relate to trust.
This retreat was held at Green Gulch Farm Zen Center, a Buddhist practice center nestled in the hills just north of San Francisco. I got the feeling on the winding drive that leads onto the property like I was walking a labyrinth – those maze-like symbols of pilgrimage where the “pilgrim” walks an inevitable path toward the center (God, Source, one’s own wise heart), and then back out the same path to every-dayness.
I stepped out of my shuttle that first day to the sound of wind through trees. A woman with a shaved head – a sign of her devotion – was just finishing preparing the guest house for our group. And as the sun warmed my face and shimmered off the sea in the distance, my heart said, “This. THIS.” Like all of this – the quiet, the land, the contemplative spiritual setting – was water and my heart parched beyond telling.
Tears fell from my eyes.
The next morning many of us took an early walk to the shore, winding our way silently through the Center’s many gardens – vegetables, flowers, shrubs, trees – past horses and then out to sand and sea. I felt the whole time like the land was hugging me, like it had been loved and tended well and had, because of that, so much to give back.
And it struck me as I walked and cried and received that huge hug how harsh life has felt these last months. Not mean, but requiring much. In addition to the challenges of family life, I have poured myself into my work here, saying yes a thousand times (and often late into the night) to trust and to listening more strongly to my sense of calling than to my racing heart and trembling knees. I feel silly admitting how out of my comfort zone I’ve been doing almost everything I’ve done here, since my life has prepared me well for all of it. But that’s the truth: I’ve been out of my comfort zone this year far more than in it.
So I’ve known this year has been hard work. But it wasn’t until I found myself in a soft place that the truth of it, the depth of the stress and the rigor, had freedom to surface.
And I wonder:
What if becoming (painfully, gut-wrenchingly, sometimes) aware of our fear is not always a sign that we’re far off from peace, but actually quite the opposite: a sign that we’re actually close enough to peace to start collapsing into it, to start admitting to ourselves or someone else how hard things have been? How much we need Life’s hug?
If you look at the labyrinth above, you’ll see the bulk of the last steps to the center are actually furthest away from it.
The other thought I’m left pondering is the surprise that softness was for me this weekend. The surprise of quiet and stillness in the midst of my otherwise loud, frenetic life. The surprise of land that felt so powerfully good. The surprise of Tara’s warmth and skill as a facilitator and the lovely group of women to explore with and grow alongside of.
What if it’s possible to be surprised by softness when you very least expect it? To be going along in the midst of your gut-clenching challenges – the ones you admit to yourself and the ones so hard and protracted you almost cannot – and find yourself turning a bend into kindness. Warmth. Generosity. Understanding. Love.
What if all such things could be far more close than you think?
I hope that they are. I hope you know rest and softness soon. I hope you’re surprised by a warm and healing Hug.