Gratitude Confession #7: For difficult feelings.
The happiness we seek is already here, and it will be found through relaxation and letting go rather than through struggle.
I have just completed a four-month sabbatical from business-as-usual at LifeArt Studio. No meetings. No workshops. No projects. No clients. Just lots of clear, open white space. And within this sabbatical, I took one very long retreat to really dive deep in my practice.
I am committed to regular retreats to re-calibrate my mind and my heart after being immersed in the busy-ness of the world. Such retreats help me rest and re-evaluate what is important and how I should be spending my precious time. In retreat, I take an opportunity to look ahead at the rest of my life and ask myself what I want it to add up to. This is a daunting question to pose to a busy mind. Memento mori, I tell myself.
All kinds of hungry ghosts come up out of the mindscape and confront me, challenge me, taunt me, and argue with me. Getting quiet is not always a blissful experience.
To give you a flavor of the uneasiness this particular retreat brought on, I give you a portion of the June 24 entry in my journal.
I am experiencing alone-ness, and that’s something to be grateful for, if not entirely happy about. Yes, I’m feeling profoundly alone. And while I usually love being alone, this version of alone feels really bad.
I’m not going out, not inviting others in. I’m not invited out, so I'm feeling out of touch with people. I don’t even venture out to see a movie by myself, or have a nice meal. I’m monkish. I stay home with Dash. I read. I work a little at a time at the art table. I read again. My attention is not good, my mind is flighty, so reading is not easy. I think about some things, but nothing of substance. I’m a cypher. I’m distracted. I’m unproductive. I run an unnecessary errand. I take a nap.
The rains come daily, which is something to watch. They free me from having to water the new plantings. That would have given me a welcomed task to do.
I have nothing to say, so I don’t write, one of my usual ways of ignoring a frightened mind. I am alone with this mind of mine. I sit. I stare. I wonder what I should do.
So this is what a lot of days on retreat look like for me. Pretty useless. Undirected, unfocused, uninspired, lethargic. It feels bad.
June 24th was really, really uncomfortable for the type-A personality. But I know this: removing myself from the flow of so-called normal life, dropping activity, quieting the mind, releasing attachment—these are the core practices that lead to genuine equanimity, to ease of mind, to softening of the heart. And these qualities I want more than anything.
Knowing this is truly something to be grateful for.
So today, in my seventh in a series of posts on how to cultivate a deep gratitude practice, I want to suggest that even difficult times are worthy of your gratitude. They are uniquely designed to make you aware of a quality of mind, or a quality of heart, that you are in need of. They are the signposts that growth is waiting to happen. So sit with it. Be kind to it. And hold it in gratitude.
I wish you well. I wish you fortitude to get through the difficult times. It’s a worthy practice.