I just returned from a weekend yoga retreat led by three wonderful instructors from Three Trees Yoga Studio. The retreat was held at Harmony Hill on Hoods Canal. Harmony Hill is a retreat center whose mission is “to provide support for those affected by a cancer diagnosis including caregivers and health professionals.” As I settled into this space for the weekend, it became more and more apparent what a sacred space it was. It had deep healing properties. The food, the landscape, the staff all contributed to this healing medicine.
Our yoga instructors led us in exercises focused on stretching our bodies and spirits using the ancient art of yoga. Our first evening and morning was spent in a time of great silence. Gazing over the still waters of Hoods Canal with the fog settled gently around the feet of the Olympic Mountains, I heard the early morning cries of the birds as they called to the earth to awaken. Walking in the paths sprinkled with dew, I noticed the many colors of the dahlias that graced the gardens. I made my way to the labyrinth that is laid out around a huge evergreen tree that I later learned was called “She who knows.” As I walked this path in silence, I could feel the spirit of the many participants who have shared their stories and received healing from their time here. Reaching the center, I noticed the mementos that had been placed within the bark of this giant tree. The pain and the healing that each of these offerings represented was palpable. I was overwhelmed with tears and thoughts of those I have loved who have walked the journey of cancer. Yet, I was not overwhelmed with suffering from the loss but with gratitude of having been a part of their journey: both during their lives and their surrender to death.
Life is a mixture of pain and joy, gain and loss, love and release. I have heard it said that “pain is inevitable but suffering is optional.” If we wait until there are no problems to seek the joy in life we will miss what each moment has to offer us. Each moment we have the choice to focus on joy, beauty, and gratitude. According to Pema Chödrön, in her book The Wisdom of No Escape,
“(A) sense of wonder and delight is present in every moment, every breath, every step, ever movement of own ordinary everyday lives, if we can connect with it. The greatest obstacle to connecting with our joy is resentment. Joy has to do with seeing how big, how completely unobstructed, and how precious things are. Resenting what happens to you and complaining about your life is like refusing to smell the wild rose when you go out for a morning walk, or like being so blind that you don’t see the huge black raven when it lands in the tree that you’re sitting under.”
Each moment we have a choice between noticing the beauty around us or focusing only on the negative that we see in our lives. And we each will have challenges and things that continually pull us towards resentment and suffering. Yet we can live our lives in healing and wholeness if we chose each time to focus on the gratitude and joy that is also present for our eyes to see. The more we develop our “gratitude muscle” the easier it will be to learn to dance in the rain rather than become a wallflower that waits for the storms of life to pass.
The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving-Kindness, by Pema Chödrön
Reconciliation: Healing the Inner Child, by Thich Nhat Hanh
Eternal Echoes: Exploring Our Hunger To Belong, by John O’Donohue