Are you looking up?
Easier said than done, right?
The truth is, I’ve been feeling quite a bit of despair lately with everything that’s happening in our country and it’s been a struggle to stay positive. I’m worried that my son in college will get sick and have to come home. I think about my daughter in California breathing smoke-filled air, still unemployed because of Covid.
I feel helpless watching my oldest daughter balance homeschooling her 2 boys along with taking care of her toddler, and still maintaining a career. And don’t even get me started on my 80-year old mother who insists that she’s not going to let any virus keep her isolated. “Been there done that,” she says, referring to the 2 years she spent in a tuberculosis sanatorium when she was 13 years old. She’s out and about every day, wearing her rhinestone mask.
Yeah, it was a difficult week to maintain a steady breath.
So when I heard that the Ram Dass foundation was hosting a 3 day “Cultivating Wise Hope” virtual retreat, I immediately signed up.
Bring on the Hope
At first I was skeptical that a virtual retreat wouldn’t have the same feel or appeal that being at Kripalu or any other retreat center would have. But the speaker list was impressive, and I decided to keep an open mind and give it a try.
The brilliant Sharon Salzberg began with a beautiful guided loving kindness meditation, and it got me in the zone right away. Her voice is calm and soothing, her words are always so precise. If the retreat ended there, I would have been totally satisfied.
But wait, there’s more…
One of my favorite writing teachers, Anne Lamott, talked about giving yourself the permission to cry, and the power of letting it all out, unabashed deep mournful crying. “We need to grieve now more than ever,” she said. Yes, Anne, yes we do.
And then the powerful words of the activist Valarie Kaur: “What if this darkness is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb. What if our America is not dead, but a country still waiting to be born?”
Now that’s a spoon full of hope right there!
At the end of the night, I sat on my bed listening to Krishna Das and Trevor Hall sing Kirtan together on a split computer screen. I forget how much I love Kirtan until I’m in the midst of it. There I was, an arm’s length away, happily singing with KD. And right there, on my bed, I actually felt the energy of hundreds of people doing the same thing with me. I am not kidding; I was deeply connected to the universe.
And then I started to cry, and I mean really cry.
I cried for my friend whose father took his last breath alone, because she and her mother weren’t allowed to go to the hospital to be with him. I cried for my cousin’s two young daughters who lost their mother at the onset of the pandemic. I cried for the 6 year old Florida girl whose mother was shot and killed during her Kindergarten Zoom class. I cried for the teacher who watched it happen and couldn’t do a damn thing except press the mute button so the other kids in the class wouldn’t hear the screams. I cried for Jacob Blake, George Floyd, Briana Taylor, and so many more of our black brothers and sisters. I cried for families in California, Louisiana, and Kenosha whose communities are torn apart. And I cried for the hundreds of thousands of people sick and dying from this god awful virus.
My heart just broke wide open and in that moment I felt all the suffering in the world. I could not stop crying. I just let it all pour out of me. As Anne Lamott suggested, I gave myself permission to just “row row row my boat through it all.”
And then, after nearly two hours of chanting and crying, I stood up, I looked up, and I no longer felt like I was bitterly bumping inside a jar. The release was genuine.
My heart had to crack open in order to see the light.
And the light was right there in front of me.
All we have is today. And today, I am ok.
In the words of Ram Dass:
“Don’t think about the past. Be here now.”
The incredible people who were on this virtual retreat with me, including Krishna Das, Sharon Salzburg, Bob Thurman, Raghu Markus, Annie Lamott, and the late Ram Dass, have been on a spiritual path together since the early 1970’s and have remained close friends. Today they welcome the ‘newbies’ on the path (Trevor Hall, Duncan Trussell, and Valarie Kaur). It made me realize that age doesn’t mean a damn thing when it comes right down to it. At times I feel invisible at my age, like the younger generation doesn’t want to hear what I have to say. And sometimes I feel like I don’t need to hear what they have to say, either. But when I witness the magic of multi-generational friends singing and talking and learning from each other, I remember that souls are ageless. At 20 or 50 or 70, we can and we do connect with each other, learn from each other, and inspire one another.
Sometimes we all get stuck at the bottom of the mason jar, regardless of our age, bitterly bumping into the glass walls.
But when we look up, and go outside, we all see the same sky. We truly are in this together.
And that gives me hope.
I would like to share a simple meditation and writing prompt that might help you connect with yourself and your stories this week.
Step 1: Meditate
When you feel hopeless, it usually means that you are reliving something in the past (that you can’t do anything about) or worrying about the future (which you also can’t do anything about!) Where you need to BE… is HERE…NOW.
Take a moment to feel your sit bones on your chair, take a couple of deep cleansing breaths, and relax your shoulders. Set your timer for 5 minutes and slowly inhale and exhale through your nose. Repeat these words to yourself as you breathe:
On the inhale: “I Am Here.”
On the exhale: “Here I Am.”
Practice this for 10 rounds, or 5 minutes.
Step 2: Write
This week, think about a time in your life when you might have been stuck in a situation and had difficulty finding a way out. Like the bees on the bottom of the mason jar, was there a time when you felt like there was nowhere to go? What gave you hope? What did it take for you to look up from your life?
What gives you hope in the world today?
Set your timer for 10 minutes, and write:
What gives me hope today is …
I felt hopeless when…
Step 3: Share
I would love to hear from you! Please feel free to send me an email and let me know what’s happening with you.
Are you writing? Do you need a shot of inspiration every week to keep writing? How about a monthly deadline to submit one story or chapter of your memoir for a professional edit?
If so, consider joining my Monthly Writing Group. For a limited time, if you invite a friend to join with you, you BOTH get a month FREE!
I look forward to hearing from you!
p.s. If you haven’t yet taken my Free 7-Day Writing Challenge… why not?