I spent the New Year holiday on retreat. Gordon Peerman and Kathy Woods, my teachers from Insight Nashville, hosted their annual New Year’s mindfulness retreat in the mountains near Sewanee. This is the second year I have welcomed a new year in that beautiful, rural setting. This year’s focus was upon the practice of compassion.
Buddhists refer to the ten thousand joys and the ten thousand sorrows of this life. Well, for me, from the first moments of the retreat-that first evening-well into the following morning, it was as if all ten thousand of my life’s sorrows came and just sat on me. I could barely contain the sorrow to sit in the meditation hall. And I really have no idea what that was about.
My sorrow did not ease until late Monday morning when Gordon, during the morning talk and in great vulnerability, shared his own pain and sorrow at what his younger brother is experiencing. The details of that aren’t important. What is important is that Gordon’s vulnerability helped my own heart break open with compassion. In some way, in that moment, I found joy again.
It wasn’t that I felt, “oh good, I’m not the only one.” Not at all. It was almost as if I felt Gordon’s love for his brother, felt Gordon’s own powerlessness at that situation and found it resonating with my own powerlessness. It was then that I could let divine love flow through my own heart.
There is a truly beautiful irony here: in Gordon’s vulnerability I was empowered to surrender to love and compassion. This has been on my mind since that moment last week. I so often hesitate to write about my most vulnerable moments. But I understand in a new way that my own vulnerability may help someone who reads this blog. And that is the whole point of the blog: to offer what I have in service to others. Maybe even my ten thousand sorrows. Don’t worry, though, I won’t write about all ten thousand at one time!
The good news is that, while we may experience ten thousand sorrows in this life, we also find ten thousand joys. I felt the heaviness of sorrow while on retreat but I also enjoy the fullness of joy. Gordon reassures me that all of this is perfectly normal, that on retreat our griefs often surface to sit with us for a while. Then they pass away and something new, like joy, arises. On retreat and in life, experiencing the joys and the sorrows adds to my awareness and renew my ability to be vulnerable with others. This is what I have to offer-my experiences-and the gifts of grace that come with the ten thousand sorrows and the ten thousand joys.