Two years ago, sitting in an extended mindfulness retreat, I began to experience waves of sadness. I wasn’t sure of the source. I was containing the sadness, keeping it under control, not allowing it to erupt.
I recalled some sage advice I had received almost a decade before from a rabbi at the time of my mom’s death: he encouraged me and other family members to take the period of mourning seriously, to allow the sadness and burning pain of our loss to sear a cavity into our hearts. He encouraged us to welcome the grief. He offered that the cavity, over time, would become the container holding our enduring love for my mom.
Recalling this advice years later during my meditation retreat, as sadness was surfacing, I softened, relaxed the control, took my foot off the brakes of the emotions welling up behind the sadness, and allowed the tears to begin to flow. Slowly at first, self-conscious, building in waves, still self-conscious, holding back, afraid of losing control, chest heaving, surrender, release, and then the flood of tears.
What arose in my thoughts during this outburst was my beloved friend and teacher Rabbi Rachel Cowan, now of blessed memory. I was actively grieving in anticipation of her death. For the next several periods of meditation during the retreat, I brought Rachel with me to the cushion, and I continued grieving. What occurred next came as a surprise. Tears gave way to smiles, the outward expression of my gratitude and love for Rachel. For the remainder of the retreat, I moved in and out of tears and smiles.
We are reminded in Deuteronomy, during this month of Elul, that we are presented with both blessings and curses, and are implored to choose life. Rather than embracing only the joy of our blessings, separating ourselves from the pain of our curses and losses, we choose life. Choosing life means living fully, fully experiencing all of the emotions that arise, the ones that accompany blessings and the ones that accompany curses. The wisdom of our tradition instructs us to be at one with all, Adonai Ehad. This is the path to healing our brokenness. This is how the light comes in through the cracks. This is how we encounter the healing power of grieving.