Welcoming Opposites

Last weekend I went on a retreat with nine amazing women. We spent the weekend in cozy cottages deep in the forest. We took a sauna, sat in the hot tub, ate amazing food, watercolored, did yoga, meditated, and wrote. And that’s just the big stuff. The tiny little moments of wonder, awe, and gratitude are too many to list. At one point we all witnessed, as if in slow motion, a coyote chasing a bunny. It was truly magical.

I came home on Sunday evening, unloaded my car, had dinner with my family, and went to bed so I could be well-rested for work the next day. Work. How could I ever go back there? After a weekend doing all the things I love with people who were also there to do things they love, how would I muster the energy to go back into the portal of bureaucracy and checklists? How would I sit through another Zoom meeting away from the trees and the coyotes and the bunnies?

How could I possibly find the energy and discipline necessary to do all of the tasks that don’t inspire me? I woke up heavy on Monday morning. I felt the percolating excitement of the weekend already fading. “Noooooooooooo…” I groaned inside my head. I wanted to hold onto it. How could I get that magic feeling back? I spent some time looking through photos of the weekend. I shared them with my family and, as I scrolled through the images, I felt the flicker of a smile shining from my heart.

But the retreat was over. It was time to go to work, down to my basement office, to my screen. I took a deep breath, poured myself another cup of coffee, and walked down into my daily reality. I don’t hate my job. I just really loved the retreat. As I worked through my lists, sat through my meetings, moved tasks across my KanBan board, I realized that part of the reason the retreat was so magical was that life isn’t always that way.

On Monday morning the heaviness of my job felt more intense because I was emerging from the lightness of the retreat. And the magic and lightness of the retreat were amplified because of the heaviness of my daily life.

The truth is that I like working. I like feeling productive and being busy. I enjoy the sense of completion when I finish a task. Once I got started working on Monday, once I opened up to that reality instead of focusing on the retreat, I found my groove. I got going and it was okay.

It is by welcoming these opposites that we experience the wholeness of life. On the last day of our retreat, I found a fern frond. Half of it was crispy brown and dead and the other half verdant and alive. Together they made up everything — the alive and the dead, the soft and the hard, the light and the dark.

The frond made me think of both my relationship with my mother and my relationship with my daughter. There is so much that is good in both relationships and so much that is hard. And all the parts are necessary for an authentic relationship. Both conflict and connection are required for growth to happen.