Last year, I was drinking a mug of chocolate when I had an epiphany.
This is, of course, how I’d like to have all my epiphanies (with chocolate involved) but this one felt especially fitting.
I was in Nicaragua, in the middle of a weeklong retreat I was leading. It was a full moon that night, and in honor of the full moon, the retreat center had offered to lead us in a cacao ceremony.
Cacao, they told us, is helpful in waking up and expanding the heart: “You can literally feel your heart beat stronger,” they said. I appreciated this framing, because sometimes I feel like my heart is about to explode after ingesting chocolate/ any amount of caffeine; it’s nice instead to think, “Hey, don’t worry, heart, you won’t explode - you’re just waking up!” So I drank some cacao, put my hands on my heart, then sat quietly, trying to feel what it wanted to say.
As I felt my heart start to beat stronger and faster, I heard an inner voice, quiet but clear:
Notice the love that already exists.
Immediately, I started tearing up.
In that moment, I felt a profound appreciation for all that my heart contained, and all that it was capable of. I felt a strong love for all the people there on retreat with me - the people who had trusted me to be their teacher, their guide, their friend… And I felt a profound appreciation for everyone outside the retreat - my family, my friends, my teachers… Even though I was just sitting there, eyes closed, in my own inner world, I felt so incredibly connected, so incredibly loved.
It’s funny, thinking about this after the fact, because the idea that my students and loved ones wouldn’t love or appreciate me is ridiculous - of course they do, otherwise they wouldn’t be my students or loved ones! But there is a huge difference between telling oneself, “I am appreciated and loved,” and feeling it. And in that cacao ceremony, I really felt it. Thinking about it now, I feel it again - welling up in my heart, and welling up in my eyes.
What was so profound about this thought, about that inner voice encouraging me to “notice the love that already exists,” is that it reminded me that I didn’t have to keep searching. That searching, in fact, sometimes distracts me from seeing and feeling what’s right in front of me. Again, I suppose I knew this, intellectually, but again, there is a huge difference between knowing and feeling.
Since that ceremony, I have said some version of this to myself hundreds of times:
Notice the love that already exists.
Notice the things you’ve already done, and the things you are already doing.
Notice the dog curled up in your lap.
Notice the kind things your partner has done for you, and the things he is doing for you.
Notice the students right there in front of you.
Notice the time you have.
Notice the breath you’re taking, right now.
Notice all the colors you can see, the smells you can smell, the textures you can feel, right now, wherever you are…
It is truly a paradigm shift to notice what is, rather than to search for more.
Of course, searching can be wonderful, too: it inspires us, nudges us forward, keeps us learning and growing… But to search without also appreciating what we already have only leads to unnecessary suffering.
This fall, my partner, Alex, and I are leading a couples retreat in Ashland, OR. The intention: to create a space where we can be more present with each other, specifically, in partnership. Presence is a thing we’ve been working on with each other, and a thing I expect we’ll continue to work on for the rest of our years together. Sometimes it comes easily - like when we're on vacation, surrounded by mountains with no cell service. Other times, it takes a whole lot of effort - like when we're both busy with work, have needy dogs to take care of, and are sleep deprived and grouchy. But every time we make the effort, there is an immediate, palpable shift, a return to connection, and a return to the love that already exists.
In any relationship, there will always be some degree of searching, seeking, striving, which is beautiful, because it keeps us going. And, in any lasting relationship, the searching, seeking and striving must be balanced by presence - otherwise we risk forgetting why we’re in the relationship in the first place! If you and your loved one would like to join us, we would love, love, love to have you. We’ll share our love for yoga and meditation, breathwork, improv games, partner massage, and delicious, nourishing food, provided by one of our favorite chefs and humans, Paige Common. Our hope is that you leave the weekend noticing and feeling more: more love, more connection, more joy, more of whatever you need to feel more fully alive in yourself, and in your relationship with your partner.