Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Skating Through Grief

I have not been following the Winter Olympics very much, but I just watched an online video of Canadian skater Joannie Rochette. Her mother died with shocking suddenness of a heart attack on Sunday morning, and less than 72 hours later, Ms. Rochette was back on the ice. 

Even watching her warming up before the program brought me to tears. I cannot imagine what it must be like just to skate like that, much less to do so while experiencing the weight of unthinkable sadness. How can she bear her heart in front of countless millions of people only moments after it has been broken into bits?

Then came the program itself. Her grace and courage, the emotional reactions of the sympathetic audience in the arena, and the sensitive silence of the commentators, combined to produce more tears as my heart quivered for this young woman. When it was over, and she had held her final pose for the requisite amount of time, she went limp, and let her own tears flow.

Joannie Rochette was able to do this because she lived in the moment during her program. She was not thinking ahead to the outcome (which had been rendered irrelevant by her mother's death), nor was she caught in memories of the past. She was truly present, here and now, moment-to-moment, paying attention to what needed to be done in each successive moment. And when her task was completed, she returned to the attending to her grief and loss in the moment.

Paying attention to what needs to be done moment-to-moment, and turning toward the unpleasant. These are the traits that we can cultivate through mindfulness practice. We hope that we never have to prove our mettle on ice, as Joannie had to last night, but our own experiences of sadness are no less intense. 
I go among the trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places
Where I left them, asleep like cattle...

Then what I am afraid of comes.
I live for a while in its sight.
What I fear in it leaves it,
And the fear of it leaves me.
It sings, and I hear its song. ~ Wendell Berry

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