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Lions Roar : November 2012
A RETREAT HOUSE IS “AN EMERGENCY ROOM for the soul,” I had written, meaning nothing, in a piece I sent to a friend. She had recently lost a love, and I worried that that sense of loss would seep into other parts of her life: she’d lost a sense of direction, it might seem, and perhaps a future. (She was thirty- eight and hadn’t given up on the idea of a family.) She’d lost the underpinnings that allowed her to flit around town, knowing she had a relationship to come back to; she’d lost some self-confi- dence, I’m sure, though she was bright, charming, and attractive enough never to be short of admirers. She should go on retreat, I suggested, sensing perhaps that that was what she was telling herself. Unsolicited, I would be the spokesman for that little voice inside her that sometimes was hard to hear amid the roar of traffic in L.A.—the ringing phone, and the acting gigs that took her away from a deeper self. It’s surprising what one comes up with when one’s not think- ing (when one’s not oneself, in other words, but letting some- thing larger speak or move through one). Almost in spite of myself, I’d said something true. A car smashes into ours on the intersection of State Street and Carrillo, and we reflexively go to an emergency room, or to a doctor at the very least. We may think we’re okay, but many wounds are slow to show up, we rec- ognize, and what we need is an expert eye that can read what’s invisible to the layman’s eye. We fall down the stairs, and we decide there’s nothing lost in consulting a physician. You’ve got to rest, he tells us, even though it doesn’t look serious. Then we’ve got to make another appoint- ment and remain “under observation.” To try to do anything now would only risk causing more grievous injury in the long run. So we dutifully cancel that trip to Italy we’ve planned, inform the sweetheart that we won’t be able to go to the Green Day concert after all, and tell ourselves (the most difficult and resistant audi- ence of all) that we have to take a break and do nothing, as advised. If we try to hurry our recovery along, or to go about our lives and jobs as if nothing has happened, the biggest loser will be ourselves. But to whom do we turn when the injury is truly internal—an old friend has grown bony from cancer, or our boss has just sum- moned us into his office? Where we do go when the love of our life sends us an email headed, “Better now than later”? To friends, to loved ones, to professional shrinks, to spiritual teachers, per- haps? They all have good counsel, and the latter two groups may even claim to serve up professional wisdom. But we’re back in the office the next day and soldiering on with our tasks, since nothing seems to be wrong with us on the surface. We can still smile and take care of the accounts and play the part that’s required of us. All the while, though, we’re moving further and further from recovery, deepening the wound we can’t see and can’t assess and, An ICU for the Soul When a friend is dealt a heavy emotional blow, PICO IYER suggests to her that silence and stillness might be the best medicine. Sometimes, it seems, you’ve got to retreat before you can move forward. PHOTOBYDULCIEWAGSTAFF SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2012 13