La Dolce Vita – “the sweet life” – was our theme for last week’s retreat in Puglia, Italy. The title, taken from a not-so-sweet Fellini film, calls up our American fantasies of the quintessential Italian life – one of relaxed living; spacious days; delicious food and conversation; midday riposos (siestas); time spent surrounded by friends and family; a life focused on living, not working; a veritable abbondanza of goodness. And it was indeed all those things, without question. La Rosa dei 4 Venti, our hosts, excelled at gracious hospitality (so much so that we’ve already decided to return, May 8 – 15, 2021!)

It’s easy to feel the sweetness of life when we’re immersed in beauty and all our needs are anticipated and met for us. In one of our writing practices, I scribbled, “My sweetness is as close to me as this next breath; next inhale or exhale.” How easy it is in times of plenty to know that truth, to feel it so palpably. “Sweetness is a whisper of hope that comes without effort, without straining or striving, but in letting go, in allowing myself to hear the voices of the trees…My sweetness is alive inside me, flowing abundantly like amritam (nectar), the juice, the sweet honey, dripping down during meditation, healing the sorrows, softening the edges, moistening the dry ground. Sukha (Ease)…”

And yet, surprisingly, I think we all experienced during the week that the greatest sweetness came when we made space for the not-so-sweet, when we welcomed in the sadness of hearts in repair, of loss, of the brevity of time, the substance of reality, the so-called “weight of the world.” We did not drown there in that heavy darkness. Instead, we viewed its substantial shores from our buoyant raft, together, and awareness of it seemed to make our own sweetness even greater.

So often I try to avoid my own dark places, having spent so many days, weeks, years, bumbling around inside those dark caves, feeling as if I would never find my way out. Somehow, buoyed by our gathering of sweet souls last week, it felt as if there were lights to be found everywhere, if only I would look up.

Sangha. Community. It was a beautiful week of celebrating the sweet without denying the bitter. And of remembering that walking the path with others is always more enlightening. (And often more fun.)

Together, yes we can.

Today may you find sweetness everywhere — especially in the most unlikely places. And perhaps some small taste of it even here, I hope.