It happened last month: Something that seemed indelible, everlasting, and endlessly-nourishing came abruptly to an end.
We’ve all had it happen: a death of a partner, the sudden cessation of a relationship, the irrational loss of a job, etc.
For me, it came from my spiritual community forsaking me.
For people who have been reading my blog for a while, you know how devoted I have been to my meditation practice. I had lived in an ashram for years, attended weekly classes, mediated twice daily.
I felt content; I felt sure in my worldview; I felt powerful.
Then, surprisingly and suddenly, my tradition said they didn’t want me to be a part of them anymore. I will refrain from blabbing about the details of who said what, why this happened, and whatnot. Suffice it to say that I felt heartbroken, entirely abandoned, and grieving a very dear part of my life that I never expected to see go away.
How do we survive those heart-wrenching, gut-punching, and thoroughly world-shattering events?
When nearly everything you thought you knew and trusted about the world gets pulled away – like a child’s play things kept too close to the shore that get dragged out to sea – how do you continue on?
How do you take that next step? How do you even breathe?
I’ve had friends get broken up with via text message (from multi-year relationships, none-the-less), I’ve seen friends shunned from synagogues, I’ve known friends to unexpectedly loose stable employment while simultaneously caregiving for someone else.
How can we heal? How can we continue to grow with grace?
I’ve watched over the past several weeks as certain mainstays in my perception of life have melted away, notions that I felt certain were rock-steady and steadfast. My worldview disintegrated, and now I’m shuffling through the debris to find the gems with which I can rebuild.
As I’ve continued to struggle through this process, here are some returning thoughts to which I keep cycling back:
1. Realize that Nothing in Life is Ever Really About You
Roads collapse, bridges burn, tornadoes rip apart communities. Forces of nature have no will or intent; they just move, and blast whatever happens to be in their way.
We expect that people have a little more intention than a storm, but they seldom do. They are being pushed and pulled by their karma, their demons, and their own tensions. We ultimately have little say over how others treat us – all we can choose is how we respond.
So, even if the attack that shattered your world seemed highly intentional – realize that it wasn’t. It was just someone or something going through their shit, and we were the innocent bystander; and our lives were the collateral damage.
It really wasn’t about you; it was all about them.
2. You Have The Power to Let Go and Move On
Once you feel the truth in the fact that you had only a small part to play in the whirlwind, it becomes easier to truly forgive, move on, and rebuild. We have to let go – and accept the new reality – in order to go on. Clinging to the shards of our previous life will do no good; all we will build is a Frankenstein-esque mockery of the whole life we once led.
Find the jewels; find the pieces of the previous worldview that still feel true, take them, and go forward. Let go of the debris. Much of the broken remnants are perceptions you don’t need anymore. Let them go with love, find your new truth, and keep going. Forgive the people that injured you.
3. Have Patience With Yourself
Allow yourself to have stages of grief and grieving. Get mad, be surprised, become indignant. Be sad, lonely, afraid. Find joy, laughter, and surprise. Realize that the assembly of your new life will take time to coalesce. Try to be patient with yourself and others around you – and acknowledge that you won’t feel quite right for a while.
You’re going to have to go through a process of reexamining everything you previously believed, so try not to rush to any assumptions. Let the process of healing take it’s time and be natural. Seeds can only sprout out of the soil at a given rate. There’s no hurrying the process. After a field burns, it’ll be a bit before new sprouts resurrect out of the ashes.
4. Use This Time to Discover and Explore
You are at a crossroads in your life journey. There are a multitude of directions you could go from here. Take some time to explore them.
Maybe there was a hobby you always wanted to begin. Maybe there’s a group or class that has always intrigued you. While your worldview is reforming, you have the capacity to change some fundamental beliefs about your life and the world around you. So, set out on an adventure to uncover what some of those unrealized dreams might be. Rediscover your child-like curiosity with the world.
I sometimes like to reframe world-destroying moments with the image of a chrysalis. At some point, that transforming butterfly inside will become too confined by its self-constructed enclosure; and it’ll have to break out. The world that it has known for many days, suddenly has to be ripped away in order to allow the butterfly to enter the expansiveness of the wider world.
Moreover, if a butterfly somehow get to be spared the struggle and agony of trying to claw its way out of its chrysalis – if someone cuts it open for him, for example – he will be unable to unfold his wings. It’s through the struggle of escape that a butterfly produces enough chemicals to allow his wings to fully spread.
Maybe you are like the butterfly and needed your world to break open to make space for something so much better and happier. Go out and find what those better options might be.
5. Treat Yourself Kindly – and Surround Yourself With Love
Find those people and experiences that truly nourish you and draw them into your sphere. Spend lots of time with loved ones and people who bring out your best sides. Laugh a lot. Eat chocolate and take bubble baths. Take hikes and to spend time convening with nature – I personally find time in the forest or by the sea to be so healing and spiritual.
What are other activities you could undergo to make yourself feel good? The more you focus on the experiences and people that enrich your existence, the greater likelihood that your new outlook will prioritize them. If you put effort into sustaining good friendships, it’s likely those friendships will play a greater role in your new life.
Find what inspires you, enriches you, and brings you pleasure. Let those be some signposts to direct the road ahead.
It’s an incredible journey to grow through the total annihilation and resurrection of your worldview. It’s a harrowing but character-building experience. For it’s during these times of transition that we truly see who we are, what we are made of, and what is truly important.
I can assure you that this will not be the solitary time your life dissolves; it will happen again. And, again, you will have the opportunity to choose – how do I want to live?
We get to choose. We can grow and live with love and compassion; or we can shut down from the heartache.
The choice is yours. I’m choosing love. How about you?
Art & Words: Kaelan Strouse; Background Photos by: Dan Machold & Kit