Living with Change
The past few weeks I have been working in my own inner chambers of darkness. In the past two years I have experienced a lot of change in my life. Part of me says, “So what? Life always is changing. Everyone has problems. Why can’t I just get on with it?” There is another part that emphatically has informed me that I’m not going anywhere until I pay attention to where I have been. I need to spend some time grieving and acknowledging the changes in a more mindful way – giving myself time to grieve, to heal, to remember, and then to move on wholeheartedly.
When I first arrived at The Mandala Center, I read through several years of evaluations that visitors had completed after their stays. I was surprised by the number of times people referred to “grief” as the motivating emotion that led them to seek out retreat here. An illness, a loss of a loved one, a loss of direction.
When we think of grief we tend to think of it as the result of someone dying. However, life always is changing and loss comes in many forms. We may lose our independence, our place in line, our home, or our job. We may lose our sense of who we are or a long held belief. Life is an ongoing process of grieving, letting go, healing, trusting, and then picking ourselves back up – over and over.
I long have been intrigued by the idea that NOTHING comes into being without something else passing away. Even a blank canvas is sacrificed for the beauty of a painting and a patch of wildflowers traded for a manicured yard. Our beliefs, thoughts, and lifestyles also change. We may experience the “death” of our TV time in order to exercise our bodies. We may need to give up the belief that we are “worthless or stupid” in order to find greater inner peace.
Everything exists at the cost of something else….birth, death, and birth again…over and over. In working with issues of “stress,” I have come to believe there are things that we cannot control but that we can control our perceptions of things. Resisting what “is” can create a lot of stress. Coming to accept loss as part of life frees us from feeling burdened or punished by it. It is going to happen over and over and we may as well accept it lovingly and be gentle with ourselves.
This is part of a poem I wrote several years ago called “What Have You Lost?”
Have you ever lost…
Your car keys?
Your belongings to a flood or fire?
Have you lost your child?
Your expectations, dreams or beliefs
of how life could be?
Did you lose your innocence?
What tragedy shattered that place of trust?
Have you lost a part of your body?
Have you lost permission to be who you truly are?
Your creativity? Your passion?
Your connection to a greater purpose?
Have you ever lost your mind?
The poem continues but the point is not to make life sound as if it is futile or hopeless or more painful than it already is, but rather to remind us that we are not alone in our loss and grief. Life is a series of changing experiences we build upon to learn and grow stronger. Those experiences of change are the foundation upon which we begin to build again and to open ourselves to new possibilities that only can arise out of the loss or destruction of other parts of our lives. Changes and loss do not erase where we have been. Nothing ever is lost – only transformed or transitioned into a new experience that most likely would not have been possible without whatever came before it.
The emerging wildflowers here are impossible to miss in the desert landscape…..splashes of yellow, white, purple, blue, orange, and red enliven the pathways at The Mandala Center. I thought of writing about the wildflowers and their promise of new life and new beginnings. What I became aware of is that the flowers mirror my own internal awareness – I must pay attention to where I have been and where I have come from before I can move on wholeheartedly. These flowers sprang forth from the darkness. Without the time spent waiting cold and hidden under that protective cloak they would not have survived nor burst into bloom now. The times of darkness - waiting, grieving, feeling pain, struggle, and wrestling with the unknown - are fertile times and are as much a part of the growth process as the actual bursting forth.
In his book Writing Tides, Kent Ira Groff puts it this way:
If you want to find new light, then enter into the dark places in the same old stuff you deal with every day, or in the stuff you keep avoiding. There you will find diamonds ready for the cutting. The Hebrew prophet Isaiah described it in chapter 45: “I will give you treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places.”
It is in the grief and the darkness and the changes of life that our seeds are sown for blossoming – even when we can’t see yet what it is we have planted. Sometimes the lessons come hard and slow and we must grow to be patient and trusting. Our willingness to sit with change and loss and grief is an act of bravery that can transform our lives into the treasures – the diamonds – that are hidden there.
Pema Chodron in her book, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, writes
Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. [Things] come together and fall apart again. Then they come together and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”
Stanley Kunitz’s poem, The Layers, offers us further insight. Kunitz illustrates in this poem the need for taking time to “look behind” before he can “gather strength to proceed.” This is wisdom. This is what I am discovering. There is nothing to fear. Rejoice! Change happens and with it comes opportunity to learn, live and love.