When life dumps us on our derriere like a rogue summer wave at the beach, we need to be prepared for what is going to happen next.
Those, my friends, are significant life moments. Usually we are living life in wonderful ignorance of the change in the undercurrents. We are pleasantly frolicking or purposely jumping every wave in life, thinking we have got this under control and then wham! We are sitting with a backside full of sand spitting out sea water.
And here is the secret. We are not going to be able to get off our bums, backsides or gluts until we do the internal work to recognise and address what life is asking us to focus on.
When we are running at full speed with minimal introspection and a dash of self-delusion, we can be tossed into a whole new life dimension. Our days of never having enough time may suddenly become ones where the hours stretch endlessly. We may find ourselves alone and out of our comfort zones.
Now the question of why a tsunami came crashing into our life can vary – serious illness, loss of job, demotion, change of family circumstances, or major relationship breakdown. All we know is that whatever we were flat out doing before, that thing that kept us scurrying at a million miles an hour with very little time to fully engage with others or ourselves, or be cognisant of our impact, suddenly disappears and we are left in another realm wondering, grieving, confused and angry.
It is never a pretty sight seeing a fully grown human being dumped onto a barren shoreline. If we watch the event in slow motion, we see the impact first when the wave hits. This is when human beings realise they no longer have their perceived control. Their expression is one of sheer surprise and then panic when they realise what is about to happen. Then there is the daze. As the realisation of the slam dunk descends, they feel completely lost stumbling around asking ‘why’, ‘what happened’ and ‘how the hell did I end up here’?
At this point Elizabeth Kubler Ross steps into the picture. She is the lady who explained grieving to the world. Her work was originally developed to explain the five emotional stages following a diagnosis of a terminal illness but has been used to describe the range of emotions we feel when we have experienced any type of loss. The image below beautifully captures the emotional wave we all experience and below is the stages of support we need.
Image credit: https://www.psycom.net/depression.central.grief.html
So many of us get stuck in the Bargaining stage. Have a look at this stage in the diagram above. See the line ‘Telling ones story’? That ‘story’ begins to define our life. We get stuck at this point, retelling anyone who will listen about our ‘tragedy’. I think all of us can easily picture a person in our sphere who is a storyteller. Every opportunity they have, like being introduced to a new person, they whip their story out of their back pocket in a flash. There is it is. If you want to know them, you have to hear the story.
I knew of someone who had been divorced for more than 20 years. She made a new friend and of course had to tell her the divorce story with all the agony and the angst detailed. This new friend was telling me that when she heard the story, she thought her new friend was recently divorced as the emotion was so raw. When she realised that the divorce her new friend was telling her about was more than 20 years earlier, she was so surprised at the lack of self-awareness and healing. But what really astonished her was that her new friend was losing day after day of happiness and her relationships with her children because she was quite literally lost in the story of the past.
In the Bargaining stage, there is also ‘struggling to find meaning’. This is when we all ask repeatedly, why did this happen to me? What did I do to deserve this? Others can console us with quips like God only gives the strong ones the challenges. But that’s really not helpful. What we need to understand is the real and essential questions. Those questions are:
- What do I need to learn from what has happened?
- How do I ride this wave?
If we keep asking ourselves what is it I need to see, to hear, to feel, to comprehend, to know about myself so that I can truly get up and move forward, we will with time move in the right direction. But this is where so many of us get stuck. We lash out at the world around us. Someone has to be blamed for our misery. Sometimes, we blame ourselves and this can lead to behaviours that harm us. What is important is to stop and take the first step – forgiveness.
Even if we do not yet know what it is we need to learn, we can start the journey by forgiving ourselves for whatever we did or did not do. In forgiving we start to love and nurture ourselves. We accept responsibility for all that has happened in our lives irregardless of whether we had any control. Because life happens and life is created through our responses, not our reactions.
Our response needs to be love starting with who we are in the very moment of our grief. We need to let ourselves cry, scream, release all the emotions in a quiet and private space where we are one with whomever we believe in. We can use journalling, meditation, saunas, exercise, walks in nature, whatever it is that we know will release what is welled up inside of us. We need to let the wave of grieving move through us, knowing it is normal and okay. This is sacred time in our life’s journey.
It is so important to take time, find time, create time, or block time to simply be with ourselves. Now this will not be comfortable at the start but the commitment we need to make is to being in that unease, breathing into it, turning our sight inwards to ask what our body and spirit is telling us. If we have been running away from ourselves for a long time, masking any pain with food, drink, over exercising, drugs, or whatever escape we use, it will take time for our body and spirit to trust that we are ready to listen. So we must go easy on ourselves, celebrating every single bit of awareness no matter how seemingly trivial.
Looking back at the Elizabeth Kubler Ross diagram, see that what we need to establish for ourselves is information and communication. I want us to think of the information and communication as what we are going to receive from ourselves, rather than externally (though that is important as well). We want to know about how and why we are reacting and communicate gently with ourselves. Self talk or talking to ourselves is terrific. Getting into our cars, we can pretend we are talking on the phone and use the drive time to communicate with me, myself and I!
We will need to give ourselves emotional support and find that emotional support from trusted others. Learning to support ourselves is one of the best ways we can grow and develop. We will not always have all the answers and counsellors, books, podcasts, wise friends, meditation coaches, and spiritual healers can be who we turn to when we get stuck. But it is vital that we learn to self-soothe and give ourselves the love and caring we need.
Guidance and direction can be some of the external resources I listed but I ask everyone to consider that what we need is within and by taking time to meditate, pray, be still, and listen to our breathe in mindfulness exercises (easily available on phone apps) will allow us to hear the inner wisdom. Try this. Sit or lie in a quiet place perhaps with meditation music (Spotify has heaps) and breathing rhythmically raising the belly up and down. After a few minutes be aware of what hurts or feels uncomfortable in your body and then focus on that discomfort breathing into it. Let it speak to you through mental images or inner words. Write down the observation afterwards.
I recommend we have somewhere that we record, however we like (drawings, typing, writing, pasting images) the bits of awareness that come up. I can guarantee that by the time we have made the third entry, we will see something emerging and our spiritual journey will become something we treasure. This will be our turn key, the tool we use to change our life at the deep, profound and lasting level that lets us reach a new threshold of wonderfulness. We can use it again and again because there will be more waves that come crashing onto our shores. Having our turn key will help us to turn the negative into the positive more quickly and profoundly.
Learn to ride the waves of change in life.
Footnote: I write using ‘we’ instead of ‘you’ because we are all on the same journey. What I write is relevant to me and the process of writing helps me to consolidate my learning. I know that shared experiences are what strengthen us and make us feel we are not alone.