Learning through Loss

We all experience times of loss: when life takes an unexpected turn that throws you for a loop.  Sometimes there is no way to foresee the wrench life will throw at you, but you can decide how you handle it.  

I recently encountered some of these twists: the first one rocked my life plans and initially struck me as a very pleasant shift.  Six weeks later, another large “surprise” arrived, but one I was not so eager to welcome.  I tend to think of myself as a person who loves surprises, but Tony Robbins shed some light on this topic for me in his Ted Talk:

“You like the surprises you want. The ones you don’t want, you call problems, but you need them.”

So here I am, swimming through the “problems” Mr. Robbins says I need. I could wallow and wonder why this struggle is happening to me, but what good would that do? Following the mindful tradition, I allow myself to accept the emotions that come. There are moments of despair, times of questioning, and even occasions of recognizing the positives that exist due to recent changes as well. There are multiple ways of looking at any situation. I’m inclined to cling to ideas I like. However, to work through struggles, I have to consider multiple perspectives and try to see the big picture.

In his book, Zen Shorts, Jon J. Muth illustrates this Buddhist concept with his parable: “The Farmer’s Luck.”

There was once an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years.  One day, his horse ran away.  Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.  “Maybe,” the farmer replied.  The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it two other wild horses.  “Such good luck!” the neighbors exclaimed.  “Maybe,” replied the farmer.  The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown off, and broke his leg.  Again, the neighbors came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.  “Such bad luck,” they said.  “Maybe,” answered the farmer.  The day after that, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army to fight in a war.  Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by.  “Such good luck!” cried the neighbors.  “Maybe,” said the farmer.

I think we can all attest to similar ebbs and flows in our supposed “good luck” department.  We never can quite imagine what is around the bend, but I do find a flow of increasing positivity comes to those who focus on goodness, and downward spin for those who wallow in anger, fear, or self-care at the detriment of others.

Brazilian lyricist and novelist, Paulo  Coelho shared: “I have seen many storms in my life. Most storms have caught me by surprise, so I had to learn very quickly to look further and understand that I am not capable of controlling the weather, to exercise the art of patience and to respect the fury of nature.”

Whether stormy weather or stormy circumstances, we each get to decide how we handle the unexpected.  Will you stay weighed down in the weight of misery, or allow those painful feelings to flow through you, then allow them pass and move on?  I hope you will allow life’s clouds, at times light and in other moments dark, to cast their shadows and then blow on by.  Acknowledge the hurt, then move on and take in the moments of sunshine.  

There is always light above the clouds.

 

  1. Photo by Elijah Henderson, Clarksville, United States. https://unsplash.com/photos/DMED-sOt1Ak

 

  1.      2. The Kingdom, Sun above Clouds, 2008 © Seb Janiak

 

Finding Home

 

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“Home is the love that lives inside you….” –Heidi Barr

Do you remember when you first felt at home?  I remember even in childhood, I sought to find a place that truly seemed like where I belonged.  I recognized that the place I lived my entire life strangely did not seem like home. In my twenties, I started to feel a sense of home as I followed my heart.  By gradually growing into the person I wanted to be, I found increasing happiness. But it was only after a very difficult series of events at the conclusion of my third decade of life when I truly found that comforting sense that I had sought for so long.  Only recently, I began to recognize that such grounding is not about a physical location; it is a product of pursuing my dreams and accepting myself and others as beautiful: flawed and flourishing, just the way we are.

This sense of home was not an easy discovery though.  It came after going through years of incredible struggle that allowed me to develop the inner strength required to eventually walk away from everything. I moved away from my home of over a decade and close proximity to all of my close friends I had developed in that time.  I quit a job of 7 years in a community I truly loved in order to pursue a Ph.D..  The next step was choosing to love myself enough to care for my needs: physical, emotional, and spiritual.  I stopped overeating and started jogging.  I set boundaries for how I wanted to be treated, which led to the end of a devastating marriage.  I then let go of starting grad school at that time because I knew that with all its stress, it would probably be more harmful than helpful in light of the other changes in my life. Eventually I chose to leave a religious community that had once felt comforting but over time, became a place in which I felt incredibly isolated and unhappy.

This sense of home was not an easy discovery though.  It came after going through years of incredible struggle that allowed me to develop the inner strength required to eventually walk away from everything. I moved away from my home of over a decade and close proximity to all of my close friends I had developed in that time.  I quit a job of 7 years in a community I truly loved in order to pursue a Ph.D..  The next step was choosing to love myself enough to care for my needs: physical, emotional, and spiritual.  I stopped overeating and started jogging.  I set boundaries for how I wanted to be treated, which led to the end of a devastating marriage.  I then let go of starting grad school at that time because I knew that with all its stress, it would probably be more harmful than helpful in light of the other changes in my life. Eventually I chose to leave a religious community that had once felt comforting but over time, became a place in which I felt incredibly isolated and unhappy.

Needless to say, there was a lot of change in just a few months. Sure I had moments of self-doubt, fear of the future, and even overwhelming grief.  I didn’t dwell in them though.  I  allowed them to come, be acknowledged through tears, prayer and reflective writing, then I let them pass.  I focused on the task at hand. I kept my plate pretty light in order to heal, but wasn’t entirely crippled.  I recognized that only through a hike can we truly appreciate a summit. I knew that someday there would be a series of summits and hikes that felt more manageable ahead.  Sometimes we face those Everest type journeys in life.  I certainly didn’t want to get stuck on a snowy cliff, so with one gradual step at a time, the hike was eventually concluded.  Now I feel like I’ve made it down safely and headed out on several wonderful adventures since then.  None quite so intense, but then, I’ve grown stronger from each trip.

So wherever you are in your journey, whether struggling up an Everest or gliding down a Dinky Hill, I hope you breathe deeply enough to enjoy the aroma, look around enough to appreciate the view, and pace yourself so your next step can move in the direction you desire.

And find someone to smile at each day.

 

Thanks to photographer Hristo for the incredible summit view.