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Posts Tagged ‘change’


I was sitting on my futon writing when suddenly I heard a creaking in the walls. Assuming it was the usual bus driving down the street, I thought nothing of it. Seconds later, my two kitties came flying erratically into the living room and suddenly the entire room began to shake. We were having an earthquake. My legs involuntarily turned to jello.

I live in San Francisco, so I am no stranger to earthquakes. But despite that, they still give you a shock when they come, always so unexpectedly. Several hours later, having wound down from the adrenalin of the small quake, I was laying in the acupuncture chair, full of needles and definitely ready for the relaxation of my weekly acupuncture treatment. Suddenly the acupuncture clinic began to shake somewhat violently. I threw my upper body into the air and yelled out an expletive! We were having yet another earthquake! Twice in one day.

Those two earthquakes were several months ago now, but I was reminded of them early this morning at 5:30 am when I was jolted awake by yet another earthquake. Fortunately none of these quakes were serious ones, but each one of them has gotten me thinking… thinking about change. It has me thinking about how change can come at any moment, when you least expect it, and often when you are not remotely prepared for it. I am certain that we have all learned this lesson in our lives, often the hard way.

It seems to me there are three types of change: 1. the type of change we consciously make and for which we are excited, 2. the changes that we do make of our own volition, but yet which are still very difficult and sometimes heart-wrenching, and then there is the third type of change: the type of change that catches you completely off-guard, takes you completely by surprise, knocks you over and has the ability to shatter you, just like an earthquake. I have learned through my own experiences that we can learn to approach all of these types of changes in the same fashion: with openness, vulnerability and a willingness to accept whatever may come our way…and not only to accept it, but to embrace it. But I did not come to this place easily.

I’ll never forget the very first major change of my “adult” life. I was 18 years old, just barely an adult, and due to a broken heart and complex emotions in which I was stagnating in my home town, I made the decision (at the encouragement of my mother) to drive the two hours north to spend the summer living at my grandparents’ adorable little beach cottage in the resort town of York Beach, Maine. I had spent all of my childhood traveling there in the summers with my family. It was, in fact, my favorite place on earth, so moving there should have been an exciting change. And in part, it was.

But after packing up the car and making my way part-way up the highway for what felt like a journey to another dimension, I suddenly found myself gripped with panic. I had never lived anywhere except my small, quaint colonial town of Wrentham, Massachusetts. I had never known any friends but those friends with whom I had gone to school for the previous twelve years. Suddenly the thought of moving to a new place, where I didn’t know a soul (other than my family), was terrifying.

I pulled over to a gas station, pumped the pay phone full of coins and called my best friend back home. I was in tears, I was gripped with fear. The tremor of change had taken me over. This friend, who had been my closest friend all throughout my high school years, was wise beyond her years at 18. She somehow knew I needed to overcome this fear and confront this change. She told me to forge on. My eyes brimming with tears, I got back in the car and continued on, steeped in my own trepidation.

Well, I am so glad that friend encouraged me to continue forth because that change turned out to be one of the most important ones I have ever made. It was that step that allowed me to see that there was life beyond the 20 mile radius that I had known all of my life. That move opened up a whole new world to me that I never could have imagined; a new job, new friends, and most importantly…a new perspective. But even more importantly, it was this move, this first spreading of my wings that would pave for the way for me to dive head first into many more significant and life-altering changes to come. It was largely this change that allowed me to put myself on a plane, by myself, to go live in Spain for a year; to subsequently move to several new cities and then furthermore to move across the country and begin a whole new life. It all started with that two-hour drive to York Beach, Maine.

But it seemed that those intentional changes, despite having to overcome fear, did little to prepare me for the unexpected, undesirable and involuntary changes that were to come my way down the road. When the first true love of my life left me in my mid-20’s, I felt like there had been a massive earthquake and the whole earth had fallen out from under my feet. It seemed that there would be no possible way to put the pieces back together again. My world had crumbled.

I did everything in my human ability to try to adapt to that change, but despite my best efforts, it was a change to which I simply could not adjust. Without realizing it, I was fighting tooth and nail to resist that change, and I suffered greatly for it. Life was trying to pull me with the current, but I refused to go. I couldn’t go. I didn’t know how, where or why. It wasn’t until an even more devastating broken heart, six years later, that I would begin to realize that there was only one way to deal with an unwanted, gut-wrenching change. If that first heartbreak had seen the earth fall out from under me, this one had done both that and had overcome me like a giant tsunami and I was drowning in my own sorrow, in utter despair. As I struggled to breathe under the weight of the crushing waves, I reached a point of complete desperation, a point where I knew I only had one option: I had to surrender.

Since reaching that point of surrender in recent years, I have begun to perfect the art of surrendering, going with the flow and trusting in the Universal forces. I have learned that though we cannot see them at the time, there are reasons why all of these changes, however painful and unexpected, come into our lives: they come to teach us powerful lessons; they come to take us with the current and deliver us to new found places we never could have before imagined; they come to transform us into the people that we are meant to be. Those changes, however unsought and however devastating, have allowed me to live through a transformation, a more powerful alchemy than I ever could have imagined. They have allowed me to blossom into a person I never could have known, living a life of emotional and spiritual richness of which I never would have dared dream. Those changes, however unwanted, were in the end…gifts.

And one of the most powerful lessons I have learned from walking through the fire of my own changes, is how to truly open myself up and surrender to any changes that may come in my future: whatever they may be; however painful, however unimaginable and earth-shattering. As I think about this morning’s earthquake, those that have already gone by and those that will come, I have realized that earthquakes provide us with a powerful lesson for life:

Dramatic change can come at any time. To cope, adapt and thrive, we must soften, surrender and go with the flow.

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grief (n.)= keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret.

Grief is a funny thing. Our society teaches us to avoid it at all costs, and yet it is part of the natural cycle of life. We will all experience it in our lives, that is if we have a pulse. And we will all experience it in different ways, different times and in varying degrees. Some of us will suffer the horrific grief from the loss of a child, others will suffer the heart-breaking grief from the loss of a love or spouse, and still others will suffer profound grief from the loss of a pet. That is just to name a few losses which we may face over a lifetime.  It doesn’t matter what the source, but life pretty much guarantees it: the grief will come, and for a time it will be debilitating. And what is for certain is that there is no way to measure the level of one’s grief. Nobody can say “my grief is more intense than yours” or vice versa. There is no scale of 1-5 that allows for an objective measurement and comparison. For each person, grief is different, and it is their own. One can try to empathize with someone who is grieving, from having been through their own grief, but at the end of the day nobody else can truly put themselves in your shoes. Your grief is yours and yours alone.

Everyone has different ways of coping with their grief: some will turn to therapy and others will turn to prayer, and some to both. I fall somewhere in the middle: I turn inward to meditation. What is clear is that not all methods of coping with grief will work for all people, and it is important for each of us to find the path that works best for us. While I’ve always been hopeful about its effects, and despite various attempts, therapy has never made any meaningful impact on me. But meditation has. By going deep within, calming the inner turmoil and mind chatter, and through lots of practice, I have found ways that I can literally raise my consciousness above the turmoil, where I can look down at it from above, objectively. Of course meditation is not a magic bullet. It takes consistent practice and considerable commitment. And it too is not for everyone. But what I do know for sure is that nobody can say to you, “This is how you should be handling your grief.” Nobody has had the exact same experiences that you have had, and therefore nobody, no matter how empathetic or well-intentioned they may be, can truly know what is best for you. Nor do they have the right to tell you so. When it comes to deciding how best to handle your own grief, you are the only person who can make that decision.

There is no formula for how long it will or should take someone to get over grief. I’ve heard it said that to get over a love relationship, it should take you 1/2 of the time that you were together. According to whom?? Based on what??? That would falsely assume that all people are the same, and that everyone feels the same level of emotions, and that every relationship is the exact same level of love and intensity, which of course couldn’t be farther from the truth. We are dealing with human beings, not algebra! We are all unique. For some it could take weeks to grieve, for others years, and still for some it will become a lifelong struggle. I know that anyone who has lost a child will tell you that it is a loss you never get over; instead one has to learn how to live WITH it and incorporate it into a new reality, no matter how gut-wrenching. But I also know that you don’t have to have lost a child in order to feel that level of grief. There are other types of losses that can be just as intense for people. We’ve all heard of the phrase, “She died of a broken heart.” That phrase didn’t appear out of nowhere and it doesn’t just happen in the movies. Sadly, it can and does happen.

The most important element in the process of overcoming grief is simply time. But there is no way to predict the amount of time, and it is also the nature of grief that it can and will come in waves. One can be feeling fine for months or even years, and then suddenly out of the blue a reminder comes pounding in like a wave, and drags them into the undertow: it could be an Anniversary date, a song, a photograph, there are a million little things that could trigger a wave of grief to wash over you. And when that happens the best thing that the grieving person can do is try to “ride the wave”, knowing that it is a temporary storm in the sea of life and that this wave too will pass. The only way out is through.

How many of you have been told, “You need to get over it. It’s been too long.”? Every time I hear someone say that I want to spit, and I am reminded of how impatient and lacking empathy human beings can truly be. Of course people mean well when they say that, but by doing so they are belittling the loss that you have lived through and they are not respecting the grief process that YOU are living. The grief process is yours and yours alone. If anyone tries to tell you that, and it hurts or angers you, don’t fret. Step back and know that you are standing in your own process and be true to yourself: do what you need to do for yourself and do not be concerned with what anybody else thinks of you. At the end of the day you are your own best friend, and you know better than anyone what your own spirit needs.

I am often shocked by how few people want to deal with one’s grief, how afraid of it people tend to be. From writing in this community, I have met several other writers who are dealing with their own deep grief, and I’ve seen a reoccurring theme: they’ve all had friends and family who have pulled away from them, and in some cases permanently, because the friends or family were too uncomfortable and unequipped emotionally to deal with the other person’s grief. This is a sad statement; because of course when one is grieving that is when one needs their friends and family the most. But I have learned this same lesson in my own life, multiple times. Some people simply don’t have the emotional bandwidth, sensitivity, patience or level of empathy necessary to handle someone else’s grief. If everyone had that ability, then everyone would be a Priest, a Nun …or at the very least a grief counselor!

But most importantly it is a stark misconception to think that grief is bad and that we should in any way try to rush through it, push it aside or numb ourselves to it. Sadly so many people do this: they try to avoid the pain of a lost love by jumping into the next love; they push the devastating emotions down and try to pretend that they don’t exist, which sadly will often lead to the manifestation of disease; and others will try to drown out the pain with drugs and alcohol. None of these escape mechanisms will work. To quote Ovid,

“Suppressed grief suffocates, it rages within the breast, and is forced to multiply its strength.”

By trying to distract ourselves from grief, we are making a mistake. By trying to ignore the grief, we are not honoring the loss that we have experienced. We are also denying ourselves one of the most powerful opportunities for growth and learning that this earthly life affords us. Our darkest times are our most powerful teachers. The sage knows that to try to skip over such difficult times, is to deny himself of powerful learning and soul evolution. In the wise words of Marcel Proust,

“Happiness is beneficial for the body, but it is grief that develops the powers of the mind.”

There is no doubt that grief is painful, and in many cases, devastating and debilitating. I’m sure none of you will argue with that. It can change your life forever, and often against your will. That has certainly been the case in my life. And while it may get easier with time, it can still be something that we simply have to learn how to live with, as difficult as that may be. But even in that circumstance, if we can dig in deep and instead of running away and hiding from grief, if we can muster up the strength to walk through it and experience it, and allow ourselves to ride the wave, it has the power to transform us.

“Grief drives men into habits of serious reflection, sharpens the understanding, and softens the heart.”- John Adams

This post is dedicated to my friend Judy.

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