The best lessons can be found when we are facing unanticipated change and loss.
It is a moment between moments where we are lost and searching, broken and vulnerable, wanting and open. In those moments between moments we learn who we really are and what we are capable of.
Change and loss come in many forms. For me, it came in the guise of a tsunami divorce, and the unexpected end of a 16-year relationship via a text message. In an instant, my entire world was washed away. The powerful waves that carried the demise of my marriage debrided my tough exterior, revealing the pink newness below. I was left shocked and shattered, unsure how to even attempt the basics of living.
Before the divorce, I thought I was happy.
I was in a relationship with a man that I saw as my best friend. I had friends of my own, along with a successful career and hobbies. I thought I was happy, but I never really looked that closely. If I had, I would have seen a woman that was frightened of being abandoned and thought she could stave off that eventuality by playing by the rules. I would have witnessed a wife who saw her husband as the man she believed him to be, rather than the man he was. I would have spied upon a teacher who was all too willing to sacrifice herself for her students. I would have seen a friend that kept others at a safe distance to try to mitigate any chance of loss.
I had developed strategies in childhood of disassociating myself from pain, mental or physical. And, as with anything we repeatedly do, this became a habit. I lived my life from to-do list to to-do list, never pausing between. I was a strong woman; I knew how to lower my head and push my way through.
Strong, that is, until the tsunami washed away my shell, my protection, my ego. I was naked and shaking and vulnerable. But I was also more open and willing to learn than ever before.
In facing the worst, the paralyzing fears of anticipation lost their hold. In facing the worst, I had nothing to lose.
It’s not a comfortable place to be, alone without your defensive armor. Part of me wanted to build new barriers, even higher and more fortified than before. The larger part of me knew that this wouldn’t be effective. Instead of hiding, I took advantage of my vulnerability, my openness. I looked at that period as an opportunity to become a student of life rather than a victim of circumstance. I turned to yoga to learn how to accept pain rather than try to hide from it. I learned how to breathe through the discomfort and soften. I started meditating to shift my focus from doing to being. I dated and eventually began a new relationship, refusing to trek upon the well-worn patterns of the past.
That unshielded period had a limited run; it was truly a moment between. As the fresh, raw skin of the vulnerable self is exposed to the elements of life, it naturally begins to thicken once again. I now strive to keep it in check. In my weekly hot yoga class, my expectations and assumptions are washed away with the sweat. I try to maintain that open, questioning mind and to see things as they are, rather than how I desire them to be. I try to accept rather than to judge. And, most importantly, I no longer allow fear to be my chauffeur. I now drive my own life.
When you find yourself in that moment created in the space after a sudden change, try to see the opportunities wrapped within the loss. Growth is so much easier when we are unencumbered by our usual habits and assumptions. Rather than immediately seeking protection from the pain, be with it and be vulnerable. It is in those moments between where our potential resides.
Lisa Arends works as a writer, wellness coach and math teacher. She loves to run long distances, lift heavy weights and she is still learning how to meditate. You can read about her journey on her website Lessons From the End of a Marriage.
Ed: Tara Lemieux