July 5, 2014

What It Took to Become Totally Present. ~ Caroline Southwell

Elizabeth Ashley Jermyn FCC

Last weekend was an emotional roller coaster.

I had split up with my boyfriend on Friday night.

For the first time in many, many years I had actually let someone in, so letting him go hurt. It really hurt.

I was lucky enough to be staying with a girlfriend at the time who was well acquainted with the grief process and thought to share it with me.

Over the weekend I watched myself move through the five stages of grief as she described them: denial, bargaining, anger, depression/sadness, acceptance/hope—as I realised and processed my loss of my intimate relationship and this man I had come to love having around.

(Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, who first wrote about grief back in the 1960s, had them in a slightly different order.)

Of course there had been plenty of good reasons to stay (they all came up in the bargaining stage), yet the reasons to say goodbye were so much more profound and wise. Thankfully, they stuck, and I saw the process through.

There I was, making my way through my weekend periodically bawling my eyes out, feeling the ebb and flow of raw emotion move through me as I experienced grief for the first time in ages. Surprisingly, by Sunday morning I was mostly “cried out” and was starting to remember times we’d had and could speak them aloud with a smile on my lips.

I came to realise an amazing lesson: by allowing myself to feel fully and deeply whatever emotion was coming up, it would move through me so quickly that before I knew it the feeling was gone and I was back to a more neutral, calm place again.

I found this fascinating as I had spent so much of the last ten years analysing how I felt and avoiding “feeling my feelings,” which I realised is what ultimately kept me stuck in the process so much longer.

As I experienced the fatigue of living out this emotional roller coaster, I saw the need for me to lower my expectations around being productive and so I began to look for more ways to self-nurture.

So on this cold, May, Sunday afternoon, I found myself in my Mum’s new garden, with my hands in the earth and the sun on my back, planting basil.

And it hit me with no notice.

In one very profound moment I realised something people had been telling me for years: this moment is my life.

Before I knew it I was crying tears of gratitude for this moment with my Mum, with my hands in the soil and the warmth of the sun, and the quiet street and this breath. That’s it, nothing else.

Because there was nothing else.

In that moment, there was no article being written, there was no coaching session being facilitated, there was no Facebook post going out, there were no phone calls that had to be made. I was just 100 percent present. And I really got it.

My life is in this moment. My entire life. Right here. Right now.

As I expressed my gratitude to my Mum through a broken voice stifled by tears, she came to give me a hug.

Of course I appreciated this, although in her mind, tears equaled sadness, so she was trying to cheer me up. She didn’t seem to comprehend that what I was actually feeling was so much gratitude that it was simply spilling over in the form of tears.

As I had all weekend, I allowed the feeling to move through me, and before I knew it I was back to calm and back to a conversation about which plant to put where. And in the quiet breaks in conversation I reflected why it was that I had experienced being present, when I had tried so hard to understand the idea all this time.

What came to me is that by feeling my feelings over the weekend, I became much more in tune with my body, with the moment. My willingness to be vulnerable and to feel everything that was coming my way was the key that allowed me to feel my magic moment of presence.

Was it a passing, fleeting experience, never to be had again? I think not, as it’s now several days later and I’ve been more present, more in the moment over the last few days than any other period in my life.

So what I take from this is that everything we desire—all the joy, all the gratitude, all the bliss—is just on the other side of all that emotion, all that pain and all that vulnerability. And if we’re willing to brave and feel our own feelings, we will be rewarded with magical moments with people we love that our hearts will never forget.



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Apprentice Editor: Bronwyn Petry / Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Elizabeth Ashley Jerman, Flickr Creative Commons

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Caroline Southwell