At the start of 2014, my life imploded.
After countless efforts to work through issues in my marriage, I finally had to admit that I wasn’t going to have my happily-ever-after in my present situation. I left my marriage, my home and one of my dogs. (If you consider that the ex also kept the truck, my life was a country song.)
I knew I was doing the right thing for both of us, but I was blindsided by how much—and for how long—it would hurt.
Slowly though, I healed.
I learned valuable lessons, most of which boiled down to one common theme: I had to learn how to listen to my heart.
My ex-husband was a known quantity. There was no terrible deception whereby he presented himself as one thing while we were dating, but turned out to be another once we were married. There was no hidden agenda, no bill of false goods.
And the issues between us that ultimately ended our marriage were evident from the start.
So, how did that happen? How did we even get to the place of being married if issues that were significant enough to result in divorce were right out there in the open from the word go?
I made the mistake of thinking I was listening to my heart, when in fact I was doing anything but. I was aware of the difficulties between us, but I downplayed them because (imagine this breathed in a dreamy voice) I loved him. I suspect his approach to our relationship was similar.
What I realize now is that love never comes with the hope or expectation that a person will change.
Yet that is exactly what went on in our marriage. Love became a bartering chip. Affection was exchanged for good behavior. Neither of us really seemed to know what was going on. And neither of us felt good about it at all. Call it a romance between ostriches, because our heads were firmly in the sand.
The lack of self-awareness that spelled the end of my marriage also sounds the death knell for many other relationships—with friends, family, colleagues, even our own dreams.
In any circumstance, we have to know what we want, what we need and what we cannot tolerate. We need to be able to identify the deal-makers…and the deal-breakers.
And to do that, we need to know how to listen to our hearts.
Here are a few of the things I have found help me in that respect:
Stillness is your friend.
I’m a Type A, cardio-addict, go-go-go kind of girl. When the going gets tough, I get going. Literally.
The sudden death of my father? I put on my running shoes and pounded the pavement while trailing snot and tears. The suicide of a dear friend? I took a pickaxe to the lawn and made the most well-tilled garden ever.
One of the most important things I’ve learned in the past year-plus is the importance of stillness. We need quiet to hear our hearts connecting with our soul and our divinity. But I’d spent most of my life drowning out silence with everything from frantic physical activity to David Bowie played at deafening volume.
The idea of meditating scared the shit out of me, yet I slowly came to realize it is the surest way to find the stillness and hear my inner voice. Initially, I found that degree of silence and focus unnerving, so for some time it was simply a matter of standing on a beach at sunrise, or pausing amidst the hustle and bustle of the day to breathe deeply and take the moment in.
Eventually I learned that being still wasn’t the enemy.
This one goes hand-in-hand with the stillness bit.
How often did I catch myself doing one thing while thinking about the five gazillion other things I needed to tend to before the end of the day? For me, realization around this dawned at the close of last year, when I provided hospice care for a paralyzed, dying dog. My world narrowed to his needs and my concern, moment to moment, was only that he feel comfortable, safe and loved.
When he passed, the torrent of emotion that overwhelmed me let me know just how much I’d been stifling and how little I’d truly been experiencing. Suddenly, painfully, I got it.
The present moment really is all we have and the better we get at living in it fully and attentively, the better we get at choosing which moments we want more—or less—of in our lives.
Pay attention to your gut.
We call it a “gut feeling,” but really this involves paying attention to the body as a whole.
One of the most difficult things I realized in the past year was that my entire body tensed up in the presence of certain people I’d long considered friends. I’d learned the hard way just how telling my body was when it came to the state of my marriage.
Crippling back pain coincided with marital strife. Attempts to please my husband or resolve differences between us left me feeling depleted and drained and I saw the strain of similar emotions etched onto his face as well. It took me the longest time to realize my body was telling me all I needed to know.
In my marriage and in other relationships and situations, there were invaluable cues I had access to. I tuned in. I listened. I honored. And I responded accordingly.
Don’t ‘should’ on yourself.
I learned this phrase from a friend and I absolutely love it.
My old life was overflowing with things I “should” do. I should eat better, exercise more, fix my hair and makeup before leaving the house, spend more time with my husband and his family, spend less time at work, have this person over for dinner, send that one a card. You know the deal.
I lived daily with guilt and a sense that I was falling short. Ultimately, I realized it’s life that is short and guilting myself into change wasn’t going to work. I now know that any time I get that “should” feeling, odds are it’s a message that some aspect of my life is out of alignment with my heart and soul. And what a gift that message is, because knowing it puts me in a position to change.
Gratitude is a great thing to invoke in place of those “shoulds.”
There was a moment in the midst of my divorce when I felt lower than I’d ever been. I sat on a beach on a frigid evening and sobbed until I thought I had nothing left in me. The sun began to sink on the horizon and a seal popped its head up just offshore. I was stunned by the beauty of the moment and I realized how ridiculous it was that I should feel so hopeless in the midst of such beauty.
My heart was broken, yes, but the world was doing its miraculous best to heal me. That split-second of awareness called to mind all the other blessings I could count—from friends and family who loved me to all the amazing experiences that made up my life.
I felt a shift in my perspective. Now, instead of worrying about what I should be doing or making or acquiring, I give thanks for what I have already accomplished, created or been blessed with. I feel gratitude for all the love and good things present in my life, even when I’m in dark times and have to dig deep to find them. And then I watch as more love and good things come into my life. Blessings really do flow where they are appreciated.
Love…or let go.
This may be the golden rule of listening to our hearts: love is not contractual.
It is not conditional. It is not the bartering chip it became in my marriage. The man I loved withered under the weight of my expectations and I felt hollow and alone when confronted with his. We destroyed the beautiful, heartfelt simplicity of our early romance.
The lesson I learned the hardest of ways is this: if you cannot love someone fully and freely just as they are, that is your heart saying this is not for you. Wish them well and let them go.
Ultimately, the implosion of my life as it was led to the expansion of my heart, my soul and my self-awareness. Listening to my heart—really, truly listening—has opened countless doors and set me on an exciting new path. I’ve gained a sense of certainty that everything in my life is unfolding exactly as it is meant to.
That is the most brilliant, joyful feeling in the world and I know your heart wants it for you as well.
Author: K.C. Wilder
Assistant Editor: Hilda Carroll/Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Author’s Own