I’m keenly aware of the cycles of life these days.
It wasn’t always this way. I spent much of my young adult life blissfully unaware, just riding the wind wherever it took me.
Yet this kind of freedom is deceiving. It feels free—until it comes crashing down without warning. And then there is no plan for dealing with it effectively. The result is usually to avoid or ignore, to move forward on the path that seems to come with the least amount of pain.
Like when my mother was diagnosed with cancer for a second time—a liver metastasis from her colon cancer a few years earlier. I was getting ready to graduate college and start graduate school. My adult life was ready to begin, and yet I found myself moving back home. I didn’t have a plan for that.
And then two years later, when the cancer came back again. And two years after that, when it took over her body. At 27 and just four years into a young marriage, there was no plan for dealing with that either.
The ups and downs of this haphazard path take a toll over time. For me, it resulted in a debilitating case of adrenal fatigue, which forced me to slow to a crawl.
I’ve never gotten fully back up to speed. I doubt I ever will. That’s how incapacitating a lack of awareness can be.
In that forced slowing down, however, I realized I had to find a different way, because what I had been doing clearly wasn’t working. So I spent years studying and practicing holistic nutrition, mindfulness, and self-healing. I attended the “Woman Within” weekend training and joined a local empowerment circle. I started a regularly writing practice.
Slowly, a shift began to happen. New insights began to emerge. A plan began to form.
Not a plan with rigid boundaries and set rules; rather, a plan for self-awareness and connection to my own feelings, emotions, and intuition.
A plan for recognizing that by letting the wind carry me, I didn’t allow myself the power of making choices for my own life. A plan for being highly mindful of the little births and deaths experienced on a daily basis, so that when the big births and deaths arrive, often unexpectedly, there is a known framework for staying centered and moving through it, instead of blowing in a new direction to avoid the discomfort.
I’ve had a few opportunities to test this out. For example, a couple of years ago, my cat, Gabe, became terminally ill with a tumor and other health issues. We had the option to humanely euthanize him right away; however, we chose to invite in a vet who provided hospice-style care at home, which gave us six more weeks with him.
Six weeks seems like a short amount of time, yet it’s incredibly meaningful to have that extra time with someone you love—including a pet. It’s also surprising how much the death of beloved pet mirrors the emotions experienced when caring for a dying parent.
Most recently, I learned that a family friend has stage four metastatic cancer, and the prognosis is not good. Naturally, I was heartbroken when I got the news. She has boys the same age as my sister and me; for years, we played together while our parents played cards. We vacationed together. Just a few years ago, her husband died from cancer himself. It was all too surreal.
A few days later, I started to notice the too-familiar feelings of internal panic and resistance creeping in. Suddenly, the open-hearted, connected, self-aware practices I’d worked so hard to cultivate for myself didn’t seem so great. Instead the idea of tapping into them seemed…vulnerable. And I wanted to let that wind just carry me away so I could avoid the inevitable sadness, grief, and fear that would be showing up.
But then, I took a deep breath and consciously, intentionally connected back to my place of safety and wisdom. I know that the answer is not to run or hide or avoid. I’ve tried that. Deep in my soul, I know the only way through this, and anything else that comes along, is through it—every uncomfortable, difficult, downright maddening and saddening piece of it. And the best way to do that is to be fully open to it.
Of course, I’m still sad. I’m just taking steps not to let that sadness become me, control me. I’m not allowing myself to dissociate from my feelings anymore, even the uncomfortable ones.
In moments like these, I’m reminded that personal growth is a process, not a prize. There’s no final pinnacle to reach, no graduation ceremony. More often than not, it’s like walking through a dense fog. We can’t see more than a few feet on any side of us, yet we keep going. It’s scary because we don’t know the final destination, but past experience has told us that we can’t stay there. Eventually, we do emerge out into the sunshine, only to go a bit further and enter another fog. Or stumble to the edge of a deep ravine. Or encounter a mountain seemingly too large to climb.
It’s all through life. And it’s not insurmountable if we can remember to stop and breathe (connect to center), keep moving through it (instead of trying to go around it), and allow ourselves to be open to all that comes with it (even the icky stuff).
We can do this.
Author: Ashley Barnes
Image: Unsplash/Isabell Winter
Editor: Callie Rushton