The Whole of the End
By Irah, Nov 1 2016 08:43PM
Endings. Whether it’s the sudden end of a relationship, undesired but expected termination from a job, or a well thought out and even desired move to another locale, endings bring to light an interesting detail of the human condition: attachment. Whether we're exuberant about the changes happening in our lives or petrified of what those changes may entail, we are attached. This is neither good nor bad. It is merely a symptom of the human condition as we have created it over the course of our evolution.
So, how do we process our attachments through a psychologically holistic perspective? How do we nourish our way through such change physically, emotionally and spiritually? Where do we start and what do we do with the abundance of thoughts, feelings and associations that arise through this process? And where can we hope to find ourselves once on the other side of change as we live our lives in a more thoughtful and introspective way? Let's explore these questions together and perhaps continue the discussion in the comments section so that we might inspire others to choose a more mindful approach to change and life in general. Ultimately, the glimmer in the eye of our world is that through our personal growth and inspiration of others we might also promote a gentler hand in the treatment of one another, our global community and our earth.
The first thing that happens when change occurs, again, whether planned or otherwise, is a moment of being startled, a fleeting recognition of the unknown as some things in our lives come to an end. Whether this space is experienced with excitement or terror or a lesser of the two reactions, the natural movement is to fill the uncertainty with action, plans and follow through. Sometimes, if troubled by the experience, there might be a period of shock and inactivity. What needs to be recognized is that all of the above is a reaction to change. Yet, if we take a few large steps back, we realize that acting and reacting whether with plans or by falling prey to immobility is still a direct response to the stressor of change. When we see the whole of daily life and from an even broader perspective, life, in general, no matter how potentially preoccupying a specific experience may be, it becomes one moment among many moments. Reacting, then, to one particular experience from a holistic perspective is quite limited and limiting.
It's important to distinguish between attachment and engagement here. Attachment refers to a preoccupation with the goings on of life, while engagement describes a healthy awareness of and ability to experience fully life itself. When attached to one event we are often prevented from experiencing fully (being fully engaged in) the plethora of human experiences that present themselves on a daily basis.
Taking a step back can be very difficult as emotions may be particularly intense when change occurs. It is at this very moment that a broader view can be most cleansing, healing and ultimately empowering. Taking a moment to pour yourself a glass of water, sit down and drink it slowly is a nice way to begin teaching yourself how to sit with emotions without reacting to them and also nourish the body and brain. You're hydrating a system that is 70% water and often, in the majority of cases, at least in the US, already dehydrated. You're bringing more oxygen to the brain, which improves its natural ability to cope with stress. You are also letting a stressed system (whether by excitement or tension) relax, enabling the heart beat to slow and the breathing to become calmer, deeper, further increasing the amount of oxygen finding its way to the brain. A simple act has so many healing effects.
Now that the body is calmed, the heart and mind can become conduits for growth and empowerment rather than mere triggers for living by autopilot. In this space, strengthened further by sitting in the sunlight and thus bringing vitamin D into our system, we can begin to notice and interact with our feelings and thoughts rather than being led blindly by them. In this space is the greatest opportunity for growth as we are given the chance to see ourselves as separate from our thoughts and feelings. You are the being sitting quietly and being nourished by fresh water and natural sunlight and in addition to this you are having thoughts and feeling emotions.
So, here, you let the emotions and thoughts come and go. It could be seen as a form of meditation as you allow yourself to become accustomed to the unique rhythm of your mind and heart. Sit and listen. Make no judgements nor plans or decisions based on what arises because, remember, we are looking for the larger picture, the full landscape of your human experience in this moment of life change. Sit for 20 minutes. Then rise and stretch. There are typically a few restorative postures that I recommend to my patients as they develop a more mindful way of living based on their unique physical flexibilities. A wonderful place to start is to simply stand up and while raising your arms into the air directly overhead, allow your shoulders to fall gently down. The contrast of raising the arms and grounding the shoulders simultaneously allows you to physically experience the emotional space of expansive thinking within the parameters of healthy boundaries. It also allows for an intense stretch that engages the muscles in the arms, shoulders and back without putting unnecessary strain on those areas. Another helpful posture to take while standing is to gently allow your torso to bend at the hips and gradually bring the torso to hang over your legs, with arms bent and hands loosely holding opposite elbows. This allows for the inversion of the head and torso, enabling blood flow to reverse toward rather than away from the heart and head. This further assists in optimal oxygen flow to the brain and ultimate improvement in neuronal functioning. Remember to roll up very slowly as you rise to allow the blood flow to reverse gradually.
Now, you are ready to engage in your moment of change. Now, you are experiencing change against the backdrop of a relaxed and oxygenated system. Feelings and thoughts may arise, but you are not preoccupied with them. You are not your thoughts and feelings. Instead, you feel them, notice them and recognize their relevance without acting rashly or prematurely. Perhaps your change was the sudden end of a job. You may feel disappointment, feelings of tension regarding uncertainty about the future or even excitement about possible new prospects. You may be feeling disappointment and uncertainty, however you're not rushing to quell that discomfort with substances or taking a job too quickly which may not be a good fit for you. You are not rushing to the gym to quickly increase the heartrate and endorphin rush to "feel better." Instead, you sit and watch. In a minute or two you may notice a curious unexpected contentment in the present which calms your nervousness or deepens your excitement about the future. Through sitting with your emotions, you become able to relish the experience and more thoughtfully plan your next step. It's important to recognize that the goal in coping with life stressors and in emotional improvement, in general, is not to "feel better." Yes, we all would like to experience more positive emotional states and enjoy our lives more, but the path to this end point begins with the cultivation of stillness, physical health through bodily nourishment and the ability to see our true emotional world as it exists rather than attempting to force our thoughts and emotions into an inorganic mold of what we think or worse what society suggests we need to feel. When we act rashly without mindful living we are being led by our worst fears rather than leading ourselves down a path thoughtfully and proactively.
Another critical question is what else is happening in your life that is also impacting your everyday life. It may not be a new stressor, but the everyday things that require navigation are relevant when coping with life change effectively. Recognition of them will enable you to make a more thoughtful and ultimately more appropriate decision regarding just how to react to change. It will also allow you to maintain a broader perspective as you explore the change that's in your life. For instance, perhaps you're also coping with a stressful romantic relationship. How might this effect your view of a job loss? Might it make you feel more pessimistic about your prospects given the absence of support from a significant other? Might this pessimism compel you to take a job that you aren't particularly interested in? As you may imagine, the possibilities of interactions between current stressors and life that is ongoing is endless. Recognizing how your unique ever-malleable emotional world may impact your experience of change allows you to not just make a more informed decision about how to move forward, but give yourself the opportunity to become aware of the full picture of your life.
The spiritual element comes into play when we realize that from our physical stretches there comes great openness in our bodies. The spirit is kindled when we observe our changing emotions and see that they are limited only by the length of time with which we choose to sit with them. Our thoughts and feelings are endless. The space within our bodies is as expansive as our movement toward greater flexibility allows. When we sit long enough, we see not just our own feelings and thoughts, not just the space within us, but also the external world in which we move. The endlessness continues, upward, downward and into all directions, all never-ending.
Now, as we sit in this spaciousness, we return to the sudden moment of change that is brought into our lives. Job loss. We now see the big picture and feel calm in our bodies, minds and hearts. Now we can make an educated decision about how to move forward in our lives in a most authentic, informed and meaningful way. The decisions we make in the heat of the moment versus decisions we make after treating our bodies, minds, hearts and souls mindfully can produce vastly different results. I invite you to care for yourselves in this way and suspect that you will, likewise, care for and be cared for by those around you and the world at large.