Last week a group of friends gathered for New Years. I had expected days of laughter, dance, honesty, and play, but that’s not what happened.
Instead, I found myself co-creating one of the most challenging relationship dynamics I have experienced as an adult. There were strong words and at times, loud voices. There were hard truths faced, and relationships challenged to the brink.
It felt like the kind of early winter storm that blows all the leaves off the trees and freezes all the flowers before you were ready.
While staying in a tiny cabin on my friends’ farm for three nights, I spent at least two of those nights tossing and turning, sleepless.
Despite a possible change to much of my life: my partnership, my home, one of my closest communities; I noticed, with great relief that I wasn’t panicking, fighting, or shutting down. Instead, I was doing my work. “This is what I train for,” I told myself.
A thought would come into my head like, “Oh my god. My relationship might be over. I can’t believe it might be over.” But before the very next thought, I would drop down into my body and feel the effects of that thought.
- I would feel the tightness in my chest, the sense of panic rising up through my head, my shortness of breath. I would relax my mind as best I could, and simply feel the feelings.
- Then I would put my attention on that part of me which is aware of thoughts and feelings. I experienced my own fear as the awareness.
- Then I would drop back into the feelings themselves, and feel them as best I could without trying to fix, change or get rid of them. I would just allow them to be.
- When it got too intense, I would remember that I am not just fear, I am also awareness, and I would flip back to watching the fear and the body and the mind from the empty space from which all things arise.
Eventually my mind wondered and I’d think something new, like, “What the hell is wrong with her?” The body would flush with anger and then I would repeat the process again. I’d drop the label of anger and just feel the sensations arising in the body, and also put attention on the awareness that was aware of the anger.
My position was this: Whatever is happening right now is potentially a big change in my life, and I don’t want to miss it. It’s not fun by any means, but it is my life and I want to be present to it with as much honesty, clarity, and love as I can. If I buy into the stories of anger, resentment, fear, blame, and start reacting to those stories, I’m going to create a lot more drama and suffering. If I try to repress or control what is happening, then I’m not available for the growth and expansion that wants to break through.
So I did what I have been training for these last two decades: Breathe, feel, allow, let go. Breathe, feel, allow, let go . . . and on and on it went, until the sun rose. During the day when I found myself in conversations, I added one more step to that list: tell the truth (even if it’s super, super scary).
In the end, I came through those three days feeling lighter, more powerful and more honest. Vince and I emerged in a stronger place than we were before. We are experiencing a changing dynamic, allies in that change, wanting only the best for ourselves and each other.
I have also emerged more shaky. My future filled with question marks.
I guess that’s always true. It’s so easy to project yesterday onto tomorrow, but that only works for so long. That projection path is a cul-de-sac inhibiting vitality and growth.
The only alternative that I know is to stay out of the future’s business; and be with what’s happening as it’s happening.
As I told one friend over New Years, “So far in my life, it seems that the worst thing that can happen is a feeling.” So handling feelings has become the leverage with which I work.
When I came home from the trip, I realized with gratitude that I had been given a gift. I have learned from mentors, teachers, and friends how to surf the waves of life. It’s not always graceful, not always fun, but so far it’s always handle-able.
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