We tend to be really good at beginnings. I have the incredible blessing of being a part of many of those: engagements, weddings, baby blessings. But we tend to suck at endings. For most of us, no one taught us how to deal with the end of anything, so we can get pretty darn awkward and lost at those times: relationships at an impasse, a job that is driving you crazy, even, if you’re a parent, a child transitioning from infancy to toddlerhood or childhood to teen, and, of course, death. And so many of us, myself included until recently (Who am I kidding. It's a daily challenge…) spend much of our time fearful when the other shoe will drop in good times, or squeamish with anguish or confusion when an ending is actually present, and doing whatever we can to get out of it: medicating ourselves, distracting ourselves, or jumping right into a new thing as soon as we can. We, especially Westerners, are constantly trying to move "left or right" as the extraordinary Pema Chödrön says. We often would rather run back to the familiar, then to try to figure out our way in the wild, undiscovered newness. As she writes in When Things Fall Apart, “The off-center, in-between state is an ideal situation, a situation in which we don't get caught and we can open our hearts and minds beyond limit. It's a very tender, nonaggressive, open-ended state of affairs. To stay with that shakiness—to stay with a broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feeling of hopelessness and wanting to get revenge—that is the path of true awakening.”
Have compassion for yourself and for others in those moments. If you’re in a partnership that appears to be ending, please consider compassionate separation (similar to #consciousuncoupling)—seeing someone who can help you communicate compassionately even through- especially through—a relationship ending.
There’s actually a neurological explanation too. I don’t quite remember it, but – in This Year I Will, MJ Ryan offers some really great little blips of information on how our minds process change- or don’t- and end up with us so often back at the familiar- no matter how awful and disjointed we feel there. The good news is, whether it’s breaking an old habit or ending a relationship, even if you’ve ‘failed’ before, your brain forms pathways that are reinforced each time you try anew. So if you know in your heart of hearts and your gut of guts which path to take, then do it- one baby step, (or as the woman whose input I look to the most in coaching, the wonderful Martha Beck says, make it even smaller then a baby step and do a “turtle step” in that direction.) You don't have to be able to see how it will all work out. You don't need to know how all the variables in the world might fall into place for things to happen. All you need is have a sense of your intention and to take one step. I often use the example of a man driving up a mountain in a snowstorm. He only needs to see as far as the headlights shine before him to know that if he keeps going slowly up the path, he will reach the top. Or as a recent #Toyota #Corolla commercial put it: “Wherever it is you need to go, all you need to see is the next 200 feet. That’s how life unfolds. A leap of faith. Even if you can’t see it, your destination is out there. So just keep going. You’ll get there.”
One of the things my clients struggle with the most is being in limbo. Sometimes that agony comes from knowing the ‘right’ choice but being afraid to leave the familiar. But sometimes it is truly from a place with no easy answers. if you’re not sure of what direction feels right at all, then take some time to be in the unknown. You may want to find a neutral person to confide in. But don’t ask everyone else. Don’t paralyze yourself by researching every possible avenue of alternatives. Just rest in the unknown. Allow yourself to be uncomfortable. The example Pema Chödrön uses in When Things Fall Apart is of entering a sweat lodge for the first time and feeling that if she just sat in the seat closest to the door, she would be okay, because even though she wouldn’t leave, she could run out if she needed to. And so, she forced herself to sit in the seat furthest exit.
I remember once asking a fellow minister friend, Rev. Annette, about her tattoos before I got my own. I asked her whether it was painful, and she said lightly, "You just breathe through the pain." And it struck me that that was such a beautiful lesson for dealing with all discomfort and endings. You just breathe through the pain. #Theonlywayoutisthrough. So sit in the unknown and discomfort for a while. Maybe challenge yourself to notice three things that are working perfectly right now. Chances are, your feet can touch the beautiful earth just fine. Chances are, you have all your extraordinary senses with which to take in the world. Chances are you have a roof over your head and nourishment on your plate. Breathe. And know a new beginning is near.
Dawn Camacho is a coach for professionals at a turning point, interfaith minister, and couples counselor. She helps couples and individuals with compassionate separation, premarital counseling, learning to hear and trust the still small voice within, time management, and decision-making. Right now, with gratitude and joy, she’s breathing.