On Loss, Pain, and Staying on the Winding Path — Some Excerpts from The Passionate Life: Creating Vitality & Joy at Any Age
Midway into 2015, life hit me upside the head with the devastating blow of a sledgehammer, and things went from very irritating to outright traumatic. My path became a distant blur, as everything came to a screeching halt. My dear dad fell in late spring and spent four months fighting a losing battle until his ninety-three-year-old body gave up the good fight. I was close with my dad, and so this process, along with his death, was devastating to me. It took every bit of my focus to just keep putting one foot in front of the other to keep up with my daily responsibilities and to keep my bills paid, never mind any enthusiasm or energy to follow my dreams. At that point, I learned in a very real way that we can plan all we want, but ultimately, we aren’t in control of what life hands us. As Jack Canfield, author and creator of the Chicken Soup for the Soul ® series says, “Our responsibility lies in our response — and only that will affect the outcome.”
Pausing to take care of myself was essential and helped me to find some peace of mind during this time, in spite of the continued sadness as that year came to a close.
I learned a hard lesson to no longer expect a smooth or straight path in following my dreams. I now know, in a very deeply raw way, that we can’t predict what life will bring. We can’t count on having the weather cooperate or the events of the world or in our own life to always be uplifting. It’s a given that we will be occasionally knocked off track and sometimes completely sidelined. These experiences have taught me that we have it within us to keep going toward our dreams, even if we have to pause for a period of time because of unpredictable events. When the journey has reached a slower, up-hill point in the road, and the atmosphere appears dark, placing our focus on our passion fans the flame of hope inside of us, making it grow stronger, so that it will warm us and light our way. This, in turn, gives us the energy and can help us to find a glimmer of joy to keep going.
During the worst time of my life, having a dream to follow and making my way back onto the path, as shaky as it felt or as blurry as it looked to me, served as my North Star. This kept me from losing hope that joy and vitality would one day return. I knew that my dad would not have wanted me to give up, and I could sense his twinkling eyes smiling at me, as I lifted myself back up from the crumbled heap in the corner that I had become. I gradually began to take small, slow steps to get back onto this twisting turning path. At this point, I know deep within that I have no choice but to follow my soul’s whisper, as Rabbi Naomi Levy calls it in her book, Einstein and the Rabbi: Searching for the Soul. Like oxygen and water, it is what breathes life into my life. Now, I can see that the turns in the road actually lead us to new opportunities or provide us with the raw material to use for our creative expression.
And even when we may feel that things are going smoothly on our path, becoming too complacent and too comfortable will also lead us to wander far from our actual path. “Any time that you feel ‘my work is done,’ or ‘I’m washed up,’ or ‘I’ve arrived,’ then you can be sure that you’ve lost your way,” says Rabbi Levy. “One of the reasons that most people don’t have a meeting with the soul is that they mistakenly believe that meeting your soul will lead to bliss, that having a soulful experience is equivalent to Nirvana. Meeting your soul can actually keep you up at night because the soul doesn’t deal in bliss. It deals in open eyes. And open eyes are eyes that notice somebody who is sleeping on the street. Open eyes are eyes that notice what is broken in this beautiful broken world.”
“There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in,” sang Leonard Cohen. We grow the most when we’re awake and intensely mindful of the cracks in everything and we’re open to allowing the light that flows through those cracks to guide our way. Staying on this road also requires the mindfulness about when we need to take the time to pause and to just be — in stillness.
I had hoped for a softer, easier, year come 2016, as I started to very gradually get back on my feet. Amid the din of my loud inner voices of grief and pain, I began to hear a soft whisper of my soul’s calling. I knew that I really wanted to give purpose to the pain and to find a way to, once again, feel joy and passion. And, so, I willed myself to keep paying attention to those soft whispers, to keep listening to what they were saying, how they were guiding me, and to keep moving along on my path, even if, at times, it felt as though I was slogging through mud, or quicksand, with only a small dull spark lighting my way through the fog. I slowly moved along, two steps forward, one step backward, and, when I least expected it, joy leaked in.
At first, it was just a brief glimmer, I suspect to remind me of what joy felt like and how much I longed to experience it again. After awhile, though, the light began shining with increased intensity through the cracks in my heart. I noticed that joy would stay for longer periods of time, making itself more at home, comfortably sitting nestled up against the pain that I knew would remain a permanent resident of my battered heart. I now had a deeper understanding of Cohen’s song. While those painful cracks will never truly heal, they can create a deeper appreciation for the joy that sits right there amidst the pain, a more abiding pure happiness, made that much brighter by a much more genuine compassion for our true selves.
Once again, my life felt like it had purpose and meaning, in spite of the sadness. However, as it turned out, the year 2016 was anything but soft and easy, although, thankfully not as devastating as 2015. The year brought continued losses and great disappointments, as well as increasing stress and anger throughout the world. I reminded myself to take those healing pauses that had helped me during the year prior. This has gone a long way toward allowing me to pursue my passion in spite of the less-than-perfect circumstances.
I’m now more aware that life is often filled with excitement, disappointment, fear, and triumph — all wrapped up together into enormous life-changing events that can lead us to tremendous personal growth, if we let them. Ironically, this is usually followed by very flat, uneventful terrain, when we find ourselves itching for another adventure. If we can use the more intense experiences, as well as the quieter times, to deepen our understanding of our true selves, including our strengths, areas where we have room for improvement, our desires, and our fears, then we will be way ahead of the game toward creating the life we choose — a passionate life — strengthening the resilience to withstand the disappointments, and embracing all that life has to offer us in its entirety with vitality, no matter what our age.
One of the lessons that I’ve learned, on a very deep level, is that, both, grief and pain can coexist, paradoxically, alongside joy. And that is what makes our lives so rich and so valuable every fragile moment of every day. I know that grief and pain will always live within me. They’re now part of who I am. But they are not all of who I am — or all of who you are either. Anyone whom we love and lose would not want that to be all that we become. Life inevitably contains deep painful loss if we allow ourselves to love and to risk putting ourselves out there, making ourselves vulnerable. It’s worth the risk, with the prize being a fuller, richer life.
This blog is a compilation of excerpts of Dr. Mara’s internationally best-selling book, The Passionate Life: Creating Vitality & Joy at Any Age, now available in paperback and on e-book!
AND stay tuned for Dr. Mara’s on-line course, Living the Passionate Life, coming this fall!
The Passionate Life: Creating Vitality & Joy at ANY Age is now available at Amazon.com. During the summer of 2018, you can buy the Kindle version ON-SALE for 99 cents! The soft-cover version launches September 10, 2018!
AND stay tuned for Dr. Mara’s on-line course, Living the Passionate Life,coming this fall!
And check out: DrMaraKarpel.com, a one-stop-shop for information about all of the above!
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