I had a touching message yesterday from a reader of this blog whose life is being turned upside down by a nasty divorce that also affects a number of children.
“I’m having a difficult time dealing with the rejection and being all alone in an empty apartment with my clothes and laptop,” says this man. “Do you have any advice on how I can let go, rebuild and move on to a meaningful life?”
As I thought about this request it occurred to me that there are no doubt other readers who are also facing challenging circumstances, so I thought I’d share some ideas and suggestions through this post.
1. Let yourself feel your feelings
This is a very hard thing for most people to do, at least when the feelings are painful, frightening, and hard to bear. We’ve been conditioned — at least I was — to try to escape unpleasant feelings. We suppress them. We try to drown them in work, play, alcohol, sex, a new car, a new house or some other distraction.
But I have found in my own life after quite a few traumas that the quickest route to healing and happiness — in fact the only route — is to let ourselves feel our feelings at all costs. If we do, we will make an extraordinary discovery. Any feeling, no matter how awful, or how delightful, has a beginning and an end.
The payoff, if we take this immensely challenging step, is that it opens the door to a real miracle. We become aware of something that does not have a beginning or an end — our own true presence, untroubled and undisturbed through all eternity by any of the vicissitudes of our life.
2. Create a daily ritual
Giving yourself permission to feel your feelings is not “soft,” or weak. It has nothing to do with being a victim. It takes real strength to feel what you are feeling without either wallowing in it or trying to escape from it.
So here’s a suggestion. Create a daily ritual, or ceremony for yourself. It won’t be forever, just until you begin to feel some relief and confidence. Take 15 minutes a day (adjust as you wish — perhaps in the evening) when the only thing you do is sit quietly in a chair and feel whatever comes up in your heart.
You may be surprised by the power of this ritual. It not only opens a door to reconnect with yourself at a deeper level, it also begins to create some boundaries. For example, if painful feelings come up during the day — tell them they will have to wait a little. They will have their chance to be heard later at such and such a time.
3. Do whatever comforts you and enlivens you
One of my lifelines, when I was deep, deep down in an abyss of despair a few years ago, was going to my favorite coffee shop each afternoon. I was very religious about this. The world might be falling apart beneath my feet, but the coffee shop didn’t seem to be fazed by my tribulations at all.
The people who served me coffee were as cheerful as ever. And just being aware of other people being “normal” — living “normal” lives as they went about their business, sipping their lattes, telling stories, discussing business, or working hard at their computer was very therapeutic.
It helped to relieve my sense of isolation and reminded me that no matter what was going on in my own life, I was part of the larger family of humankind and there was a big blessing in that.
Of course, you may not be into coffee shops. Do you like reading? Do you like hiking? Do you like being with nature? Sometimes a good way to get in touch with your own joy is to remember something that gave you joy when you were a child. I loved reading when I was a kid. I still love books 70 years later.
Your mind may tell you you’re never going to heal or build a new life. But don’t listen to your mind. Listen to life, listen to the wisdom of your own authentic self and let it tell you what you can do that will enliven you and bring you joy.
4. Do something for someone else
Do something for someone else. This piece of wisdom has been around for a long time, but this is because it works. It connects us immediately with the kindness, compassion and love that is the core of our own being.
And by the way, it doesn’t have to be something big or spectacular. Just smiling at a neighbor or a lady serving you in a supermarket will do it. Little steps to serenity and well-being are just as important as big steps — perhaps even more important.
5. Perhaps you can volunteer somewhere?
Along this line, perhaps you can volunteer somewhere, and help other people in that way?
6. Stay close to Nature
Staying close to Nature is key, it helps keep us grounded in times of trouble. Find a stream and listen to it. Look at a tree and admire it. Or how about getting a dog?
JoAnn and I don’t have a dog, but we live in a town house complex in which quite a few people do have dogs. I find patting a neighbor’s dog is very therapeutic. The dog usually enjoys it too.
7. Let go of your wife
Let go of your wife. As long as you are estranged from each other she’s the last person you should look to right now for any kind of help or useful conversation. Give her the dignity and space to pursue her own path at this juncture in her life — while you do the same.
8. Get regular exercise
Exercise has been a true lifesaver for me and countless others in times of trouble. Scientists have discovered that exercise helps burn up stress hormones — amazing, isn’t it?
9. Forgive your ex-wife
Forgive your ex-wife. This may be a hard thing to do, especially now. But it’s critical not only for her but for you too.
If you follow these steps and stay with it you will come to a place of stillness and peace in yourself where forgiveness becomes more and more easy and natural — as easy and natural as breathing. What do you have to lose?
A remarkable Londoner named Alice
I read a remarkable story the other day of a 107-year-old Londoner named Alice Herz-Sommer. She was once a concert pianist in Central Europe, and is believed to be the oldest living survivor of the Holocaust.
Alice, who performed more than a hundred concerts while in a concentration camp, refused to hate those who imprisoned her and her family. Although she lost everything, including her husband, mother and later, a son who died in 2001, Alice insists: “Yet, life is beautiful.”
Your own true greatness is calling you
There are bigger fish to fry here than merely surviving your current misfortune. This difficult, heart-wrenching circumstance is actually an opportunity brought to you by life to discover your own true greatness.
As one of my favorite teachers, Gangaji, puts it: “If for one moment you will allow yourself the experience of losing everything, REALLY losing everything, you can tell the radical truth of what is always present.”
What is always present is the eternal freedom and peace at the core of your own being, unborn and undying, not subject to any external circumstance. As you allow it to do so it will expand and grow like a flower unfolding its petals in the spring — or like the little chick in the pic.
Blessings and good luck to you. Thank you for your trust in writing to me.
If anyone has any thoughts or experiences to add to this post I’d love to hear from you. What has helped you to meet the challenges of your life?