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Overcoming the fear of change and loss

One thing that often gets missed, in all the drama around the changes I have gone through in the last three years, is the immense sadness and pain that the ending of my marriage has caused me. Yes, I chose to do it and, yes, I needed to, for all sorts of complex and very valid reasons, but still the ending of it makes me very sad sometimes.

The hardest thing has been to experience the end of something that I thought would only ever suffer ‘ups and downs’. We are told to expect those, the highs and the lows, the good times and the bad, but when we commit to a lifetime relationship we are rarely aware of how much we might fundamentally change, or, in my case, discover about ourselves when other changes are made.

If all things change, if there is no guarantee of anything other than change, then I wonder: why do we love at all? Why do any of us love; and how can I carry on loving when I see so much pain and loss all around me as well as having only just begun to deal with my own?

As with all the difficult questions, I always start by asking myself another one. That question is: what is the alternative?

Too often, we shrink away from change and pain, not realising that that also means we are limiting our ability to feel love and to truly live life. If the alternative to loving is to shrink away from life, to retreat in order to keep ourselves safe from feeling hurt, then we are also never able to feel truly loved, to truly see and be seen.

That holding back, that shrinking away from fully emotionally engaging and committing, is a characteristic of so many relationships and is one that diminishes the possibility and power of those relationships. It is okay to feel unable to fully give (and important to communicate that  as kindly as possible) and, yet, to gain freedom it is important that we gently begin the work of asking why we feel that way.

The holding back means we usually harden and, all too often, push away. To open up to love, to accept and receive it, can feel like too much of a risk. And it is a risk, and the opening and softening is a process that we all have to undertake in our own way and time. But it is also important to do it. For, by hardening and withholding, by keeping ourselves contained and at a distance, we, oddly, and yet inexorably, actually create the loss we fear. Or we lose the quality and truth of the love we fear losing.

We lose the life in our loving and our lives when we do not accept that they will change.

For me, to live and love fully, one needs to be on a journey towards loving as fearlessly as possible, with an increasing awareness and acceptance of the impermanence of all things. And it is a journey. A journey on which there are times of progress and times of plateau.

For me, the journey towards loving fearlessly means moving to a place of:

  • Knowing that love and relationships can be challenging and difficult but that that is where the growth and insights come from.
  • Knowing that the willingness to have those difficult conversations, to learn how to speak of our deepest fears, is the way that we diminish them.
  • Knowing that pain is also a path to creativity, insight and growth.
  • Knowing that loving is what we do, automatically, when we strip away expectations and just act the best we can today.
  • Knowing that you will never regret being kind or honest.

The fear and pain will never go away – we just have to work at making sure it does not limit our lives right now.

A wonderful rule for me has been the Zen phrase: good in beginning, good in the middle, good in the end. This reminds us of the fact that all things, and stages within things, have a beginning, middle and end. And, whilst we may not, and often cannot, know when these points are, we can commit to being as honest and authentic in the now as possible.

When we begin to look, we see that change is everywhere, and gradually we can learn to carry it lightly. We can begin to see it as something we can be comfortable with, in the same way that we adjust, for example, to change in the weather. In winter, we may need to seek extra comfort and warmth, draw deep on our resources, within and without, and to trust that we can withstand any chill, any storm.

How does one hold the idea of constant change in one’s hand whilst not being driven insane by anxiety? By trusting that, whatever happens, you will be able to cope and be okay, even more than okay. By seeing that change is a permanent feature of the world, and of our lives, and letting go of our resistance to it.

I made the right choice for me at thirty, and I see now how my values and self changed – I challenged, questioned and changed some core values I held. I never expected to do this; I never expected life to ask this of me, but it did, and I listened.

Change is always for the best, though that is not always obvious or clear right away. Realising that the behaviour of pulling away or clinging too hard to anything that creates or supports the illusion of stability is, all too often, the path to a life that is closed off and yet also fragile. If all you know is that you don’t know the whole story, and that life really does know best, then you are on the right track.

Let life happen to you.
Believe me, life is in the right, always.
—Rilke

It is hard. Even understanding and truly believing this, I often find myself feeling fearful of changes that lie ahead for me: changes I can’t imagine or anticipate right now. Who and what will I lose? Do I always have to let people go to move on? Part of me hopes not. It saddens me to think of the further mourning I will have to do. Could I face the loss of a child? Could I face the loss of my health? Can I, I am led to wonder, face death? I don’t know the answers yet, but I do know that the more I can sit with, be with change, the easier it will be for me to flow with my life whatever happens.

Death, for example. So many of us fear death. Yet, what I realised is that the goal is not smiling at death but, as Joko Beck said, knowing that we don’t need to smile at death. How we feel is how we feel, and any attempts to manage this – trying to cultivate only the good feelings (being ‘happy’) or being preoccupied with the fact that we cannot cope with the difficult feelings we believe that a set of circumstances will cause us just bring us more pain.

For this is the truth: if you had asked me ten years ago how I would feel about being divorced I would have been devastated; and, yet, now, now it is actually happening, it has been a source of sadness and pain but also happiness, lightness and growth for me, especially knowing that both Marc and I will be have the chance to in relationships that are more suited to our needs. And, so, why would further change not feel the same? Why assume that change is always for the worse?

So, please join me in this journey towards accepting all that happens just as it is, and experiencing all of our feelings just as they are…

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