I’ve been reflecting on change quite a bit recently. This year has been full of changes for me and my family. The two most significant and emotional changes have been the loss of my sister Lori back in January and the purchase of our new house a few months ago.
While these two experiences are very different in so many ways, they have each had a profound impact and have pointed out some things to me about how I deal with change, loss, and more.
My sister’s death has been hard, painful, and surreal. And although I still find it difficult to believe she’s gone and her death definitely falls into the category of the type of change I didn’t want, wasn’t expecting at this time in my life, and wish hadn’t happened, I’m continually amazed at the growth, healing, gratitude, connection, and love that has been inspired within me and around me through her passing. Even in the midst of the pain there has been real beauty. It’s a huge change and one that I’m still navigating my way through tentatively and vulnerably.
The purchase of our new house, on the other hand, has been exciting, gratifying, and wonderful – we love it and feel so blessed. As you may know and I have written about in the past, we lost our house back in 2011 after getting ourselves into a very difficult financial situation. Buying this new house is not only exciting in all of the normal ways buying a new house can be, it is a real triumph for us and something that seemed almost impossible just a few years ago.
As excited and grateful as I am about the house, I’ve been a bit surprised by how upsetting and unsettling it has been to make this purchase and to move (even though we just moved 3 miles away). Of course I know from past experience how stressful it can be to buy a house, and how exhausting and overwhelming moving can be. However, as I take a deeper look at this, I realize that this is more about how I relate to change and how easy it is for me to go into a place of suffering when faced with pain, loss, fear, uncertainty, or other intense emotions I often get scared to feel (i.e. try to avoid).
In the scheme of things, even as big of a deal as buying this house is to me and us, the death of my sister is much bigger. And, although Lori’s passing is definitely something that I (and just about everyone else) see as being “bad” and buying a beautiful new house is something I (and just about everyone else) see as being “good,” I’m noticing that I can suffer about either one of them (or not), and it’s based much more on me and the story I’m telling myself, than it is about the actual circumstances.
In looking at both my own relationship to change and to change in general over the past few months, I think we tend to put “changes” into different categories. We separate them into “good” and “bad.” Good ones usually come in the form of new things we want – relationships, opportunities, experiences, accomplishments, etc. And, bad ones usually show up as rejections, losses, disappointments, failures, and any other number of things not going the way we think they “should.”
Clearly getting a new job, moving to a new city, achieving a big goal, or falling in love are very different than losing our job, getting divorced, failing miserably at something important, or having someone close to us die. However, regardless of the situation, all of these things (and others) are changes – some big, some small, some we want, some we don’t.
Almost all changes, even the biggest and best ones, involve pain and loss of some kind. At the very least, they almost always involve fear. We tend to seek and fear change at the same time, which is one of the many reasons it can be emotionally confusing. And, as I’ve been seeing in my own life significantly this year, change, especially big change, often involves suffering. The suffering, however, isn’t actually due to the pain, fear, or loss itself; it’s usually a result of our avoidance of our feelings.
When we actually acknowledge and feel our pain (and don’t avoid it, run from it, pretend it’s not there, or rush to “fix” it) not only how move through it, it often nourishes us in the process…we grow, heal, evolve, and become stronger. However, when we don’t feel our pain (and the emotions connected to it), when we make up all kinds of fear stories about it (and ourselves), or, even worse, when we think it “shouldn’t” be there…we suffer, big time. As our late friend Debbie Ford used to say “Whatever you can’t be with won’t let you be.”
What if we stopped running away from the pain, fear, loss, or whatever else it is we don’t want to face or feel? These things aren’t fun or easy to face, and we often need a lot of support, compassion, and courage to do so. However, much of our power in life is tied up in our pain. When we’re willing to lean into it and actually feel it, instead of thinking it will take us down (as we fear it might), it almost always builds us up and allows us to transform.
As Haruki Murakami famously said, “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” We don’t have to suffer as we go through change – we can embrace it, be real about how we feel, and reach out to those around us to stand with us as we face the fear, pain, and discomfort. And, when we do this, we liberate ourselves and give other people permission to do the same.
How do you feel about change? How about pain and loss? Share your thoughts, feelings with Mike through the links in his profile below.
This article was originally published on Mike’s blog, and is reprinted with permission.