If your life is anything like mine, the only constancy in your world—as the cliché goes—is change. To be alive is to know grief coupled with joy, pain paired with beauty, anger laced with clemency. There’s very little we can do to avoid changes and the challenges they create, but there’s a great deal we can do to navigate them with grace. Resist the current and you’re bound to struggle; enter the churning waters with steady legs and you’re destined to swim.
I’ve spent several years studying how to approach these changes with awareness, integrity, and composure—which, when faced with death, divorce, illness, and uncertainty, is no easy task for even the most tranquil among us. I was determined to discover a way to treat everything—the dramas and thrills, the disappointments and triumphs—without feeling like a ship at sea during a terrible storm.
Not long ago, I was anchorless—high on some swells one day, threatening to sink to the bottom the next. I was tired of the extremes, which were made all the more poignant when I’d turn on the computer, where everything from Facebook to shampoo commercials would make me feel as if I were the only one who wasn’t in a state of constant happiness. Change? The way the media shapes it, it’s usually in the form of a new Lexus or a blinding engagement ring. I’d end up feeling excluded, as if I were missing some crucial point that came as easily to others as breathing. And if I could avoid, and thereby exclude, loneliness, disenchantment, downright despair (and, yes, the inevitability of change), wouldn’t I be a part of it all?
Over the years, however, I’ve learned that the opposite is true. To lead an authentic life—which, to me, is synonymous with happiness—is to be inclusive. A death in the family? It deserves and demands to be mourned. A divorce? Face it: It will take a couple of years to feel okay again. Your child leaving for college? Suck your thumb if that’s what you need to do to get through it.
But there is, I’ve learned, a caveat to inclusiveness and authenticity—and it comes down to the energy we emit. In short, if we wallow in our sorrow for too long of a stretch of time, the energy we’re giving off in the world will leave us feeling mired in misery rather than ready for recovery. Our bodies are recipients for an endless stream of energy. This energy is both individual and also connected to a larger realm, which psychologists like Carl Jung called the collective consciousness and which I call the divine. Others still may refer to it as the Universe, or God, or a Higher Power. No matter how you phrase it, it is, simply put, the vital force that compels us to get up in the morning, overcome setbacks and sadness, search for the next step in life. Without it, many of us wouldn’t have the drive to survive.
This energy is made up of molecules that operate much as a magnet does—it’s drawn and receptive to molecules with similar characteristics. Depending on how we feel and the energy we’re putting out in the world, we attract—and equally repel—either negative or positive energy. And such energy can be managed by what occurs internally—through our own thoughts, words, and actions.
So, while it’s critical that you find a way to honor your genuine emotions—that it’s necessary to be inclusive, lest you accumulate even more pain by repressing them, or feel empty and fake by pretending they don’t exist—it’s also important to understand (and practice) how you handle them. Feel what you must, but also know this:
- Every thought we have generates a response in our emotional body. The mind has immense, almost unbelievable power. Think of people who can bend forks through visualization, build airplanes, speak in multiple languages, paint an image they’ve never seen first-hand. But also think of the mind as a tool, not the subject of our being. We don’t hold a hammer with a loose fist and expect it to get a nail in the wall on its own. No, we pick it up, grip it right, aim it in the correct place, and use our strength. Our minds can be managed in similar ways: It’s up to us to work with our thoughts and emotions with care and control; to strive towards transforming futile thoughts (those loose fists) into actionable behaviors (a strong grip). After all, it is the foundation from which everything else matters and takes place.
- Have faith. Sound too pat? Think again. When we trust that things truly do happen for a reason and that our only choice is to do our best and forget about the rest, things seem to work out in our favor. Sometimes it takes years to understand the lesson we were supposed to learn or the reason for our misfortune. The important thing to note is that a larger scheme is at work. Trust the process, allow life to unfold, feed your soul, and soldier on—it’ll all make sense at some point. Fight it and you’re apt to feel as if you’re struggling with matters that are outside of your control. Frankly, they are, and to push against it creates unnecessary pain.
- Live in the present moment. I’ll be the first to admit that this is hugely problematic for me. The past impinges on the present, and the future has too many demands.
But such constant fretting keeps us from the small pleasures in the here and now: the feel of our hands wrapped around a cup of hot coffee, the sound of a friend’s voice, the warmth of satisfaction that comes with accomplishment. Pinging between the past and the future also prevents the flow of divine energy within us and around us, making it impossible to experience joy—however ephemeral—or progress of any kind. Ultimately, the more engaged we are with the present, the better the future pans out—and the more inclusive, authentic, and happy we’ll be, giving ourselves the proper energy to steer through the unpredictable sea that is our dear, dear life. In the end, it’s up to us to captain it right.
With love and gratitude,
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P.S. For further inspiration, be sure to check out my post, The Power of Now.