It’s the 21st of July and I am not feeling the love from this month. Almost since Day One. And if I can trust (what an important word in my life now, and in our world) what I hear and read, it’s pretty awful for a lot of other people also. What’s going on? It feels deeper than the widespread chaos (pick your personal panic source: The Virus, our Politics, Human Rights abuses, Climate change) we daily face. It feels like, in my own life, a tearing-down of what-no-longer-serves, without the smallest hint – let alone certainty — of positive changes to come. What do we do when things break down or fall apart; sometimes revealing harmful thoughts, people or behaviors we’ve let run amok in our lives? It feels so difficult, almost impossible, to believe that this confusion has a greater meaning and purpose. “Shit happens” in Life, and we grow past it. Why does ‘right now’ feel unique, and July “the cruelest month” (if I can riff on Shakespeare) ?
My month began with all kinds of relationship drama: family as well as friends. Then my adult son made the choice to return “home” after losing the job he always hated. Adjustments all around. And his own tough lessons: boatloads of Benjamins, or deep happiness? The two don’t seem to equate very often. So just as I’m preparing to move to another city, launch new projects and focus on living out a persistent dream of mine, the barricades on my Path have – overnight it seems – been put into place. The words “No; not yet”, reverberate in my head. To top things off, when I was doing my five-mile over the weekend, I came across two teeny-tiny newborn kittens. Out on the pavement; in the hot sun. Just as though they’d been dropped by some heartless raptor. They were screaming their little hearts out. (Of course I scooped them up, tried to see where they’d come from, to no avail.) Why? Why did these babies come into my Life? I’ve realized lately how much energy I’ve given to nurturing people and critters over the years. I thought I was done. “Free at Last”. Nope. Not yet.
Over the years I feel like I’ve gotten better at listening and observing; relaxing-into inevitable changes. Even the rough stuff, like the death of someone dear to me; break-ups and major disappointments. Past-tense, I could pretty much see things coming. I may have been unhappy, but prepared for whatever played out. Now I feel like I’m in a dark room. Really dark. So dark that even the shapes of objects are impossible to use as guideposts. The reason being, I realize, is that I thought I was headed in a new direction; I thought the time was right. But I was wrong.
Some people around the globe also seem to be in a darkness, or a kind of stasis. But I feel no comfort in this companionship of pain, disruption, fear and upheaval. Change is coming. The question is always, how much of an active part will I play in embracing it? Designing it? Allowing it to push me in directions I hadn’t considered before? What happens to our choice-making when we stick to the notion that even what pains us in the moment brings clarity and even wonderful things?
There are a few new books out – as well as articles in The Economist and The New Yorker – about how the Bubonic Plague of the Middle Ages ignited the hearts and minds of people who then generated a time of enhanced social justice, creativity, humanity, invention and hope (aka, The Renaissance). Searching for a positive spin on pandemics and plagues. Even though there’s disagreement about The Black Death being a catalyst for The Renaissance, the concept jives with what I know from living my own life. In times of extreme distress and hopelessness, a 2.0 Upgrade is possible. As long as I don’t give up or ‘cave in’ to despair. However long the darkness seems to last.
On a more practical note, at times like these I pull out my dog-eared copy of the book “Transitions”. One of the coolest things about William Bridges’ book is the fact that he lays-bare his own life so that we Readers can feel what he’s asking us to believe: help is on the way. Help is not ‘out there’, but ‘in here’ (picture me pointing to my heart). In his chapter “Endings”, Bridges shares a personal loss and what, in my opinion, is a truly amazing epiphany. One that I can relate to. It could be a relationship; a job; a birth. Anything that “dismantles” our “old world” (the things and people and situations we’d gotten used to) also changes (threatens?) the personal identity we had wrapped up in What Was Before. And until we create, or stumble on (in my case, usually) What Comes Next, that personal identity – what we thought we knew was true — is in flux. It’s this sense of being in limbo that I now struggle with.
The questions start coming, personal and global: how do I (we) navigate extreme transformation while maintaining my courage – my belief and trust that my personal (or global) “renaissance” period is coming? Renaissance, after all, means “rebirth” in French. No birthing process is ever clean, calm, collected. Births of any kind (babies, projects, personal revelations and re-inventions) bring collateral damage – or, at the very least, significant adjustment.
The key, Bridges’ says, is to avoid becoming overly-focused on feelings of disorientation when things go awry. Where I am now. Where we are now. Disorientation is real, and can be frightening. Imagine what people all over the world felt as The Black Death wiped out over 25 million people and lingered on for an insufferable amount of time. People today speak of “The New Normal”. But what is that? It’s whatever we want and need it to be as individuals. But it doesn’t just ‘arrive’ when we wish it, or command it into existence. It’s (as Bridges’ says) a process. For me, the process is called “living bravely”. And I know I need tools. Lots and lots of tools. Every day. All day.