Panta Rhei

Several of my friends are facing big, life-changing events these days. Retirement, ending a relationship, having children… these are all examples of decisions that irrevocably change everything that defined us previously.

Paired with the excitement of all the new possibilities opening up, comes the terror. What if things don’t work out? What if I’ve made the wrong decision? I’m not exactly miserable now, do I have to go and change everything? I can’t control the outcome. I’m burning all my bridges; there’s no turning back. Yikes!

And so we move forward, trembling, balancing between hope and fear, longing for that safe place where things don’t have to change.

In my last blog, I spoke of life’s transience and our fear of mortality. Many of the life-changing steps we take, make us painfully aware of the fact that we grow old and eventually die. A friend, facing retirement, describes this decision as bringing him closer to the realization that his days are finite.

I think the most important thing we can do with this fear is to accept that it’s there. There isn’t any way to avoid the fear or make it go away. It belongs to those really big decisions in life. But it doesn’t have to paralyze us. Fear is one of the primary emotions, triggering our reptilian brain into fight, flee, or freeze reactions. However, we are far more evolved than our instinctive, limbic system.

Water

Water

At the heart of all things, we know that everything changes. The title of this piece is a Greek saying, attributed to Heraclitus. Plato quotes him as saying “Everything changes and nothing remains still (…) and (…) you cannot step twice into the same stream“. This awareness of the basic impermanence of life is one of the foundations of Buddhist thought.

Breathe through the fear, understanding that, when we step out into the unknown, we never can control what the outcome will be. Yes, we will find disadvantages – as well as advantages – to our changed life. It will uncover new shadow parts of ourselves we hadn’t been aware of.  We will meet new challenges… and we will learn from them.

There is such a thing as a bad decision. But when you listen to your heart, letting go all the chatter and voices in your head, you know what the right decision is. So I close with one of my favorite poems by Mary Oliver:

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice

though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
‘Mend my life!’
each voice cried.

But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations

though their melancholy
was terrible. It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.

But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice,
which you slowly
recognized as your own,

that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do

determined to save
the only life you could save.

 

 

2 Comments:

  1. All I can say, is THANK YOU dear Maddi!!!

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