In my last blog, In The Wake Of A Personal Forest Fire: How to embrace change and find beauty in the new, I talked about the valuable lessons and opportunities for increased self-awareness and personal growth that can occur in the wake of change, regardless of how undesired and/or painful it might be. We all go through challenges, situations and heartbreaks that can make us question what we think and thought we knew. No one enjoys being in pain or in a place of uncertainty, and we often do what we can to avoid it or distract ourselves from it—described as experiential avoidance, an acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) term. Relief, however, can and will eventually come when we allow ourselves to feel uncomfortable emotions and uncover what is truly there.
While in or coming out of a painful situation, there arises an opportunity to create and nourish something new. While we can’t really avoid rumination—the replaying of the past in our minds—if we look back with an open mind and willingness to learn something new rather than try to control a situation that is out of our control, we can gain wisdom from our experience.
Lean Into Change
Although it’s the only thing we can count on in life, change can be hard. We might look back upon a situation wishing that we could go back and make a different choice. Maybe we would have said something different or acted toward a loved one with more loving kindness, knowing then what we know now. We know it’s not possible to rewrite the past, yet are often hard on ourselves for not knowing then what we know now. But, you can’t know what you know until you know it. The question, then, becomes, while in the midst or following a significant life change, what can you do with this new knowledge? How can you lean into change and cultivate something new in your life based on what you have learned?
Cultivating Mindful Self-Compassion
The first step in leaning into change is to work on cultivating mindful self-compassion. Maybe you are in a space of regret, working hard to forgive yourself for doing and/or saying something that caused someone you love pain and ignited a personal forest fire that led to an unwanted change. Or maybe you’re struggling to forgive someone else or make sense of a trauma, loss or otherwise unwanted situation. It can be hard to sit in the muck, but it’s from the muck that something beautiful can grow.
It’s during times that feel dark and/or dirty, I think about lotus flowers. The lotus flower, prominent in Egyptian, Buddhist and yogic cultures, is a sacred, beautiful flower that blooms in mucky, murky water. Essentially, it only grows from mud.
“The lotus flower is the most beautiful flower, whose petals open one by one. But, it will only grow in the mud. In order to grow and gain wisdom, first you must have the mud—the obstacles of life and it’s suffering…”
– Goldie Hawn
When sitting in the mud of our own lives, the lotus flower can serve as a reminder. It is through life’s inevitable challenges that we’re truly able to use change to grow and create something beautiful. But, we must be kind to ourselves in the process. Growth can be painful and it doesn’t happen over night, but it becomes easier when we are able to practice mindful self-compassion, self-forgiveness and self-acceptance. When we accept our humanness, learn from our mistakes and realign with our values, we’re more able to let go and nurture new growth.
Nurturing New Growth
Regardless of the transition that you’re going through, you can only be and truly see in the here and now. But, you can look at yourself in the back then and there. Whatever happened couldn’t have ever been predicted, and you did your best with what you knew and had then. So, what now?
Take some time to engage in perspective-taking. Perspective-taking is the process in which we view a situation from another’s point of view. While this is usually done by “putting yourself in another person’s shoes” and can lead to increased empathy, we can engage in this process within ourselves. Today, in this present moment, compassionately think back to where you were when the pain point of the change occurred. You were different then, but still you, right? But, what is it you’ve learned since then? How have you grown? This process can not only help in developing increased self-compassion, but it can also help you get to know yourself better and choose what to cultivate now.
If you’re still in the midst of the pain, it can be helpful to remind yourself that everything is impermanent and that you can and will get through this change. As you move into a new space in your life, it’s important that you take time to really be with you. What are your strengths and resources? What are your core values and what actions can you take to live in alignment with them right now? How do you want to show up in your life and, importantly, what is it that you want to cultivate and nourish as you move into a new chapter?
There’s no need to play tug of war with life. Resistance will only keep you stuck in the same place. Plus, it takes a lot of energy, and that energy can go toward learning and healing. However, by getting clear on what you want to create in the space left in the wake of change and taking actions that are in alignment with your goals and values, you can move forward. And, sometimes—although it’s often not easy to do—we must sit in the muck and learn to gracefully let go of the things not meant for us so something new and beautiful can grow.
You Are Your Life
Change is hard, but when we use it to thoughtfully practice mindful self-compassion and increase personal awareness it offers us an opportunity to create and nurture something new and possibly far more fulfilling. What is it that you want to cultivate more of in your life? How can you take a painful change, sit in the softness of the muck and grow something beautiful from it? With the knowledge that you’ve gained in the space between then and now, how do you want to show up in your own life in present day today?