Sovereignty in the face of change

Everything changes all the time. Each moment something dies, is for the last time, and each moment something new is born, is for the first time. There are seasons when we can ignore that easily, and there are others when ignoring gets difficult – especially when big things and situations shift. When it comes to losses, it can feel like the end of the world.

Someone might tell us then about starting a new chapter, drawing a line, getting over it – regardless of whether it’s about our job, a broken dream, the loss of a family member or great love. I honestly don’t think the point of change and breakdown is that we get over it. And if something like that is suggested mindlessly, then most probably by someone who is hiding from their own pain and fear of loss.

I have great understanding and compassion for that – we’re all doing our best to keep it together; but I won’t take any advice from get-over-it-folks, and certainly not let myself mislead: I believe that we don’t get anything wrong at all if we, even after years, still haven’t gotten over the loss of our great love or whatever it is that has meaning for us. We never have to get over anything or anyone at all – whoever came up with this questionable idea may have meant well, but, in my eyes, has done more harm than good to this day.

We have to be ok with the fact that we need security, just as short or as long until we eventually don’t need it anymore.

I think before we start thinking about how best to deal with change – before we start letting go, we have to make a lot of room for holding on. We have to be ok with the fact that we need security, just as short or as long until we eventually don’t need it anymore. Our instinct leads us to look for truths, people, things and circumstances that we can rely on so that we are safe. Safe from what? From the unknown. 

When the truths, people, things and circumstances that we have relied on change in such way that they no longer give us the previous security, or even disappear completely, we can trust that life will catch us and come up with new opportunities – but we don‘t have to pretend that we‘re actually buying it from life in that very moment. We don’t have to pretend that everything from A-Z doesn’t feel like crap when what we love collapses. Neither do we have to pretend that nothing has happened and start a new chapter asap, with clenched teeth and fake enthusiasm. No. First of all, we‘ve got to do something that most of us haven’t been taught anything about: it’s called grieving.

Grieving is the sovereign and loving acknowledgment of pain – and of the fact that we have zero clues as to how we should deal with it.

Grieving has nothing to do with declaring ourselves a victim of circumstances, blaming or marinating in self-pity – quite the opposite. Grieving is the sovereign and loving acknowledgment of pain – and of the fact that we have zero clues as to how we should deal with it. Sovereignty in the face of change means that we devote all our attention and compassion to the part in us to which the breakdown of structures on the surface of our lives feels like the end of the world.

We do this by allowing our emotions, no matter how subtle at first, to grow as big as they want to grow and to express them to our best ability. That looks different for everyone and in the rarest of cases elegant or controlled – but that‘s not a bad thing, that‘s simply the reason why no one in our culture really dares to grieve. The good news: Nobody has to read what you write down, nobody has to listen when you scream into a pillow, nobody has to watch you having a meltdown – unless you want to.

The truth is that something we are attached to dies all the time, we just keep sweeping it under the rug. The more we practice grieving, the more we practice making room for all that we are, for all our ever-present, ever-changing feelings, even for those we would rather not have at first, and for our complete helplessness as to what we should do with them, let alone as to how we should ever find joy again after hitting rock bottom.

And this is where the magic happens: If we allow all of this, if we’re present instead of running away, we start to identify less with feelings, losses or gains, and a little more with what has space for all that. We get an authentic notion of what Pema Chödrön refers to when she says: “You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather.” The more open and affirmative we are towards everything that comes to the surface, the more expansive, free and lighter we experience ourselves, and start to see that we ourselves are the security that we’ve been looking for on the stormy surface of our lives.

With this new sense of self, weather forecasts and speculations about the future are no longer so existential – the unknown and the constant change of conditions lose their threat and their fatality – sometimes they can even be perceived as something beautiful, open, promising. We suddenly let go of the way our life has to look so we can feel safe – and start to suspect that this sometimes limits us more than it serves. We can be deeply connected to life, have trust and feel everything – the beautiful and the terrible, and we’re deeply rooted in the knowing that we’re still standing and ready to receive new blessings once the beautiful and the terrible have passed.

Image: Bryan Garces // Unsplash

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