When our life does not proceed in the direction we imagined and we come to a place of great uncertainty, it is time to expand our consciousness, meaning a time to open to what is possible, beyond what was expected.
Michael, a 65 year-old attorney, feared death because he was overcome with regrets. When I asked him what exactly he feared, he said, “I didn’t achieve my potential. I thought I’d be much more successful. I don’t think I have enough time left to make it happen and I’m not really driven to make it happen either.”
Dana always wanted to become a mother. However, she was not in a stable relationship and didn’t have the money to freeze her eggs or have a child on her own. Her anxiety was rising as her biological clock wound down. She wondered, “How do I deal with the reality that I won’t have children?”
With great courage, self-compassion, and support we can face the possibility of not achieving experiences we long for.
Regret, while a natural, very human feeling, is a state that leads to stuckness. When we are ready, however, to allow our Self to grieve what we have lost or never had — like not realizing a dream — it helps us move past regrets and disappointment. Grieving is painful, however the depth of the pain lessens as we experience our grief. Regret and stuckness while also painful, solidify through repeated experiencing and become the weight we carry with us.
Most people fear that if they connect to their sadness, the grief will never end. But it will. With a supportive other, we can cry until ours tears stop. And we can experience our anger towards people who thwarted us, in a safe way that in the end feels better, not worse. We can allow core emotions to arise, flow, peak, and finally pass through our bodies. And feeling core emotions is essential to bringing relief.
If feeling a core emotion like sadness doesn’t bring relief, there is a reason. Often the reason is negative stories surrounding our emotion. These negative stories complicate and make our grief worse. For example, “what is wrong with me?” stories (shame) move us away from our sadness and self-compassion. “I have made bad choices” stories (blame) also block us from the healing experience of sadness. And, stories projecting into the future, like “I will never be happy,” block us from accepting and grieving our losses — from experiencing our core sadness.
When we have truly mourned for what has been lost to us, our hearts begin to open. We start to imagine new possibilities and see ourselves creating a meaningful life in ways we never considered. We can begin to invite in exciting, meaningful questions like, “what do I do with the abundance of my love that I want to share?” And, “what are my values around how to live a full rich life?” This is what it means to expand our consciousness.
Michael worked hard to overcome his regret. When I asked him at what point he first remembered feeling badly about himself, it was when he was a teenager struggling in school. That was an epiphany for him. He realized his present day regret was not tied to his standing at the law firm but to a childhood feeling of inadequacy.
Once he realized this he worked hard to heal his past wounds. He built up his Self by cultivating love and appreciation for all that he had accomplished under very difficult circumstances. He began to feel proud. And his regret diminished.
When Dana was able to process her core sadness and began to expand her consciousness, she found she could cultivate meaning for herself by creating relationships with children as a special auntie or godmother. She adopted a pet to love and nurture. She began to contribute to her community by volunteering. And she became excited about developing her creativity and spirituality.
The road to feeling better is one where we radically accept our losses and limits and embrace what actually is. Imagine connecting with an older version of yourself, who is reflecting back on life, proud that grief did not hold you back from living fully in whatever way that had meaning. You might even feel proud of your Self for your strength and resilience in making the most of your adversity.
In the words of Hanya Yanagihara, “Things get broken, and sometimes they get repaired, and in most cases, you realize no matter what gets damaged, life rearranges itself to compensate for your loss, sometimes wonderfully.”