Oh, don’t we like to hold onto our illusion of control? And to help us feel in control we tidy up, organise, put stuff into neat little boxes. We simplify and generalise so we can ‘get our heads round it’, whatever ‘it’ may be, and to try to stop feeling overwhelmed and anxious.
But we’re not in control, we’re in co-existence. And we can’t neatly isolate events and our response to them. At any one time we’re processing and responding to multitudes of events external to ourself. It’s complex, it’s messy…and it’s ok.
At any one time we’re both changing and static, losing and gaining, grieving and greeting. Our lives are full of paradox and apparent contradictions that are confusing to us when we are used to thinking in absolutes.
If our meaning making revolves around right or wrong, black or white, good or bad we can get befuddled and upset when we realise life is about AND not OR and that two apparently contradictory states can co-exist.
Elizabeth Kübler-Ross famously and beautifully framed five stages and responses to dying, and then adapted them for grief. Her co-author David Kessler has since gone on to frame a 6th stage. These stages (or subtle variations thereof) are also now widely used to frame any change we may face, personally and professionally.
The stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance and meaning. The stages are not linear, or absolute. Despite our desire for them to be, they are not neat little boxes for us to tuck our emotions into, to be taken out in an orderly and organised fashion at a suitable time. Everyone’s response is unique, and in motion.
Personally I see the stages as ripples or waves. Something external to ourselves impacts – like a pebble thrown into our water. Our response ripples out in waves of emotion. But there is rarely one event; pebbles, gravel, rocks and great big bloody boulders are tossed into our water at different times – each with their own ripple pattern. Now our anger in one ripple meets our acceptance in another, our depression intersects with meaning from another event. Now it’s hard to know and tease apart cause and effect in any neat way. It feels confused and choppy. We worry what is wrong with us.
There’s nothing ‘wrong’…our emotions will flow through and ripple out if we simply allow them to be without judgement.
We can ride the waves through self acceptance, protected by building a raft of self-compassion. Stay gentle and kind with yourself amidst all the confusion – become more comfortable with what’s uncomfortable. It’s ok sometimes to simply not know, and instead to just…be.
And reach out to others you trust and let them hold kind, accepting space for you to let go. Find those who can stand by you and remind you that life is the light AND the dark, the joy AND the sorrow. They co-exist simultaneously without cancelling each other out; you can feel one, without denying or dishonouring the other.
Life’s messy, and beautiful, and wondrous and confusing. When we let go of our illusion of control…ahh, then we can feel truly alive.