Last week I was speaking with a cherished friend who lives overseas. I struggle to believe that it has been seven years since we’ve seen each other. The memories of that time in my life are so vivid. At a moment’s notice I can be right back there, feeling the uncertainty about the future while simultaneously enjoying the freedom and joy of that time, the international friends, karaoke, expanded awareness and the enchantment and curiosity of Japan.
In many ways, I’d run away from home. I’m not the first person who packed up and moved to another country when life hit a major turning point; Elizabeth Gilbert crosses my mind. I was feeling estranged from my sense of identity, I had very little idea about what I wanted to do with my future, and I carried with me a heart that was still feeling broken after the end of a relationship that was very special to me.
When I eventually returned home a year and a half later, I was different. Better. Connecting with my friend on the other side of the world got me thinking about the transformation I went through at that time and the many other transformations (some mini and some immeasurable) I’ve been through in my life so far, and I noted that one of the most important parts of each of those transformations was the people with me at that time.
Each person, when they come into our personal world, brings with them a unique energy and a lifetime of experiences, as well as opinions and judgements. With that interaction, something within us changes. Suddenly I have new information to bounce off. Even though I spent a lot of time on my own and in reflection while I was in Japan, and I’m still very reflective today, the thoughts I have are usually influenced by the people I was with when I wasn’t alone.
We’re like canvases. People come into our lives with their paintbrush and add a stroke of colour; adding to the richness of the picture. Like my Dad’s paintings that begin with a wash to create a base colour. Overtime he adds more colour and details, until one picture can tell a whole story. In the canvas of my life, I especially love the people bring lots of colour into my life over and over. Like the warm colours that my cherished girlfriends bring with their paintbrushes, creating fun, inspiration and space for vulnerability. After 10, in some cases 20, years, my life and canvas has been unalterably influenced by their presences. Or family, who continually test and guide me and whose presence directly and indirectly has an impact on everything I do.
I think I particularly cherish those relationships that feel permanent because I don’t really like the feeling of losing any friends from my life. Perhaps it effects some people more than others. I think mostly it is part of being human. The loss of a person from our life registers like a physical pain so people tend to avoid the experience of loss. On an innate level we know that we need other people for our health, if not survival. Those who shut themselves down from connection tend to be more in tune with pain and believe they are keeping themselves safe from it. There’s at least some truth in this. In one of his articles, psychologist Daniel Goleman wrote :
“People with rich personal networks — who are married, have close family and friends, are active in social and religious groups — recover more quickly from disease and live longer.
So having those cherished, valued and close personal relationships may not only help to you avoid the emotional pain of separation, they may also save your life.
That said, some relationships just aren’t meant to last. Not everyone is meant to stay in your life for a long time. Sometimes people leave and they are meant to leave. Being willing to let go is important to the flow of energy in my life. If I hold on to the memory and choose not to accept change, the flow of energy is also on hold. Letting go means that the space left after a departure creates an energetic invitation for a new person or people.
It reminds me of a quote (by an anonymous author apparently) that says: People come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime.
This quote has so much acceptance in it. Just reading it gives me a sense of surrender and gratitude. It is a welcome contrast to the awareness of the void… I know that relationships come in many different forms and that sometimes they aren’t meant to last. Hell, there have been numerous times in my life when it was my decision to walk away… But I am still very aware of the void that is left when a person, or people, are no longer in my world (even if it’s a cherished friend who is now far away and I have no certainty about when, if ever, I will see them again).
I do understand that growing beyond the pain means learning to do what feels unnatural. The innate human need and biological drive for connection means that humans tend to avoid the pain of separation, or go into denial about it. This often results in us staying in relationships beyond the point where our intuition and said it’s time to leave and/or being very cautious about who we let into our lives.
I’m learning to become more active in my journey, feel into my fears and pains and most of all have appreciation for the need for energy flow and gratitude for what it generates in my life. It’s like when I do yoga; the conscious breathing and the poses are designed to create energy flow in the body. My body functions better and my life functions better as a result of energy flow.
That doesn’t mean I always find it easy. It’s a form of self-discipline and it’s sometimes a challenge. When an unexpected (or even expected) departure creates a feeling of the void, the pain can make me want to act instinctively; hold onto the past, perhaps act selfishly, portray the victim. Self-discipline means being willing to feel into the discomfort. I choose it because I know of no other journey that brought me as much freedom and joy.
So I feel into the discomfort and ask: Season, reason or lifetime?
If someone leaves my life or I choose to walk away, there is always a lesson – a reason.
Some lessons are painful. Often what makes it painful is the need to accept that it was my own lack self-love and faith in the future that created the need for the lesson. In these lessons I’ll have people show up in my world, momentarily fill places within me that feel empty, push my buttons, send me running and then because I was perhaps too stubborn or scared to get the lesson the first time it was presented to me, I’d go back for another semester. When I finally get the lesson in every cell in my body (which usually takes being an active participant and work on the self), I am able to walk away, complete. I won’t need that lesson again.
Some lessons have brought me the sweetest joy and I am noticing more and more of these kinds of lessons. Like sharing a short-lived but captivating relationship that touched my soul. The experience had me inspired and intrigued. I unexpectedly reignited my love of music, something I didn’t realise I’d lost in my dogged persistence of the goals I’d been pursuing. Simply, my world was changed for the better, I felt loved and wiser and brighter and then almost as quickly as it started it was over. But the music still feeds my soul.
Sometimes I share a season. Maybe a period of time at a particular location, like times living abroad, or while attending university, or while I was employed at a particular workplace. These people shared in my life while I was in proximity to them and I shared in theirs and when I was no longer in proximity, it was time to say goodbye. I find during each of these seasons I’ll collect at least one person who reckons a lifetime might be a good time.
Maybe the interaction with someone is only minutes. I was at the shops last week browsing books, not even particularly sure if I was going to get a new book. My head was down, reading the blurb of a book I’d pulled off the shelf, wondering if it might sound interesting. A woman I hadn’t previously noticed spontaneously holds out a novel in front of me, declaring it was one of the best she’d ever read. I noticed the interruption and then let it go to notice her. I took the book from her hand, felt its weight and my own thoughts about how bold it was of her to engage me. I remember feeling grateful for her effort and the warm energy she brought into my world at that moment, remaining open to the exchange. I’m now about a third of the way through the book after spending a gloriously sunny afternoon on the weekend enjoying a book that I probably never would have picked for myself.
Regardless of whether it’s a reason, a season or a lifetime, I find get even more from each exchange when I remain open, allow the flow, and accept the letting go that is available in every moment.