It seems inevitable that we will be required on our journey through life to start over. Often, this isn’t a matter of our own choosing. Circumstances such as illness, the ending of a relationship, or death of a loved one are both devastating as well as an opportunity to recreate our life. Alternatively, we come to a place in our life when we feel like the life we are leading doesn’t reflect who we imagined ourselves to be. We feel a certain restlessness, an internal pressure to come into a deeper integrity with the soul’s calling. Choreographer, Martha Graham, called this the “blessed unrest” or the “divine dissatisfaction” of the artist. But truly, we are all artists and our primary canvas is our own life.
Starting over is never easy or smooth. There are no maps that hold for all circumstances. Each of us is unique in our way of responding to change. Is it crisis or is it opportunity? Perhaps both. If we were traumatized early by our parents moving every couple of years for work, starting over can feel daunting. On the other hand, if we experienced this as a welcome adventure, starting over might feel normal. For most of us, however, career changes, relationship endings, illnesses, etc. are challenging—even if we initiated these changes ourselves.
First, we will feel an Internal resistance to change. Yes, we are evolutionary beings, but we are also deeply conservative. We are regulated by both this urge to evolve and another cosmic power that cosmologist, Brian Swimme, calls homeostasis—the necessary state of order, balance, and safety. Whether we initiate a life change or are on the receiving end of something we didn’t ask for, we are about to disturb our homeostasis. How we deal with this will depend to a large degree on the dynamics of our prenatal, birth, and early nurturing. If our experience during this formative time of our life was chaotic or even life-threatening, we will need to bring these feelings to consciousness, in order to differentiate between this time in our life and today’s circumstances. (Paradoxically, we may repeatedly initiate change in our life in order to bring this early trauma to consciousness for healing).
At some point, we will need to move into acceptance. The transition is happening. It doesn’t matter if we initiated it or not, we need to accept that we are undergoing it. Again, the metaphor of birth is apt. We come to a place where we realize that resistance is futile. We let go, for better or for worse. At this point, issues of trust will arise. Can we trust that the universe is for us, and not merely tossing us around mercilessly and for no good reason? Usually, during this period issues of early trust arise, and if we were given reason to distrust that we are being held and kept safe in all of life circumstances, these feelings will be present to experience consciously and heal.
As we arrive at acceptance, we may also experience grief. We are leaving behind a familiar life, somebody we once loved, a network of relationships, a community of people who were once friends, or a stage of life. Grieving may include remorse for actions we have taken or neglected to take. It may also include the need to enter into a process of forgiveness. And we may simply feel deep loss at the end of an era, the end of way of defining ourselves in the world, or the end of a particular self-image. It is critical to the dynamic of starting over, that we do not rush this time of grief. The more we can resolve any lingering anger, self-doubt, recriminations, or other feelings, the more space we create for the birth of the new. If we do not spend sufficient time with our grieving, we are more likely to simply recreate the past, rather than allow the new to emerge.
The next stage could be called allowing the new life. Yes, this can feel like we’re about to jump off a cliff. But it’s also a unique opportunity to actually allow new dimensions of our self to emerge. Perhaps we’ve always wanted a tattoo, but we’ve never allowed ourselves it, because it was so contrary to the family values we grew up with. Maybe there is a friend from childhood, with whom you always felt exhausted after spending time with, and you want to renegotiate the relationship or even end it. You’ve always thought about writing a book, or doing body building, or learning a musical instrument. You feel a call to start a meditation practice, but have never wanted to be slotted as one of those new age types that your friends make fun of. Jenny Joseph’s poem captures this practice of allowing the new well.
WHEN I AM AN OLD WOMAN I SHALL WEAR PURPLE
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick the flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit
You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes
But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.
Now is the time to self-define, to worry less about what others think, and to retire the inner judge that shames you or whispers to you that you aren’t smart enough or don’t deserve it.
In this challenge of starting over, which comes to us all, we begin to experience for ourselves that the perceived crisis is also our greatest opportunity. We can discover wells of resilience and creativity that didn’t know were there to draw from. All of us, all of the time, are in the process of being recreated by a universe that is evolving – with or without us. The question is whether we are willing to be conscious participants and learn the art of starting over.