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Dying to live

Have you had long episodes when you felt like you were walking on unsure territory, where you found it hard to see beyond what seemed to be the dreary fog of life, when everything can seemed like an aimless, meaningless blah? When I am in such a funk, my higher self wants me to break out into something new. And longer periods like this are sure signs of new major undertakings.

Transitions are scary. One is being asked to leave one place and go to another. Never mind that the place one is leaving has become boring, transitions can still be daunting. It demands of whoever is going through one to let go of the safety harness in one comfort zone and jump into another, and in the process become untethered, unsafe and unattached, even momentarily (hopefully for only a while), until one reaches (if ever) the new terra firma.

When we decided on our move to Australia, I was weary of the political situation in the Philippines which seemed stuck in a deathly inertia. I remember feeling that everything else I was doing was pretty much a been-there-done-that affair. I felt the ache that the rest of my spirit was feeling because it needed to find something new to come alive to. I remember trying to imagine seeing people I love for the last time since one can never tell what could possibly happen. I remember selling our cars and seeing our prized possessions being packed in boxes for shipment to a country where we had only a few friends or relatives. It was scary — definitely — but at the same time, the very boldness of it made me feel alive to myself.

In moments like these, one’s senses awaken and it can be a profound spiritual experience. Any new person I meet, a new detail I encounter, a path uncovered becomes sign that seems to affirm that I am being led to a new life that awaits me. It feels like God, in His/Her/Its divine plan, is doing the leading. How can it be otherwise? Serendipity is everywhere. The signs unmistakably affirm the decision of the new life wanting to be lived.

It is definitely a growth spurt of sorts, and like all growth, it asks us to turn away from the familiar and embrace the new. In many ways, it is like what we experienced in our teenage years when we woke up to discover our young bodies being reshaped for tasks that would go beyond what we were doing as children. All of a sudden, we were taller with more body hair and bodily urges that were so powerful. It definitely felt different. Needless to say, we felt unsure of ourselves in this new body. There was an awkwardness, a doubt, a confusion about what we had become. We sensed that something in us was dying and something new was being born.

In such moments of great change when one is in the process of leaving one state to go to another, the challenge is not to look back, although the temptation to do so is great. One must continue to walk on the path even though it is unsure, dark and often bleak. To look back and ask the “what ifs” about one’s decisions too early in the journey is to become stuck — like Lot’s wife in Sodom and Gomorrah, immobile and turned into a “pillar of salt”! Scary as it is, we must do it if we are to move forward because it is the path to growth. One might even feel at times that to continue is part of one’s soul journey. Emerson put it well when he said that “God will not have his work made manifest by cowards.”

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This process of dying and awakening into something new requires a new mindset. The worst attitude to have is to leave one place and go to another only to expect to live the exact same old life one had, rejecting new things that will surely come along. It’s a sure prescription for unhappiness, like insisting on experiencing summer in a winter setting!

I admire people who go through life’s stages almost seamlessly, who are able to pick up the pieces after a tragedy, like those who are able to find a new love and marry after the death of a spouse, or the end of a long standing relationship. Or former addicts who are able to have functional happy lives after rehab. Or people who leave jobs they have been in forever and boldly move on to new careers. There is something light and nimble about their ability to drop what has stopped working and leave it behind regardless of sentimental ties in order to embrace the new wave that can make one bigger.

Have you ever realized that many times, we may be putting more effort into preventing growth than simply allowing it to happen unimpeded? Yes, it does take effort (often unconscious) to be lonely just as it takes effort to be happy. It takes effort to maintain our biases, defend our views, feed our fears, and argue in defense of our shallower convictions that keep changing.

Being unconscious can bring us to lonely, sad places in our lives that are actually prisons where our spirits die. From time to time, all of us do in fact live there, but there are those who, tragically, do not know any other home.

Life, I believe, is a cycle of birth, death, acquisition and loss, a dance marathon of opposites. Wherever we find ourselves, its opposite will manifest after a while if our life is to be completely lived. To awaken is to consciously accept what has died in us, to mourn it and move on to something where we can have a greater experience of being alive. Being awake allows us to choose being happy and free.

For roughly the same effort, where would we rather invest our time and resources and our lives, in consciously choosing joy or unconsciously choosing fear?

The following quote from Rumi, one of my favorite poets, never fails to soothe my fears about any transition I must go through. He wrote:

“I died a mineral, and became a plant. I died a plant and rose an animal. I died an animal and I was man. Why should I fear? When was I less by dying?”

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