Each year around this time, I get really excited about the prospects of a new beginning, and set intentions for the new year, or call them goals. It’s natural to want to clear out the old and bring in the new. Our hopes and dreams change as we evolve and so re-visioning our goals on a regular basis can help us stay motivated and happy.
But what happens when your goals for the year turn out to be a total freaking disaster?
A week into 2015, I ended a relationship with the man who had been my companion for the past couple of years. Because we had been working at the same residential retreat center, where I had been offering retreats and working on-call, it no longer made sense for me to work there, so that door closed as well. A few weeks after that, the wonderful luxury Phuket retreats I’ve offered for the past 4 years fell apart when we lost our venue. Another door, shut.
In the midst of all this, I turned 50 and my body suddenly started doing strange things: I stopped getting my period. Maybe that’s too much information, but if you have not yet experienced the joys of peri-menopause, think of it like this: it’s PMS that lasts for months at a time. When I used to get PMS I would inevitably have to take a day or 2 off of practice because my body simply did not function as usual. But I can’t take months off of my yoga practice…so I have had to get very creative about what practice actually looks like. Because of this stark change to my physical practice, in addition to the hormonal changes, and a now 8-year-old hip injury that I has returned with vigor, I gained weight, adding to the confusion about how to approach my asana practice…. and a big lack of clarity about where life wants to take me.
And all of this made me very pouty for a while.
What do you do when you arrive at a dead end?
I had started establishing a home in Thailand, and suddenly there was no reason for me to be there. I taught yoga asana for over 20 years, and suddenly I’m not teaching. My body has been a reliable vessel for 50 years, and suddenly I can’t read its messages. What started as a series of wide open doors, turned into a big slam. So now what?
Here is the part I am afraid to admit:
I don’t know.
I don’t know. There it is.
I really don’t know how to maneuver through this tricky phase. I have no advice. And that is an uncomfortable place to be.
What I do know that what has come out of this is a renewed bond with my creativity. I paint now. I’ve spent the past 6 months making encaustic art and putting the final revisions on my memoir. I’m still coaching individual clients but after teaching yoga and leading retreats pretty much full time for the past 20 years, I’m not teaching live, in-person classes. (I am however teaching on on-line class for yoga teachers.)
I mean, essentially I’ll do what I always do: practice, and let that guide me to the next steps. It’s just that the moving parts have all been mixed up, and how they will come together again – and in what form – is a mystery.
I do know that these creative outlets help me access a deep place where I sense that I’ll heal from this heartbreak and discover my compass. New goals are waiting to be recognized.
When you’ve outgrown self-limiting beliefs
I was quite content with how my life was unfolding before this series of doors shut. Was it perfect? No way. But I was willing to work with it. What I see now is that life has more to offer than I was allowing myself to see. I ignored the intuition that was telling me how my circumstances were holding me back from fully thriving.
It’s hard to recognize yourself when everything in the outer environment suddenly changes. We define ourselves through our activities, relationships and conceptual framework. When these shift, if we are courageous enough to stay with that experience, the existence of our previously solid-seeming sense of self gets threatened. We might get a glimpse of something more uncomfortable, but more true: our vulnerable, uncertain and ever-shifting role in the larger scheme of things.
And what about this: what if there is no goal? What if the goal is to remain present through all the changes and simply observe it all. What if, as Chogyam Trungpa famously stated, the path is the goal?
Dead-End? Or Doorway?
When the road suddenly stops, it forces you to lift your gaze and look at alternative routes. There are always choices to be made. You just have to recognize them and stop trying to drive. Let the road meet you half way.
Dead ends are actually doorways onto new vistas. Things have to fall apart for new things to arise — its the rhythm of nature. When we first plant new seeds, we are excited for the seeds to take root and grow. We eagerly await the flowers and fruit. We smell the flowers and eat the fruit. But then once the fruit is eaten and the trees have lost their leaves and gone to seed, we are not as happy. This phase is less comfortable. But unless we go through this phase, we have no seeds to plant for the coming season.
If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.
I’ve been about rethinking almost everything. Wondering what stays and what goes.
Reinventing yourself means breaking the mould, questioning your goals, dwelling in the dark depths of uncertainty without hope of finding a quick answer. It means looking hard at the recurring themes: the destructive or painful habits that we’ve developed, whether consciously or not, that cause suffering. You know, the ones that keep returning to haunt you, that you think you’ve finally conquered, and that return again just to remind you that you are human and to bring you to your knees. Again. There is no system for this, no 10 step practice, no self-help Ted talk, no app that you can download.
It’s called life. You live it. And you learn.
I”m learning to stay in the vulnerable place called I don’t know. I sense that remaining open and receptive is the way through this. One thing I know is that without the practices of yoga and meditation, this process would be a whole lot harder. I also know now that without art, it would be a whole lot less fun.
Is It Time To Set New Goals?
So this week I cleared out of Chiang Rai, and am heading back to Crestone where I will do my practices, write, paint and await further instructions. A new identity wants to emerge.
I don’t think it’s just me. Look at what’s happening out there. The planet is imploding in many ways, and we’ve got to find ways to adapt and live more in alignment with what is true, even if it is uncomfortable. I think that collectively we want a new identity, and that starts with each one of us individually.
Evolution necessarily means letting go of goals that no longer serve. For me this is less science than it is an art: I’m feeling into how things fit together after closing a chapter in my life, listening for what wants to arise. Sometimes we have to trust that life unfolds exactly as we need it to for our own happiness, even if we don’t trust the process. There’s your clue right there: trust the process.
And for the rest, let life happen to you. Believe me: life is right, in any case.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke