I’ve been reflecting recently about a certain type of loss. When you lose a sense of ‘who you are’. It happened to me 6 years ago, and it was scary. But I also discovered the renewal that’s possible when you embrace it.
For me, this experience was triggered by the last in a long line of pregnancy losses. As I began to accept that our son would never have the sibling I’d hoped for, there was a kind of grief that I really struggled to meet. Eventually I realised I was mourning a certain version of ‘me’ – the one whose life had turned out a particular way, how I’d imagined it.
Until that point in my life, how many times had I not achieved something I wanted? Or not fixed my pain by filling the hole with something else? None.
Initially, I tried to fill the hole left by this loss of ‘who I was’ with work – falling back on achievement as a possible antidote, a way to shore up my tattered identity. Thankfully I saw pretty quickly that it wasn’t working, and took refuge instead in my mindfulness practice.
And it was here that I met the warrior within, via the practices of ‘turning towards’ and self-kindness.
The title of this post comes from a line in one of my favourite poems, Jennifer Welwood’s Unconditional:
“Turning to face my fear, I meet the warrior within;
Opening to my loss, I gain the embrace of the universe”.
It takes a massive amount of courage to accept feelings of loss and sadness, without trying to fix them – to open to them instead, fully feel them and let them transform you. At first I feared that turning towards these feelings would keep me stuck in them. But I discovered the opposite: it freed me to move forward, into something new and unknown.
As Donald Rothberg puts it, “if we can have the courage to stay with the not-knowing, stay with the difficult, something quite beautiful can come out of that, something creative and generative and fertile… there can be light that comes from being with the darkness…”
For me, an experience of deep loss was painful, but has also been the doorway to an awakening – I’ve learned so much, and I’ve grown so much. I’d never have thought I’d have the patience, courage and energy to be the kind of parent that I am. Nor could I have predicted the immensely deep joy I experience with every step in the adventure of raising our incredible little boy. Or that I’d have the skills and the confidence to be helping other people to find freedom from stress and anxiety. And all of that has unfolded because loss opened that doorway to something unknown, and I walked through it.
This isn’t a tale of ‘everything happens for a reason’ (personally I’ve never found that view helpful when dealing with loss). But it is a tale of the power of acceptance and trust – that life may not always go the way we’d like, but that we can learn that we’re so much more than we think we are. As Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche says “To be a good warrior, one has to feel sad and lonely, but rich and resourceful at the same time”.
Ultimately, loss opened me up, instead of shutting me down. I thought I’d lost ‘myself’, but it made me more than I was, not less than. More human. More present. More committed to making a positive contribution. And so much more alive.
For more writings, guided meditations and more, visit my resources site Lollipop Wellbeing
If you found this post helpful, you might also like these pieces where I described how I practised ‘turning towards’ and self-kindness during those difficult times: