During a crazy six month period in 2015, I lost my home, my job, my girlfriend, all my savings, my little business and fell-out with several friends. To top it off, I had no choice but to move-in with my father (with whom I have a very strained and volatile relationship) in his pungent house, many miles away from my social circle in an area that I detested.
I’m not too proud to admit that losing just one of those things would have been challenging enough to process, but to lose all of them together almost overwhelmed me. I have never had to overcome so much heartbreak, grief & tragedy in such a short space of time. Next to healing from a suicidal depression in my late 20’s, this particular chapter was been one of the toughest experiences of my life.
However, I took comfort from an old Zen perspective on tragedy. It is said that every now and again, an intense fire will roar through the forest of our lives, destroying everything in its path. I have now experienced this first-hand. For the record, there was nothing more frightening than seeing my entire life turn to ash before my very eyes, when all I could do was look on helplessly, as the trees of my life burned to the ground.
Yet as destructive as a forest fire first appears with all the loss of vegetation and beautiful woodland habitat, after the flames have eventually died and the blackened ground cooled; sunlight is able to reach the forest floor. All that fresh carbon replenishes the earth and given enough time, the forest grows back bigger, greener and more beautiful than it was before it was destroyed.
So if this transformation is the ultimate outcome, a forest fire isn’t as destructive as it first appears. The loss is temporary and is not the end, but merely an evolutionary process. It’s a reset button, an opportunity for greater growth. So it goes with our lives after a great tragedy.
From great destruction, comes new life, as we cannot make way for the new, without first clearing out with the old. Nature lives by this law and as humans, I think we sometimes forget that we are also a part of nature too. The cycle of life & death also manifests at the level of consciousness, as we continuously evolve & journey through life. It’s just that occasionally; life needs to quickly clear our path of stuff that no longer serves us, (sometimes many things at once) so that we can begin the next chapter with a clear slate. All we can do is to let go, trust the process, accept the changes as best as we can and do our best to enjoy the ride.
When something ends, it is in our best interests to do our very best to let it go. To hold onto someone or something longer than it is meant for us, simply creates more psychological & emotional suffering. Better to let it go sooner, than to drag it all out and prolong the pain. By letting go, we create room for something new to be born. We cannot start a new chapter if we keep attempting to re-read the last one from memory, after it has gone. Also, the longer we linger in the dying embers of the old, smouldering chapter, the longer we delay enjoying the excitement of beginning a new one. The old chapter we mourn, was once a new & intimidating one too and we survived it and eventually learned to love it. The next one will be no different.
Keeping all of this in mind helped me cope during such a turbulent transition. My years of meditation practice, positive thinking exercises and Zen studies honestly saved my sanity during such a difficult time. I honestly don’t know how I would have emotionally and psychologically managed without them. I was able to navigate through it all without losing my dignity, my shit or my positive attitude and I’m quite proud of that, as it honestly wasn’t easy.
My life from that point was reset and I focused my efforts on rebuilding a much better one, with many improvements on the old one that was lost. I met new people, embraced new experiences and deliberately dragged myself outside of my comfort zone towards the kind-of life I had always wanted. I also began moving forward with a huge career change, which was something I had wanted for a long time, but had always found an excuse in getting started. After having lost everything, it freed me to begin my professional transformation.
I honestly believe everything happens for a reason, even the stuff that breaks our hearts. There is something to be learned from EVERY experience, even the ones that inspire tears. The beauty of having been truly destroyed is being granted the opportunity to rebuild ourselves, better, stronger & wiser than we were before. My personal forest fire became the spring board on which I chose to leap into a vast life change. Admittedly, it was beyond scary but at the same time, so damn liberating to be rid of a life that no longer made me happy. I was exhausted, bruised and battered from the trauma of it all, but I survived. The destructive and humbling experience reoriented me towards a better and more fulfilling life. I just needed to survive the initial re-set, which I thankfully managed to do. In mysticism, these intense life re-sets are called a ‘dark night of the soul’.
We are not the same person leaving the storm as we were upon entering it, which is the whole point of the storm. It’s meant to challenge and change us, this is how we grow & evolve.
In order to rise, the phoenix must first burn.