In a span of nearly half a century, I’ve said a number of goodbyes. Some to friends I never saw beyond kindergarten and to others when my extended stay in England was complete.
There were the polite goodbyes with employers for whom I, or they, were no longer needed and farewells to college friends as we embarked on our grown-up lives after graduation. And who can forget the tender farewells of heartbreak and the good riddance to liars and cheats?
Perhaps the most emotional and painful of goodbyes, however, is the abandonment found in death. As you get older these occurrences happen in greater frequency yet each is as sobering as the next.
Death might be the most climatic of goodbyes but there are other exits almost as dramatic. Bidding adieu to your first apartment in anticipation of establishing a new home with a backyard for your growing family and the empty nest that comes after you say so long to your 18 year-old “baby” heading off to college.
Parting becomes integral to our lives and nearly all of literature, poetry, music and art would not exist if not for the muse of goodbye.
So with all this experience and necessity saying au revoir, why is it we still resist?
The answer is very simply fear.
Fear of loss, loneliness, pride, control and most of all the unknown.
Whether we realize it or not, fear shackles us to the past. It kills us without telling us we are dead. It is precisely this terror that stymies our growth and happiness if we allow. It keeps us attached to people or things that don’t serve us and, in some cases, actually hurt us. This could be in the form of an unfulfilling relationship to a full-blown heroin addiction and it’s all rooted in pain. It seems counter intuitive to be afraid of something that causes affliction yet it is this ache that also keeps us wondering why we don’t feel satisfied even when surrounded by the material possessions and status associated with traditional success.
Los Angeles based family therapist Mary Cook explains,
“Emotions are habitual by virtue of brain chemistry and so they are not always accurate. We absorb others identity as we grow so that as we get older, we react in the way our ‘identity’ would react. These learned feelings don’t serve us. We have to ask ourselves what part of this emotion is really me? Is this how I really feel?”
What we learn and absorb as children follows us through life and no one emerges childhood unscathed. This is not to imply that every household is fraught with dysfunction but with so many variables, what might destroy one person’s sense of self could be the very fuel that steels another person’s fortitude.
Nevertheless, these learned behaviors hold us back. They are habituated patterns designed to protect the softest parts of our souls, to insulate us from the suffering of change. Ironically these habits rarely serve us or provide us any protection even as we cleave to them like a fluffy, childhood teddy bear.
The only way to get better thus feel better is by resisting how we feel and doing things in a much different way than we’re used to doing. The thought is often so terrifying that we hold onto these thoughts above our conflicting inner dialogue. This is the reason people stay in abusive relationships, pop pills, remain in an unfulfilling jobs or endure morbid obesity despite the taunts of others. The hitting, narcotics, drudgery and cruelty are familiar as are our responses but as we mature, our inner voice is no longer satisfied taking a back seat and calls to us with increasing urgency and vexation.
Not all fear is bad. This highly evolved inner voice is very instinctive. It will alert you when a threat exists so that you avoid harm. Some call this a sixth sense and others say it’s common sense. Even before your thoughts are fully aware of danger the brain has primed the adrenals to pump out cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenalin making your heart beat faster and increasing your breathing. These cascading hormones shunt the blood and sugar to muscles so that they’re able to respond like a cheetah or Randy Couture. This is known as the fight-or-flight response.
Of course, our thoughts are really our biggest threat and, conversely, savior. Each of us have a gift, a contribution to life that is one brush stroke in the masterpiece of humankind. Some may classify another’s contribution as insignificant but who is really the arbiter for what the Universe has designed for each of us? When we haughtily cast judgment, we aren’t defining someone else as much as we’re defining ourselves; our lower selves at that. Isn’t it interesting that it is the feeling of being less than that prompts the actions that somehow make us feel superior therefore hiding behind a façade of confidence, brilliance, prowess, handsomeness, wealth, youth…and on it goes.
Years ago I was married to a man who resented my commitment to becoming a doctor. He did what he could to remind me of how inadequate and undeserving I was to have such a lofty goal. Beyond his verbal abuse, he was physically abusive and we lived paycheck to paycheck. Right after I was accepted into medical school, I left him. It remains the most arduous decision I’ve ever made but I knew staying with him would eventually destroy me. There were times I thought of begging him to take me back. Not because I enjoyed being degraded or that he provided meaningful status, money or companionship but because I didn’t know what lay ahead other than the road would be full of tears. To make matters worse I was pregnant and now, I was alone. Still, something inside of me—that inner voice—called like a siren to a sailor. While the path was often overwhelming, I emerged better from this experience. There was grit I never knew I had but the only way to meet it was through the introduction of abject pain. What was born was confidence, compassion and faith as well as a beautiful daughter I named Jordan Elizabeth.
“Pain is paramount to letting things grow,” states Cook. “You have to take a leap of faith but it is frightening and feels awful so people avoid it. It is exactly this pain that launches your own psychological, spiritual and physical growth. It is this deepened and more authentic vision of self that is necessary to greater evolution and joy.”
So the next time you find that little voice whispering in your ear, take the time to listen. There is nothing to fear but fear itself.
* “Everything is Connected” (in the Lakota Sioux language).
Sharon Chayra has been covering healthcare, cultural and Native American issues for over two decades. She is half-Apache and half-Scottish but one hundred percent invested in personal development through all modalities that enhance the body, mind, spirit connection.