“…Having breakthroughs isn’t the point. Living them is. Seeing in a new way is only the beginning.” -Martha Beck
I find myself sobbing in a bathroom stall in the Chicago airport on my way to a meeting across the country, thinking “has it really come to this?” Grief catches up to us in unexpected places and times. The airport bathroom scene was triggered by sitting near a young family with four kids on the plane I had just unboarded, recognizing the finality of my active mom days that has shaped my world for over 25 years. It occurred to me, as I walked the endless corridors between gates, that we spend the first half of life building, acquiring and creating what we are then required to let go of in the second half. On some moving walkway an emotional breakthroughs comes through me, unannounced like the change of the sudden thunderstorm over head, and I realize that this grief of mine is a privilege that I earned. This breakthrough in thinking lifted me and gratitude replaced my despair.
And yet, it wasn’t like this single moment of graceful clarity is sufficient. What most people don’t understand about breakthroughs is that they are not really sudden shifts, but rather incremental steps in re-shaping our thinking. Truth be told more often, it is easy for me to become overwhelmed with the emptiness that I have long associated with letting go. It takes vigilant practice; as I make my way home the next day to literally remind myself to replace the old familiar fear of abandonment with the truth of the gratitude I feel for all the time I had with them, and for all that is yet to come. Amidst stories of tragic and premature deaths, violence and mayhem happening far and wide, learning to hold my grief as a gift, a treasure of parenting gone right, requires a surprising amount of attention and discipline.
Our relationship to the emotional breakthroughs that transform our life and lead us in a truer new direction is counterintuitive. As humans we are generally wary of change, especially changing our minds. Usually, it requires a high degree of internal discomfort to pave the way for our capacity to suddenly see a situation and our own place in it differently. The more we numb our capacity to feel, the longer it takes for us to be ready for a shift. Likewise, the longer we live in discomfort, the more accustomed we become to accepting less than what we want from our lovers and our lives. Kind of like the frog that slowly gets boiled to death, we are good at stewing in the dysfunctional ways we live until finally we can’t take it anymore and then suddenly, we are graced to see that it can be different and that we can be different.
Sadly, it is way more common for breakthrough moments to get lost than it is for them to re-shape us. Even when we are graced with new insights, without the active practice of paying attention to our thinking, our new insights cannot take hold and become a part of us. Becoming deliberate about waking up our thinking process is the cornerstone of engaging with life in a way that evolves and makes us more of who we are. So my practice goes on, this weekend as I drive away watching him walk into his new life. We will see how I make this breakthrough part of me.