About two years ago, I was at Greenlife Grocery, and I ran into two women who had attended one of my retreats.
I was surprised because neither of them had lived in Asheville. Now they both did! They told me that after the retreat, they had decided to make different choices in their lives. One of them left her husband. The other one quit her Grad School program and was preparing to enroll in an entirely different course of study.
Sometimes I tell that story on the first day of the retreats now – just because it cracks me up. (It also blows me away. Most people don’t take such massive action when they leave a three-day workshop!) When I tell the story, a few people look at me with sheer panic.
To some, this kind of life change feels like complete overhaul. Upheaval. They don’t want any part of it.
To others, it’s no big deal. It’s change. That’s the nature of things.
How you translate it could be how you answer the question posed in the title of this post.
It’s Your Call
In my experience, major upheavals on the path of personal growth depend upon two factors:
1 – Your intent or desire.
2 – Your distance from that intent or desire.
Let’s start with intent.
When people come to my retreats or take part in my e-Seminar, we spend quite a bit of time on their intent. Not just for the seminar itself – but also for their lives.
Many people are afraid to say what they want. I think one of the reasons for this is the fear of what will happen once they vocalize it. Words are powerful. We are powerful. We know that we can activate all kinds of change with our words and actions. Some of us are frightened of that kind of change.
There are also those who just need a “tune up.” They know what they want. And they need to spend some time listening to that still small voice, and maybe shift their direction a bit.
But then there are those who are ready for big change. They’re fed up. They’re tired of living unconsciously. They’re tired of being unhappy. They don’t want to spend the rest of their lives letting distractions be their main activity. Often they’re in an unhealthy situations. Or they’ve allowed themselves to stay too long on a track that doesn’t feed their passion. (This was the case with both the women above.)
These folks usually come in knowing they’re ready for change. They call it in. They say one of the most powerful prayers out there: “Bring it on.”
The key thing here is to be honest with yourself. If you know you’re on a dead-end path that’s filled with frustration and sadness, then at some point you’ll have to look within and ask yourself: What do I want? What is my intent in life? Who do I want to be?
Distance from the Desired Outcome
The second factor is distance. How far have you strayed from your center? How far are you from your intent? How long have you been ignoring that still small voice within?
I’m going to use my own life as an example in this one because for a period of about three years, I lived in a constant state of upheaval. I had intended health. I had intended a creative life as a writer and musician. I wanted to live authentically. I remember saying, “Bring it on” many times along this path.
However, I was miles from my desired outcome. Riddled with an eating disorder and a propensity for guilt and shame. Harboring a hope to be “rescued” from having to take any responsibility for my life. Self-esteem the size of a black bean. I had no idea of the amount of change I’d have to go through. In retrospect, I marvel at the size of the wrecking ball I created.
One by one, the structures that held up the little house that was my life began to crumble. Some of the changes were instigated by me — leaving a 4-year relationship, letting go of negative friends, quitting my first (and only) secure job, moving to another town, taking writing classes. Lots of the changes were instigated by whichever force heard me say, “Bring it on” – health issues, losing my apartment, getting dumped by the new person in my life, financial struggles.
You won’t necessarily know in advance just what changes will come about when you intend something different. This is scary for most people. Those who have been through it, however, say that they wouldn’t go back no matter what.
Awake in the Rubble
Many people who have experienced some kind of upheaval report that it was better to be going through it than to be living yet another day of numb existence.
I felt that same way. Even in my upheaval, the joy I felt was unmistakable. It was like the scene in Thelma & Louise when they’re driving through Monument Valley at night, and Gena Davis says, “I don’t remember ever feeling this awake. Everything looks different. You know what I mean? I know you know what I mean. Everything looks new. Do you feel like that? Like you’ve got something to look forward to?”
That feeling is what kept me going. Knowing that I was more alive than I ever had been. Upheaval was the right thing for me at the time. It was what I needed, and the deep changes have led me to create a life that – even with its challenges – is exactly what I intended.
So, is upheaval even a bad thing?
Anyone who has ever experienced deep healing from alternative healthcare knows that change and healing can often look bad before it gets better.
At the most recent retreat, one of the participants, an acupuncturist, talked about the process of healing. She said that Western medicine seeks to suppress symptoms, while acupuncture calls them up and out – while balancing the imbalances that cause those symptoms.
Our Western minds tend to think of any kind of symptom as “bad” and “to be alleviated.” This makes alternative health practices troublesome for many – as you sometimes have to deal with “healing responses” to treatment. This means that you can actually experience the very symptoms you’ve been trying to suppress before they can move up and out.
This requires trust, for sure. And it also requires a paradigm shift – where you move out of the belief that “Feeling bad is bad. Give me a pill to fix it.”
It’s the same with life changes and upheaval. Many people want growth and change and happiness – but they don’t want to go through the discomfort that awakening brings about. When you can recognize that the upheaval was brought on by your intent, and that things are moving “up and out,” then you don’t have to judge it or be frightened by it.
Your Life is Speaking to You
Here’s the thing. No matter how hard you try to pretend that you can avoid change and continue on a path that’s unconscious or inauthentic, eventually your authentic self has to speak up. Most people can’t avoid the voice of their soul.
You know when something’s not right. You know when you’re not happy. You know when you’re living on automatic pilot and going through the motions. And if you continue to ignore it, your life will start speaking to you. This is how Oprah puts it in the “Live Your Best Life” handbook:
“In little whispers…your intuition is telling you something. Did you not pay attention? The universe will speak to you a little louder – with a little tap on the shoulder. Then you get hit in the head by a brick. Still not paying attention? A brick wall falls on you. Still not hearing it? Then you experience a full blown earthquake!”
In other words, if you refuse to listen to your soul, eventually you’ll have no choice. Upheaval will come to you. You can then choose to grow from it, or suppress it even more.
I recently met a woman who was in a terrible car accident. It turned her whole life around. At one point in the conversation she said, “For three years prior to this event, I was ignoring my own intuition. I hated my job. I wanted to change my life. I wasn’t present at all. Looking back, it doesn’t surprise me that this happened.”
Is upheaval forever?
You might read this and think that your life will be in constant overhaul once you allow the upheaval to begin. This isn’t the case. Though I still go through changes and challenges, I no longer experience major upheaval.
My sense is that after you experience the upheavals and shifts that bring about a happier life, you become more tapped in to your intuition. You catch yourself moving off track more quickly. Numbness, distractedness, unconsciousness are no longer tolerable states. The changes you do experience are more about going through a little discomfort, and less about turning your life upside down.
These days, it feels more like I’m bumping into things when I’m off track. And it takes diligence and patience to make changes and go through scary shifts, but it’s not upheaval. It’s more fine tuned, more subtle.
However, there are people who get somewhat addicted to upheaval. It’s easy to get into the habit of letting things fall apart every time you go through a shift in life. It becomes kind of a paradigm. This doesn’t have to be the case.
A few years ago, I went through a shift in how I approached my career. I started to get very frightened, and think, “Oh my god, my life is falling apart.” I began down the upheaval road. Then, I questioned that belief. And I decided it didn’t have to “fall apart” to change. It has been a refreshing thing to observe myself go through a shift with grace and presence. I’m very aware that I didn’t have to fall into the path of upheaval simply because I was going through a life change. Neither do you.
The Bottom Line
I believe that each person decides how growth will happen in his/her life. But I don’t think big growth can happen without some level of discomfort and shift in behavior or action. It comes down to one of my favorite little sayings: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” Growth can be messy. But ask anyone who has gone through any kind of recovery — it’s much better than being stuck in an unhappy existence.