May 2006 Newsletter

This May 2006 edition of my newsletter is dedicated to

My dear friend, Jean, and her special son, Ryan,

With all my Love.

I’ve been focusing on the theme of common sense for a while now.  It’s incorporated into the title of my book.  It infuses the talks I give.  Common Sense for Uncommon Success has become my motto.  It’s on my business cards.  So I’m often asked why it has become so important for me.

I define common sense as practical wisdom derived from every day experiences.  My messages and my teaching revolve around those every day experiences we all have and the lessons they teach.  Sometimes those experiences are pleasant ones.  Sometimes they are excruciatingly painful.  Yet there are important lessons in them all.  My mission under this self-imposed common sense theme is to increase awareness—mine and yours—to that constant stream of lessons, so that all those experiences, especially the difficult ones, will have had a purpose…that something good can come even out of the bad.

It seems, since I accepted this challenge, I’ve been given more than my share of experiences from which to learn.  Just when I think things might calm down, the bizarre happens.  April and May 2006 have been such a time.  And even though I know now that I am only an instrument in the delivery of this continually unfolding message of life, I’m still awed by the process.  It’s like watching a sunset over the Pacific.  I’ve seen it before.  I know what it looks like.  Yet each time the beauty of it takes my breath away.  That’s what I want you to feel…that sensation of your breath catching in your chest and your heart skipping a beat…even when viewing something you’ve seen and experienced perhaps countless times before.  That’s what these newsletters are all about.  To see it anew as for the first time.

So I shouldn’t be surprised that this May edition is not at all what I’d expected it to be.  May is the month we celebrate Mother’s Day.  I’d planned to share with you the dramatic experience of my mother’s illness a little over a decade ago.  Two brain aneurysms…two tiny little bubbles in an otherwise strong blood vessel…left us to helplessly watch as our strong, beautiful mother faded into a shadow of her former self.  It was that very life experience that started me on this path of looking for the deeper meaning and purpose in every situation.  My personal story about my mom’s illness is one about the pains of loss coupled with the eternity of love. 

But I know now that there is something much deeper to learn.  Since posting my last edition on April 1, I’ve experienced a completely unexpected and seemingly unending stream of changes, delays, tragedies, encounters, and discussions, which I now know were surely meant to influence this new message.  There is something much deeper that must be written in this newsletter.  Deeper than what we feel, what is important is how we respond.  And so I write this month's edition about celebrating endings.

 

 Celebrating New Endings

 By: Rhonda Jones

After undergoing three years of personal and professional change of major proportions, I thought my life had finally settled down.  I was happy, seemingly doing well in every aspect, and progressing toward living the life I’d imagined.  Other than the few transitions underway, which were just “task complete checkmarks” on the project plan of my life, I wasn’t expecting any changes.  Nevertheless, I was not immune to sudden, unexpected change.  Proving that no matter how hard we try we cannot arrange for the life we think we want, I was faced with a personal situation spiraling in a direction for which I had not planned.  My first reaction was very predictable.  I rebelled.  I fought against it.  I refused to accept it, and kept hanging on, even though there really were no threads left to which I could cling.  Although an irrational reaction, it was so very human.

But being a self-proclaimed change management expert, I forced myself through what a friend referred to as speed grief.  “Leave it to you,” he said, “to get depressed on Friday, go through speed grief over the weekend, and be over it before I can even offer you a shoulder to cry on come Monday!”  He made it sound as though it had been easy.  Perhaps I had made it sound so as well.  It wasn’t.  But I choose to subscribe to what Albert Einstein said: “There are only two ways to live your life.  One is as though nothing is a miracle.  The other is as though everything is a miracle.”  I choose the latter.  Hidden in everything, even the deepest pain, is a miracle waiting to be discovered.

Maybe that’s why this last month has been filled with one encounter after another with others who were struggling with a not-so-welcome change in their lives.  Elizabeth, whose son recently married.  Kevin, who’s wrestling with a career and life choice.  Cherry, who’s dealing with a troubled relationship.  And Jean, my dear friend, who’s struggling with the tragic loss of the love of her life, the father of her special son, the people she thought were friends, and the vision she had for the rest of her life.  These last forty-five days have been crammed with nothing but tragic or near-tragic endings in the lives of almost everyone I’ve encountered.

It’s left me wondering, have these forty-five days been all that out of the ordinary?  As unexpected and tragic as many of these events have been for those suffering through them, are we left only with the prospect of a life filled with many more hurts and disappointments?  It does seem that things coming to an end is a constant of life, even of nature.  We typically think of this Springtime of year as one of new beginnings…blooming, growth, re-birth.  The peonies profusely draped over my walk, the trees and bushes exploding with new growth, the countless baby squirrels jumping from branch to branch overhead, all display the beauty of new beginnings.

It’s easy to forget, while enjoying this astounding display of life, that in order for it to occur it had to be preceded by a great ending.  Before Spring’s beginning, there must be Winter’s end.  In fact, other seasons come and go year after year.  Yet we do not mourn their passing nearly as intensely as we seem to mourn the passing of the seasons of our lives.  Why is that?  Is it because we expect the end of the seasons of nature?  Is it because we already know that soon the beginning of the next season will emerge?  I think so.  If you’re like me, you may not like it when we pass into the grayness of Winter, but I accept that change with the anticipation of the future…the Springtime that I love.

Nature teaches us what we need to know about the nature of change in our lives.  The nature of change is that it’s always with us, just as the perpetual change of the seasons, and it requires that we go through endings before we can experience beginnings.  We must go through the darkness of Winter before we can have the beauty of Spring.  In that context, both Spring in all it’s showy beauty, as well as Winter in it’s stark contrast to the beauty of Spring, are something to be celebrated.

To be human is to experience endings.  To be happy is to celebrate them.

I imagine that may sound callous to some.  How can I look at someone who’s lost a loved one and tell them to celebrate that ending?  But if I’m to truly believe, like Einstein, that everything is a miracle, then I must do so.

Ella Wheeler Wilcox in her poem Worthwhile wrote:

“Tis easy enough to be pleasant

when life flows along like a song.

But the man worthwhile

is the one who will smile

when everything goes dead wrong.”

She affirms what I have reluctantly come to know about life.  As much as it hurts, we must persevere to celebrate the endings brought on by inevitable change.

There’s a lot of talk these days about fulfilling ones life purpose and mission.  Admirably, that seems to be the aim of many, myself included.  But we’re fooling ourselves if we think that even that attitude toward life can protect us from change.  Living the life I was born to live doesn’t mean I’ll ever get to a place where nothing will change... nothing will end.  Change is the very nature of that journey toward a life with purpose.  Even the ones among us who seem to have it together the best have learned that in order to get more, we have to let go of what we have.

When I was a young manager, fresh out of college, I ran across a quote called “The First Rule of Wing Walking.”  I printed it out and hung it on my office wall, and it hung there for years unchallenged.  Here’s what it said: “Never let go of what you have hold of until you have hold of something else.”  For the life of me I don’t know why I thought that was so profound.  In hindsight it probably hinted to a deep, unresolved need in me.  But now, with a little advanced wisdom, I know this for sure.  The First Rule of Wing Walking is DEAD WRONG!  We will never reach for anything else, until we let go of whatever it is to which we’re currently clinging.  I learned that lesson myself in a most dramatic way.

Almost three years ago to the day, I was deep in the depression of a personal crisis.  The illusion of the life I’d tried to arrange for myself was crumbling, and I was fighting for dear life.  Oh, I didn’t know I was fighting.  I thought I’d accepted it.  Made the tough decisions.  Endured the unavoidable change.  Yet, on an unconscious level, the battle to hold on to the past—even with all it’s pain and disappointment—continued to rage inside of me.

I entered into counseling just to prove to everyone that I didn’t need it.  After all, I was an expert at this stuff.  This was a piece of cake for me, or so I thought.  I politely attended my sessions, discussed my feelings openly, and willingly participated in the planned activities.  I was feeling great when I went off on a four-week sabbatical armed with my counselor’s assignment: to journal about all the great moments of loss I’d experienced in my life.

The assignment seemed a little silly to me.  But I’m one of those over-achievers who can’t sleep unless I’ve gone above and beyond on any expectation placed upon me, so I diligently worked on it daily.  As I moved deeper into the exercise, digging up all that ancient past, I began to get a little concerned.  How could this be good for me? I wondered.  I felt as though I were wallowing in self-pity…celebrating the old pain.  That was not at all what I’d been taught. 

“Don’t cry!  You’re not hurt!  Get up!  Dust yourself off and go again!”  Those were the lessons of my childhood.  Aren’t those the lessons we’re all taught?  And, in truth, aren’t those the lessons we must be taught, if we’re to become self-sufficient and capable of dealing with life?  But we still feel the hurt, don’t we?  So as I explored all those old hurts, I hoped my counselor knew what she was doing.  I tried to hold out hope that I would gain something from this painful exercise.

Soon, thoughts and feelings came faster than I could put them on paper.  The writer in me wanted to find the perfect sentences, the most excellent paragraphs.  I would wordsmith one paragraph to death and then throw the pad down in frustration.  Beginning again, I would soon find the memories too painful, and I would have to walk away crying.  Had I survived all those painful endings?  I wondered, as I reached for the pad again and tried to pick up where I had left off.

It was a good day to spend inside writing anyway.  A tropical depression down south was now pushing north and delivering quite a squall in the small South Carolina beach town where I was vacationing.  Tornados were being reported all around.  The rain blew in fits and starts, while the relentless wind roared up the beach and cut between the beachfront buildings like a wind tunnel.  I had watched the flagpole outside my condo in front of the building next door bend and strain against the wind’s force all morning.  I expected to see it snap like a twig at any moment.

The covered deck of my condo faced northeast and was somewhat protected from the blowing sand and rain that stormed in from the southwest.  So, after moving restlessly from the sofa to the loveseat and back again, I decided to write outside on the deck.  Settling into a comfortable chair and positioning another to prop my feet in, I placed the yellow page containing my list of hurts, which by now had become my ever present companion, in the seat of the chair beside me.  I began to write again, straining to remember, struggling to find the right words, writing then scratching out phrases and sentences, correcting punctuation, all the while praying that this exercise had a purpose.  Occasionally, I’d glance over at the yellow page beside me, check to remind myself what was on it, what moments did I believe had defined me, what pain was I trying to describe with this particular paragraph.

Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the yellow page flutter…and then it was gone! 

Before I could realize what was happening - before I could make a move in that direction - the swirling wind picked it up and snatched it away.  I jumped to my feet, the pad falling to the floor, and in panic I watched it sail away.  It didn’t just flutter to the ground four stories below.  It flew, as if it had sprouted wings.  It sailed higher and then higher still. 

“No, no, no!” was all I could utter as I helplessly watched it sail over the street, and the passing cars on Ocean Boulevard, then over the rooftops of the condos across the street.  I felt my heart stop beating when I lost sight of it breezing toward the intercoastal canal.  I had but one instinctual reaction.  “I have to save it!  It’s my life!  If I lose that piece of paper, I may never be able to recall all of it again!  I have to find it!”

Still in my pajamas, I raced into the bedroom, threw on the first clothes I could find, jumped into my flip-flops, and took off out the door.  Bounding down the stairs, almost knocking over a young girl ahead of me, I was conscious of only one singular mission.  I had to salvage whatever was left of my life on that piece of paper.

The rain was pelting down now harder than it had all day, as the sky grew blacker and blacker by the second.  It was as if the whole earth had risen up against me.  I threw off my flip-flops now soaked with rain and slowing me down.  When I reached the street, I saw cars approaching from both directions, headlights beaming and wipers fighting to slap away the blinding rain.  I didn’t even slow down.  “Hit me if you must,” I thought, as I ran across the street between them, their horns blaring.  “It doesn’t matter, if I can’t get my life back!”

I scanned the yard between the two condo buildings and the parking garage underneath, praying under my breath, “Please God, please God, I have to find it.” 

Nothing. 

In the driving rain, I ran to the seawall along the canal.  There it was!  I could see it, about ten feet away, wet and crumpled, caught in the reeds growing in the brackish marsh.  I could see the ink beginning to run as the rain washed over it in sheets.  I had to get it.

Frantically I searched for something I could use to retrieve it.  There was nothing in sight.  With the rain coming harder and harder, I couldn’t wait long.  I had to act.  Racing along the seawall, I found the only spot low enough for me to jump into the canal.  It was even farther away from the paper…now twenty feet away.  It would be a five foot jump down, and I couldn’t decide how solid the bottom of the marsh would be.  Would I be jumping into water?  Was it sandy?  Weeds and brambles obscured the marsh floor, and I imagined all manner of things resided in those thick weeds. 

“I have to,” I heard myself say as I jumped from the wall into the marsh.

I sank to above my ankles, and from this perspective I could see up close all the creatures scurrying away to safety.  “Don’t think about it,” I told myself, “Just get it!” 

I began to stomp through the brambles of the marsh, only slightly aware of how unpleasant it was.  I could see the thorns, feel the scratches on my legs and the punctures in my feet.  But, I could almost reach the paper now…just a few more feet.

I grabbed it!  Running back through the briars to the wall, I clawed and heaved myself back up over it, still clutching the soggy paper in my hand.

My clothes and hair were soaked through, and the rain on my glasses clouded my vision as if in a dream.  I ran into the parking garage under the nearest building.  Safe from the rain, but not the gusting wind, I tried to uncrumple the page, to see what was left there of my life.  The wet paper, already trying to return to the yellow pulp from whence it came, began to dissolve in my hands.  I handled it lovingly and tenderly as if it were my most prized possession.  But, the wind continued to rip at it, causing the corners to tear away between my fingers and whipping it like a wet leaf on a tree.

Letting it crumple in my hand again, I stuffed it up under my wet shirt and hung on tight as I ran to seek shelter from the storm and to salvage whatever I could.  As I ran through the rain back across the street, I could really feel the wounds now.  The cuts on my legs and the thorns in my feet stung and burned in the blowing rain, and I could see the knot forming on my left shin where I’d banged it climbing back up the seawall.  I bounced back up the stairs to my third floor condo, still like a woman possessed, to spread the fragile yellow paper on the table and see what was left of my life’s continuum.

I stood there alone, my wet clothes stuck to my body, wiping the moisture from my glasses, the water from my wet hair still dripping down my face, my left shin throbbing, my legs and feet burning as blood oozed from the fresh wounds, staring at the limp piece of paper.  And in that ridiculous moment, I heard the only words that could move me forward.

It was as audible as the roar of the storm outside, but it was delivered with the gentleness of a whisper, “Let it go, Rhonda.  Let it go.  It’s all over now.  It can’t hurt you anymore.  All you have to do is let it go.  Just like the wind and rain washed this paper away, let all the bad memories and pain be washed away.  Stop running.  Stop trying to fix everything.  Just let it go.”

Chills ran down my spine and the hair on my body stood on end.

Then as quickly as the chill had overtaken me, I felt an intense warmth.  I looked up and out the window over the dining room table and for the first time that day, I saw the sunshine.  The storm had passed out to sea.  The western skies were clearing.  The black clouds had parted.  The bright sun beamed through the window on my tear-stained face.

Some people find that story difficult to believe.  Even I am shocked at the lengths to which I went in my unconscious attempt to hold on to the past…to hold on even to the painful moments of the past.  But the story is absolutely true, and what it taught me is this.  I had to celebrate that ending.  I had to experience the pain fully, and then I had to let it go.  I share that story now as a prayer…a prayer that you will do the same.

I’m not saying we can ever enjoy those painful endings, and I’m certainly not saying we have to dishonor the past or those who were part of it.  W. M. Marston said, “The past is not to be scorned or neglected.  To forget the past or to reject its contributions merely because they are not new is just as stupid as substituting past for present and accepting the timeworn modes of your behavior as sacred.  You must use selective intelligence if you want to use the past without surrendering to its limitations.  There are many things, a majority perhaps of all your strivings and experiments in life, which it is best to turn your back upon and leave behind as you march forward taking today’s steps without the burden of stumbling.”

It’s often difficult to let go of the past, even when it’s painful, because we feel the responsibility to protect, honor, and defend our past and those who were party to it.  This is natural and, to some degree, even honorable.  But we must realize and accept this truth…release from pain, healing, and rebirth can only come after letting go.  The beautiful new beginning of Spring can only come after the ending of Winter.  We must follow the advice of the Roman poet Ovid who said, “Put aside the work that’s done, and seek some new work to do.”

We all know it isn’t an easy feat to accomplish.  If life were easy, though, it would be so boring.  Compare it to golf.  I’m resurrecting my previously deceased game and have realized that the allure of golf is nothing more than the challenge it presents.  Some people say you’re only competing against yourself.  Others say you’re competing against the course.  I seem to be battling, not only those obstacles but many more of my own creation.  Nevertheless, I wouldn’t want to play were it not for those challenges.  The sand traps (yes, I said traps, not bunkers…for me they are definitely traps!), the water hazards, dog legs, roughs, trees, those are what make golf challenging.  They are what make it fun.  Without those challenges, even the ones that bring me pain when I play, golf would be boring.  So would life.  Of that I am absolutely certain.

The journey is different for everyone, but this aspect is common.  The ending of something we thought would never end is normal.  It’s life.  All the bright new beginnings on life's journey will be prefaced by endings... sometimes painful endings.  Therefore, if we are to celebrate life, we must persevere to celebrate those endings. 

Through it all, this is what I can promise you.  The very fact that you can feel hurt so deeply and fear so intensely during those painful moments is proof that hope and desire for life are still alive and burning deep inside you.  Gerald May in The Awakened Heart wrote, “There is a desire within each of us, in the deep center of ourselves that we call our heart.  We were born with it, it is never completely satisfied, and it never dies.  We are often unaware of it, but it is always awake…Our true identify, our reason for being, is to be found in this desire.”

Hold fast to that desire for life.  Grieve those painful endings, but make it speed grief.  Pass through the inferno of disappointed hope, but don’t linger there so long that you let hope be consumed by the flames.

Golda Meir was quoted as saying, “Those who don’t know how to weep with their whole heart, don’t know how to laugh either.”  So weep with your whole heart.  Then celebrate the uncertainty of a certain ending and an uncertain beginning by doing the one thing you fear most.  Be alone.  Let your son’s new wife replace you in his daily life.  Let go of the job you hate…the unfulfilling career.  Stop trying to arrange life and let life come to you through the deepest desires in your heart.  Whatever it is that scares you to death right now…there’s an important lesson to be learned from it.  Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Do the thing you fear, and the death of fear is certain.”

Remember faith and hope are not dead.  That pain you feel inside is their continued flame inside of you.  They are your vehicle through the fears you now face.

W. M. Marston said the human activities necessary for happiness may be divided into three major efforts: Living…Loving…Laughing.

I have those three words on my living room wall: Live, Laugh, Love, so that I may be reminded each new day.  I don’t seem to have any trouble with the laughing and the loving.  They appear to come naturally for me.  It’s the living that’s tricky.  It would be so much easier if I had all the facts and all the answers, like a recipe for a delicious, fool-proof chocolate cake.  But it doesn’t work that way.  All I do have is faith.

Some people confuse faith with belief.  They will talk about what they believe to be true and call it faith.  But faith is not just believing in something.  It is acting on that belief.  Faith is the step we take in the direction the evidence points even without factual proof that it is the sure path to living.

Mother Teresa said, “To keep a lamp burning, we have to put oil in it.”  For me, the oil represents hope.  There is the hope of a flame, because there is oil in the lamp.  But for that flame to come alive, there must be the strike of a match.  That is faith.  Faith is the action of igniting the oil to create the flame.  Faith is what we do when we’re living.  We must move forward and live on faith…faith which rests upon the hope and belief and desire deep within our hearts, just waiting to be ignited.

So we must move forward on faith, and acting on our faith requires letting go…letting go of the hurt…letting go of the known…letting go of fear…letting go of the past.  If we could master this letting go, we could master the celebration of endings, which are the very nature of life.  When we make an earnest attempt to celebrate our endings, we begin to define our happiness with our own hearts.

And so this is the life lesson presented in my own experiences and confirmed in the situations encountered during these past two months.  Living involves change.  Change brings endings.  Endings require letting go…so we can soon enjoy the exciting, new beginnings just around the bend.

When I look at those three words on my wall…Live…Laugh…Love, I don’t think of never-ending bliss.  To the contrary, I’m reminded of the perpetual process of change, endings, celebrating, letting go, and beginnings. 

If nothing ever ended and nothing ever changed—if somehow everything could stay the same—maybe that would mean we’d never have to experience the pain of things taking a turn for the worse…but it also means we would miss the experience of things getting even better. 

Yes, every winter the trees, bushes and flowers in my yard die—that growing season ended.  But each new Spring they return even bigger, fuller, more lush and robust than ever.  It truly is the cycle of all living things.  Celebrate the endings and don’t let them steal your anticipation and enthusiasm for the beginnings they bring with them.

I believe Samuel Ullman who said, “…Years wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul…You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt; as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear; as young as your hope, as old as your despair.”

Living is challenging.  Celebrating endings isn’t easy.  Nothing worth doing ever is.  But you can do it.  You can survive the dark valleys in the journey, even without a map.

As he faced danger, storms, hunger, mutiny, and fatigue in the uncharted Atlantic, Columbus wrote in the log of the Pinta:

“This day we sailed on!”

Make that choice this very day.  Choose to sail on.

What we ponder and what we think sets the course of our life.

Any day we wish; we can discipline ourselves to change it all.

Any day we wish,

We can open the book that will open our mind to new knowledge.

Any day we wish, we can start a new activity.

Any day we wish, we can start the process of life change.

We can do it immediately…or next week…or next month…or next year.

 

We can also do nothing.

We can pretend rather than perform.

 

And if the idea of having to change ourselves makes us uncomfortable,

…we can remain as we are.

 

We can choose

…rest over labor

…entertainment over education

…delusion over truth

…and doubt over confidence.

 

The choices are ours to make.

 

But while we curse the effect, we continue to nourish the cause.

 

As Shakespeare uniquely observed,

“The fault is not in the stars, but in ourselves.”

 

We created our circumstances by our past choices.

We have both the

…ability

…and the

…responsibility

to make better choices beginning today.

 

Any day we wish.

 

Why?

Well, why not?

Why not you?

Why not now?

 

~ Jim Rohn ~