When I'm in the middle of a time when life seems to be crashing down around my ears, it often feels like the end of the world. And it is often the end of my world as I have known it so far.
It's easy for my thoughts to get stuck in an unending loop that focuses only on the endings.
My life (or world) is ending.
Everything is crashing and burning.
My whole life is falling apart.
And to some degree, every single one of those thoughts is true in those times.
But they are not all that is true.
The seed and the seedling
The process of a seed sprouting into a seedling always involves the destruction of the seed.
It breaks open, splits apart, and is consumed as fuel for the initial growth of the new seedling, which will become a new plant capable of producing a whole new round of seeds.
For the seed, this appears to be the end of the world—and it is the end of its life as a seed.
On the other hand, it's also a whole new beginning of life as a seedling growing into a full-sized plant with roots and a stem and leaves.
It is both the end of the world as the seed has known it and an exciting new beginning.
So it is with our lives. Every transformation, every big change in our lives is both an ending and a beginning.
Both things are true at the same time, but we humans often have a hard time holding the two together in our minds, so we tend to focus on one aspect or the other exclusively.
The grief of unwanted change
As I mentioned earlier, when I'm in the midst of change that I would not have chosen, all I can see is the ending of my world.
When the job ends through no choice of my own, the other person ends the relationship, someone who is beloved dies, or some other ending takes place that I did not want, all I can see is the grief of loss.
My whole world shrinks down to the viewpoint of the seed who is being torn apart by the emerging seedling.
Grieving that which is ending—an appropriate and healthy thing to do at times like this—comes easily and naturally.
But it's often difficult to simultaneously see any positives in the new beginnings that might be taking place because it feels like a betrayal to our legitimate grief to honor any positive outcome that might emerge.
We act as if embracing the new beginning would mean that the ending was a good thing. When that is so clearly not the case with a deeply unwanted ending, it can leave us unable to grasp the new beginnings available to us.
The excitement of chosen change
On the other hand, many of us have experienced times of chosen change—graduating, getting married, leaving home, changing jobs, having a baby, retirement—that fill us with excitement for the obvious new beginning.
We move forward eagerly into the new beginning, embracing the changes it brings to our lives.
And yet, even in these cases, these new beginnings grow out of endings. They are endings that we are choosing, but in each case, there are also things that we leave behind with the new beginning.
While it's easy to embrace the excitement of the new (chosen) beginning, it's harder to allow ourselves the space to grieve whatever it is that we are leaving behind.
It often feels like any grief for the losses that our new beginning causes would mean that our choice was a wrong one. So we bury the grief as if it is a betrayal of our choice and of our exciting new beginning.
This leaves us with unacknowledged and unprocessed grief that can poison that new beginning if we aren't careful.
Holding endings and beginnings together
One of my favorite things about the art of kintsugi is the way that it holds these two things together.
The brokenness of the original object is not ignored or buried. In fact, the broken places are carefully tended in the repair process without any judgment. The breaks are acknowledged, cleaned, and healed during the repair.
At the same time, the repair itself becomes a celebration of a new beginning as the gold is added.
The loss of the brokenness is honored and acknowledged, and the new beginning as a healed (repaired) object is celebrated in gold.
Neither truth is hidden or downplayed. Neither reality is ignored at the expense of the other.
I have found that when I live my life through this lens, change and transformation—both wanted and unwanted—flow with much greater ease.
I am free to mourn my losses (whether they came through my own choosing or were imposed on me) while at the same time embracing the possibilities inherent in a new beginning.
My grief does not blind me from being able to move toward any new beginnings that are available to me, and my excitement with new beginnings does not prevent me from mourning anything that a new beginning might cause me to leave behind.
Intentionally making space for the two to coexist allows me to move through chance in a much more graceful, kintsugi-inspired way.
Questions to ponder
Are there any endings in your life that left you unable to embrace the emerging seedlings that resulted? How might this balance of holding of holding the ending and new beginnings together have made that transition easier?
Is there any new beginning that would benefit from your current embrace?
Have there been times of new beginning in your life that caused you to suppress any grief over the ending that came with it? How might you acknowledge those losses while also holding onto to the good that the new beginning brought?
How does it feel to hold the grief of loss and the excitement of new beginnings together? What might make the combination of the two more comfortable for you?
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