“The beginning and the end reach out their hands to each other”
Endings can be tough. When someone or something pulls the rug out from under you, you may find yourself drowning in a sea of emotions ranging from grief and anger to fear or blame.
Whether you’ve experienced a recent loss or are struggling with a painful ending you’ve never come to grips with, you can get unstuck and move forward by taking two important steps. First, learn to challenge the myths about endings that may have settled, unquestioned, into your mind and heart. Then pull out your toolkit [provided in part two of this article] and choose the right tools to help you move beyond the myths to the magic of letting go—of honouring the ending and releasing energy-draining regrets. Here are some of the most dangerous myths that can keep you trapped in the past plus some powerful tools that can free you from pain and help you move on more quickly.
Myth: If an ending comes into my life, something must be wrong.
Magic: Endings are a natural part of life’s cycles. I honour myself by accepting them and the transformations they bring.
We’ve all been told that change is good for us. At least that’s what sages, psychologists and management gurus say. Why, then, do we tend to dig in our heels and so fiercely resist the changes that inevitably come to our doorsteps? This is because, for one, we cling to the false belief that endings are not natural—that if an ending comes into our lives, something must have gone terribly wrong.
Yet that’s not what nature teaches us. Each day, each season, each full moon comes to an end to allow a new cycle of regeneration to begin again. Endings are not exceptions to the rule; they are the rule. Our inner and outer worlds are governed by that same cycle of change and transformation. Every one of us takes part in the universal dance of transformation as our outworn habits, relationships and ways of seeing give way to new ones.
Although it might not seem so at first, every ending has its purpose and its gift. To help you awaken to this truth, when you experience an ending of any sort, think of it as a graduation or a promotion. Graduations not only signal the end of an era in your life but also celebrate the beginning of a new one. That’s why they’re called ‘commencement’ exercises.
Endings, like graduations, often come because we are ready for a new lesson to begin or have exhausted the opportunities that our current situation has to offer. Endings show us that we need a change of scene to bring new people and new possibilities into our lives.
That is exactly what a friend of mine experienced when she broke up with her boyfriend of six years. For quite a while afterwards, she had gnawing doubts that saying goodbye had been the right thing to do, even though her ex had treated her badly and even cheated on her. It took her months to let go of regrets and see that this ending was good for her. She had, in fact, become root-bound in that relationship. Like a plant that atrophies in a pot that is too small to contain its growing root system, she had run out of room to grow in the relationship. Her partner’s immature behaviour was simply life’s way of moving her to more fertile ground. In reality, she had been promoted—and he had been fired.
Endings are not exceptions to the rule; they are the rule
Once she finally accepted her ‘promotion’, she could experience the gifts it brought with it. She had more energy, made wonderful new friends, and even mustered up the courage to find a new job where her talents were appreciated and she could grow.
My friend’s initial reaction is typical of what we all tend to do when faced with an ending, whether it’s a deteriorating relationship, a job change, or even the prospect of finding a new place to live. When an ending is in the wings getting ready to walk on stage, we may develop a desperate urge to hold on to what we are comfortable with. We frantically want to ‘fix’ the situation, when our inner self is asking us to transcend it altogether. But we only prolong our pain by refusing to accept that the ending is really choreographed by our own soul for our own good.
If you catch yourself reacting to an impending ending with resistance, bitterness or anger, take a moment to compassionately remind yourself that endings are not only natural but necessary. Take the time you need to grieve and process a serious loss, but then look forward with wonder and expectation, knowing that you needed to turn off the road you were travelling on to meet that something new that is awaiting you. Take a page from the I Ching, the ancient book of wisdom, which advises, “When the way comes to an end, then change—having changed, you pass through.”
Myth: If I let go of this relationship, job, or situation, I may never get a better opportunity.
Magic: When I say goodbye to a situation that isn’t right for me, I create the space for a new gift to enter my life.
Have you ever been afraid to make a change in your life, even when you are unhappy or frustrated, thinking, “If I give up what little I have, I may never find anything better”? Have you ignored what your feelings are trying to tell you, turning to logic instead to find the direction you’re looking for? While our feelings can certainly carry us off course at times, they are also a pathway to the truth—your inner truth—if you listen to them.
It’s essential to evaluate your feelings as you would any other piece of information you gather so that you can make an emotionally intelligent choice in every situation. Logic alone won’t get you there. In the words of the great Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore, “A mind all logic is like a knife all blade; it makes the hand bleed that uses it.”
Lani discovered how life-changing it could be to follow through on what her feelings were telling her when she was unexpectedly faced with an issue that challenged both her career and her character. She thought she had finally found the perfect job. It was in the right location and on the right career track, and she was working directly with the owner of the company as his assistant. Then one day she discovered that her boss was dealing unethically with his clients. She knew this was wrong and hoped that something or someone would come along to correct the situation so she wouldn’t have to rock the boat. But nothing changed, and Lani knew that she could not let the situation go unchallenged. When she finally mustered the courage to speak to her boss, he brushed aside her concerns. So she told him that if he didn’t stop his behaviour, she would quit in one week. Seven days later, Lani found herself walking out the door with nothing but a small box of her belongings in her arms.
Your feelings are a pathway to the truth—your inner truth—if you listen to them
As she paused in the downstairs lobby of the office building to catch her breath, wondering what she would do now with no job, no severance package, and no leads, an older, well-dressed gentleman stopped next to her. He was having some trouble opening his new briefcase. Lani instinctively offered to help and figured out the problem right away.
“You’re clever,” the man said, thanking her.
“If I’m so clever,” she shot back without thinking, “then maybe you should hire me!”
As it turned out, the man was looking for a good office manager. Lani was a great fit for the job. “He was so respectful, and that new job paid much more than the old one,” she later told me. “I really didn’t have to be worried at all about taking a stand for what I believed in or about leaving that job.” In fact, the universe was just waiting for her to make room in her life to receive the gift of this new job. Sometimes walking away is the right way to be walking. It creates an opening for life to work its magic.
Myth: By forgiving others, I am condoning their behaviour and dishonouring myself.
Magic: By forgiving, I am honouring myself. I am affirming that I am greater than what others think of me or do to me.
Do you still feel sad or angry about an ending in your life—a relationship break-up, a harsh word from a friend, a job you didn’t get? Whether you realise it or not, holding on to the past with regret means that you’re operating with less than 100 per cent of your energy in the present. Regrets divide your attention and sap your energy. One way to reclaim your energy is to plug the holes by forgiving and saying goodbye to those energy-draining regrets. It’s not always easy, but it’s essential if you want to live fully and share the best of yourself with others.
The real reason we don’t forgive more easily is that we harbour misconceptions about what forgiveness is and what happens when we forgive. The picture many of us have in our heads is that forgiveness is for weaklings. We think forgiving is giving in to a bully who has no business pushing us around. We may also believe that by forgiving, we are condoning the perpetrator’s harmful behaviour and giving that person the green light to keep acting that way. Those are no more than myths.
Forgiveness does not require that you approve of another’s outrageous behaviour or foolishly subject yourself to it again. You can forgive and still take steps to protect yourself. You can forgive and still be clear about what you will not accept in your life from now on. Likewise, forgiveness does not wipe out the fact that an action someone took was despicable. The act of forgiveness does not excuse any of us from being accountable for the harm we have done.
Regrets divide your attention and sap your energy
By forgiving, you are simply honouring yourself. You are affirming that you are greater than what others think of you or do to you. You are showing yourself and others that no one has the power to define who you are just because they treated you a certain way. Author Rabbi Harold Kushner once explained this to a resentful woman in his community who was struggling to support three children after her husband walked out on them. When she asked him how she could possibly forgive this man, he told her, “I’m not asking you to forgive him because what he did was acceptable. It wasn’t… I’m asking you to forgive because he doesn’t deserve the power to live in your head and turn you into a bitter, angry woman.”
It’s not what others do to us that defines who we are. Our attitude, our actions, the quality of our heart—how we treat ourselves and well as others—is what defines who we are and how our life unfolds.
Myth: By refusing to forgive, I am in control.
Magic: What I do not forgive controls me. By forgiving, I free myself.
Many of us have come to believe that by refusing to forgive others, we are cutting them out of our lives, thereby ending our connection with them. But continuing to hold a grudge—emphasis on the word hold—is no ending at all. By harbouring bitterness, resentment, or even the desire for revenge, we remain mentally and emotionally invested in what happened. That only keeps us in relationship with—connected with—the very people we want to cut out of our lives.
Attention is energy. Whenever you place your attention on another person or thing, you are creating a flow of energy between the two of you. It doesn’t matter if your thoughts are loving or filled with irritation and anger. In either case, you are creating an energy bond that is fed by your attention. And, for better or for worse, where you attention goes, your energy goes.
When you understand this energy equation, it’s easy to see that you automatically tie yourself to anyone you continue to hate, resent, or be angry with. You may think that rancour is the right response when you want to distance yourself from others, but at energetic levels your bitterness binds you to them. It strengthens the connection.
Continuing to hold a grudge is no ending at all
Although we may fool ourselves into thinking that withholding forgiveness gives us a measure of control, in reality whatever we allow to siphon off our valuable energy and attention controls us. When we do not forgive, it is we who suffer. Perhaps you’ve heard this saying that puts it even more strongly: not forgiving someone is like drinking poison—and expecting the other person to die.
A graphic portrayal of what happens when we hold on to our anger comes from the movie Return of the Jedi in the Star Wars series. During the climactic scene, the evil emperor and Darth Vader are face to face with Luke Skywalker. The emperor has been patiently waiting for the opportunity to turn Luke to the Dark Side, just as he had done to Darth Vader many years before. As the emperor and Luke confront each other, the old man goads Luke as he spits out these words: “The hate is swelling in you now. Take your Jedi weapon. Use it… Strike me down with it.”
Then the emperor sums up exactly what anger and non-forgiveness do to us as he says to Luke, “Give in to your anger. With each passing moment, you make yourself more my servant.” The emperor knew that the more we hate, the more we surrender ourselves to the object of our hatred. Fortunately, Luke controls himself before it is too late. By putting his attention back on his real self and on love, he not only saves himself but is also able to bring Darth Vader back to the Light Side.
Lest you think that all this sounds a bit too intangible and that the benefits of forgiveness are metaphysical mumbo jumbo, know that a burgeoning field of research is proving otherwise. Studies have shown that holding on to blame, hostility, and anger can harm us in very tangible ways. One study, for instance, showed that unforgiving thoughts prompted significantly higher heart rates and blood pressure changes, whereas forgiving thoughts were accompanied by lower physiological stress responses. In research with people who suffered from chronic low back pain, those who were able to forgive had lower levels of pain and less anger and depression than those who had not forgiven. In another study, women who had forgiven the fathers of their children for transgressions had less symptoms of anxiety and depression as well as a greater sense of self-acceptance and purpose in life than unforgiving women.
The opportunity to forgive, then, is just that—a stunning opportunity for you. Will you allow another’s immature behaviour to define you now and forever? Will you let the incident forever define the person who hurt you? What someone else says or does can only continue to weigh you down if you carry around the memories of those actions like a perpetual sack of good-for-nothing stones strapped to your back. How freeing to just put down the load and move on. How much faster and farther you can travel. Without the burden, you can even fly.
4 tips for honouring endings, releasing regrets, and moving on
Rather than facing endings with bitterness, regret, or hatred, try these four energy-boosting tips that can help you honour the ending and move on.
Tip #1 – Reframe endings as graduations
While it’s natural at first to react to painful endings with bitterness, try to resist the temptation to automatically label an ending as ‘bad’ and pull the covers over your head [or drown your sorrows in a bag of chocolates or a shopping binge you can’t afford]. Instead, take this turn of events as an unerring message that it’s time to move to higher ground.
Practise seeing any ending or seemingly negative situation as full of promise, even though you don’t yet see what it will bring you. Perhaps the ending came because you ‘graduated’ from this circumstance or you need to learn a new soul lesson in another venue. Perhaps you can only find and hone your unique talents by being with a new circle of friends. What if the situation you were suddenly booted out of held a hidden danger for you? Every ending holds its own gift. Opening your mind and heart to receive it will keep you moving forward, not looking backward.
Tip #2 – Bring closure by being proactive
If you’ve done something in the past that still plagues you, consider taking action to set things right. Rather than allowing recurring thoughts about the incident to continually weigh you down with regrets or sorrow, lighten your load by changing how the story ends.
Find those you may have hurt and apologise to them, even if the incident took place years ago. Replace the object you destroyed or the money you deprived the other person of. If you can’t work with the person involved for some reason, assign yourself a task that will at least begin to balance the scales for what happened. For example, do volunteer work, donate to a charity, help an elderly neighbour with chores or mentor a child. Allow yourself to bring closure by being proactive.
Tip #3 – Create your own ritual of release
Doing something to physically mark an ending can help you release regrets once and for all. Create a ritual that has meaning for you, but always make it physical to give it finality. And don’t forget to perform your ritual with the intent to free yourself and move on.
Hold a shell or stone; mentally pour your feelings about a past incident into it, and then fling that object into a stream or off the side of the mountain as you see and feel the situation disappear from your life. Or you can write down your feelings on paper along with a simple statement of surrender. You can ask God [or use whatever name you prefer to address the creative Spirit of the universe] for help in letting go and finding peace. Then safely burn the letter, watching it and the issue dissipate in smoke. Let those ashes remind you of the phoenix who, at the end of its life, ignites its nest and is consumed by the fire. From the ashes of its own ending, a new phoenix emerges. Know that you, too, have the phoenix inside of you.
Tip #4 – Write a new story
One incident in your life, no matter how painful, is still just one incident. It doesn’t define your entire life—unless you let it. You have the power to create the rest of the story. When you choose to stop talking about and dwelling on the past, and focus instead on healthy new choices for yourself, you are saying, “I am greater than what others say about me or do to me.”
Each time you catch yourself complaining about or dwelling on a negative experience from the past, stop. Remember—what you concentrate on is what you energise. Instead of looking back, ask yourself: What new and positive outcomes do I want to show up in my life? Start focussing on and talking out loud about your new plans with excitement. Ask your friends to support you by doing the same rather than continually dredging up the past or treating you like a victim. You are the author of the next chapter of your life. Start your rewrite right now. Grab a piece of paper and write down in detail the answer to these questions: What do I want the next chapter of my life to look like and feel like? What new characters will be a part of the next scenes of my life story? What one step can I take today to turn my storyline in this new direction?