After two years living in the monastery I was restless, but I didn’t want to leave.
I loved living at the monastery. It changed me in so many ways. It also began to feel like a shirt shrunk in the wash, familiar but a bit too tight.
I struggled with the decision. I talked to a lot of people. I had many sleepless nights. Eventually I realized it was time to go.
The monastery was good for me, but I was ready to leave. I felt called to work outside this place I’d loved so much.
After I left, I watched too much TV. I ate too much junk food. I slept in a little too late. I noticed how loud the world was. I noticed how much harder it was to be quiet. And while all of these things were jarring they were mostly expected.
What I didn’t expect was the grief. I felt the loss of familiar sights and sounds. I didn’t wake up to a bell. I didn’t sit in the same room with the same people. The texture of my life had changed.
While the freedom was wonderful, the grief was palpable. It hung over me like a pregnant rain cloud, until eventually I couldn’t ignore it anymore. So I turned and looked at it, and what I found surprised me.
At the center of that grief was something really powerful: love.
At every other time in my life, the things I had left were things I didn’t want anymore. Things I despised or resented in some way. But the monastery was different.
I didn’t hate it. I loved it deeply. I loved it, yet it was the right time for me leave.
In your life you will leave many things behind: old business ideas, old websites, old partners, and old insights. Some of these things won’t serve you anymore, but you still love them, even when it’s time to let them go.
When this happens, you have to grieve. It may seem silly to grieve over a website or a partnership, but these things are a loss. When you create with passion, you get attached. You put yourself into that code, those words, and that part of your business and your life.
By letting it go you are losing a part of who you are, so you have to grieve. You have to feel the loss. You have to give yourself permission to feel it. Otherwise you end up being stuck, not ready to move onto the next thing because you’ve never let go of the past.
We see this all the time in big companies. The auto industry didn’t want to let go of the old way of making cars. Yahoo didn’t want to let go of the old way of doing searches. Cab companies don’t want to let go of the old way of giving rides.
It’s natural to not want to let go. To hold onto to the good old days where things felt safe and secure. But it’s a mistake.
Instead you have to grieve; you have to feel the loss and learn to let go.
How do you do this?
While I’m not an expert on professional grief here are the 4 ways I deal with grief in my business and my life.
1. Notice. Just notice when you’re feeling grief. Notice when you’re wishing it could be like it was. Notice when your thinking in the way you used to with the same parameters and rules. Notice if you go back to living in that old world.
When you notice what’s happening you can feel it, you can deal with it, you can compensate for it.
2. Turn toward it. Sometimes we avoid grief by wallowing; other times we run from it. We try to push past the grief to get to the new thing too fast. We grab at any straw we can find and don’t give ourselves enough time for the new thing to arise. To let the new way of being come to us.
Watch when happens. It means you’re not ready. It means you’re not grieving. It means you’re trying to avoid this uncomfortable feeling of letting go.
If you find yourself in that place, slow down, let yourself grieve, accept that you’re having a hard time.
These first two you can do anytime anywhere. They are practices that you carry into your day-to-day life.
3. Be grateful. At the center of grief is love. Take some time everyday to remember things about the past you were grateful for. Think how nice everyone you worked with used to be.
Appreciate and honor what came before. Love it with all your heart while also knowing that it is gone and that you can love it without trying to get it back.
4. Set intentions. Last think about the things about the past that you got a lot out of. What experiences, what kinds of relationships, what kind of work did you most enjoy. Get down to the core of each of these powerful place and if you can draw out what’s essential in each.
Then set an intention to find a way to bring these experiences back in new ways. If you used to enjoy having lunch with a partner, think of other ways you could create that connection with someone in your life. If you used to enjoy working with your hands think about a hobby or skill you could learn that would help you get that feeling back.
While we can’t live in the past, we can learn from what it gave us and bring it with us moving forward.
There are some things about the monastery I could never bring back. The feel of the place, the smell of the incense. These subtle things that will forever live in that time of my life.
But I can bring with me the things that really matter. The compassion I felt for others. The deep investigation of my life and in the lives of others around me. And my willingness to accept whatever comes my way.
I’ll always grieve my time at the monastery but that doesn’t mean that I can’t have a wonderful life as I live now. As I live I know I’ll have to do this again, to love and let go, over and over.
But with each life I feel so grateful, for my heart simply grows and my ability to move into a new way of being increases in capacity.