How Loss Can Initiate You

How Loss Can Initiate You

5th August 2014

By Lissa Rankin, MD

Guest Writer for Wake Up World

I’ve experienced a lot of loss this year. Most of the loss has come as my own choice, which in some ways makes it even harder. I can’t even fall back on feelings of victimhood because I’ve brought all this loss upon myself, not because I’m a masochist, but because I’m being called to align with the integrity of my Inner Pilot Light in radical ways. It’s hard and scary and wildly uncomfortable. And it hurts. My heart feels heavy as big changes have uprooted me. I’ve had to really lean into my spiritual practice to stay grounded, avoid the downward spiral into fear, find peace with uncertainty, and allow loss to grow my soul, rather than shrink it.

Eckhart Tolle says that if you’re enlightened, there are three responses to what happens in life—acceptance, enjoyment, and enthusiasm. In other words, even when you’re facing the worst life throws at you, peaceful acceptance can be your baseline. Clearly, I’m not enlightened, because today, a yard full of roots thrust me into despair. The house where I live just changed owners, and the new owner, very well intentioned I’m sure, just sent over gardeners who ripped up every plant in my entire yard, including my beloved rosemary and artichoke plants. I’ve experienced a great deal of loss this year, and I keep saying that all of my roots are getting pulled up so I’m free to flow to whatever is most aligned for me. But as I came home from dropping my daughter off at camp and looked at the piles of literal roots and the barren, vulnerable nakedness of my front yard, I burst into tears. It’s all so . . . empty and ugly and dirty and lonely. I’m sure the new landscaping will be beautiful, but right now, I’m feeling a little tender. Not quite up to peaceful acceptance, much less enjoyment or enthusiasm.

The Fear Cure

It’s all very ironic, I must say. I just finished writing my next book The Fear Cure: Cultivating Courage As Medicine For The Body, Mind & Soul. The book comes out February 2015 with Hay House, and my National Public Television special about the book will air March 2015. I have to laugh because I’m literally in the fire of experiencing everything I’m writing about. It’s as if the Universe said, “You’re going to be arrogant enough to try to write a book about fear? Here! Take this!” In January of this year, I was so blocked after two years of being unable to write this book that I was ready to give my advance back and throw in the towel. But everything that has happened since January has given me the material I needed in order to allow this book to flow through me. And a big part of it has been about loss. . . .

Loss As Initiation

If we’re unconscious, loss can destroy us, but if we’re willing to wake up and let loss break us wide open, cracking the shell of the ego and liberating the spirit, loss can be an initiation. We hate to face this painful truth, but life is impermanent. Everything we cherish we will one day lose. And life most often teaches us our greatest lessons through the vehicle of loss. Loss, if we let it, can initiate us into maturing into a soul-driven life. Loss can lead to a sort of rebirth that matures us, grows the wisdom within us, and opens a door to the next phase of our growth.

In her book Broken Open, Elizabeth Lesser writes, “Adversity is a natural part of being human. It is the height of arrogance to prescribe a moral code or health regime or spiritual practice as an amulet to keep things from falling apart. Things do fall apart. It is in their nature to do so. When we try to protect ourselves from the inevitability of change, we are not listening to the soul. We are listening to our fear of life and death, our lack of faith, our smaller ego’s will to prevail. To listen to your soul is to stop fighting with life–to stop fighting when things fall apart; when they don’t go our way, when we get sick, when we are betrayed or mistreated or misunderstood. To listen to the soul is to slow down, to feel deeply, to see ourselves clearly, to surrender to discomfort and uncertainty and to wait.”

Whether the adversity we fear or have already faced is the death of a loved one, a divorce, the loss of a job, the dissolution of a romance, the loss of good health, or a financial loss, when we lose what we cherish, we have a choice. We can break down or we can break open. A breakdown in the wake of loss can lead to fear, depression, anxiety, isolation, addiction, or cynicism, make us emotionally unavailable or unable to cope. It may even lead to illness or suicide. But there’s another way to respond to loss. Loss can lead to an unexpected blossoming. Through it, we can become more of who we really are than we ever thought possible.

Blossoming In The Face Of Loss

Many of us walk around surrounded by a shell that protects us from the outside world. Whether we like it or not, loss offers the opportunity to crack the shell. Having your shell cracked in the wake of loss can feel unbearably painful; you may feel like a raw neuron, unprotected from everything that threatens to prick you, and want to put on even stronger armor. But this isn’t the only way to deal with loss. You can choose to let it break you open and leave you that way, available for living a richer, deeper life with your heart wide open.

With this perspective in mind, I am looking out at my empty garden. I am giving myself permission to feel the loss—to cry, to lean into the emotion, to seek comfort through my favorite sweatshirt, a cup of tea, the peacefulness of nature, and the soothing words of my best friend. But I am also wondering what will grow here next. What flowers will bloom? What herbs will replace my rosemary? What vegetables will flourish where my artichoke once struggled? What possibilities will fill in the holes of all my losses? If I’m willing to let go of my attachment to how I wish things could be, I can open myself to the mystery of what is aligned and what will come next, and so can you.

Will Loss Initiate You?

Are you willing to be open to the mystery and find peace with the loamy soil of possibility? Can you shift your perspective on loss so you can lean into it with an open heart and eyes open to potential? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Broken open,

lissa-signature

Previous articles by Lissa Rankin:

About the author:

lissa_rankinDr. Lissa Rankin, MD is a mind-body medicine physician, founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute training program for physicians and health care providers, and the New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself. She is on a grass roots mission to heal health care, while empowering you to heal yourself.

Lissa blogs at LissaRankin.com and also created two online communities – HealHealthCareNow.com and OwningPink.com. She is also the author of two other books, a speaker, a professional artist, an amateur ski bum, and an avid hiker. Lissa lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and daughter.

Connect with Lissa on Facebook.

 


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  • Elena Hofmann-Smith

    This article is very timely for me and several of my friends! Thank you for sharing these insights. Having given away most of my belongings, my husband and I are in the process of selling our beloved house. Facing this voluntary loss seems to have brought on demanding health issues. Maintaining a sense of joyous open-hearted expectation is a challenge, so it is wonderful that someone else is talking about this process of voluntary change and loss. When I shared this article with my friends, several found it very meaningful to them too. Choosing to change one’s life dramatically for a deep spiritual reason is rarely the topic of discussion. It is comforting to know that others want to face change with an open heart though the heart has its own ideas about all of this….as I am discovering!

  • Jen Rivers

    This is a beautiful and extremely helpful article! It was exactly what I needed to hear, right here and right now. Thank you! My deepest gratitude to you Lissa!

  • Katherine Van Fossen

    I just found this article, and I find it so accurately descriptive. I am going through a recent loss (love) and also a new beginning (career). In what reflections I can thus far manage to have, I’ve described my main negative feeling as a fear of being “naked in the world…” which your bit about cracking open summarized perfectly. As it turns out, the nakedness is going well. I find it easier to be in the present moment, and I feel more open than when I had that protective sheath around me. The world isn’t the lonesome, exclusive place I thought it would be… it’s actually a myriad of opportunities and invitations that I used to not see or simply decline. Thank you for sharing. Blessings on your book release!