I haven’t updated my blog in a while. Not because there was nothing to blog about but because there was so much happening, I simply couldn’t muster the energy to put myself out here. I also felt I shouldn’t share too many details of my career transition, out of loyalty to my current employer. Suffice to say for the moment that I have started doing what needs to be done. In the meantime I’d like to linger on a topic that has moved me for some time and today is an especially good day to write about it: why people come and go.
A very thoughtful poem has been written about it by an unknown author. It’s actually one of my all-time favorites:
People come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime. When you figure out which one it is, you will know what to do for each person…
When someone is in your life for a REASON, it is usually to meet a need you have expressed. They have come to assist you through a difficulty; to provide you with guidance and support; to aid you physically, emotionally or spiritually. They may seem like a godsend, and they are. They are there for the reason you need them to be.
Then, without any wrongdoing on your part or at an inconvenient time, this person will say or do something to bring the relationship to an end. Sometimes they die. Sometimes they walk away. Sometimes they act up and force you to take a stand. What we must realize is that our need has been met, our desire fulfilled; their work is done. The prayer you sent up has been answered and now it is time to move on.
Some people come into your life for a SEASON, because your turn has come to share, grow or learn. They bring you an experience of peace or make you laugh. They may teach you something you have never done. They usually give you an unbelievable amount of joy. Believe it. It is real. But only for a season.
LIFETIME relationships teach you lifetime lessons; things you must build upon in order to have a solid emotional foundation. Your job is to accept the lesson, love the person, and put what you have learned to use in all other relationships and areas of your life. It is said that love is blind but friendship is clairvoyant.
Admittedly, it might seem a bit spiritually lovey-dovey. But I take a lot from it. It helps me make sense of why people come and go. Sometimes it’s people coming into my own life, and leaving. And sometimes it’s me showing up in someone else’s life and me being the one to leave. What I feel is missing a bit in this poem, though, is a clearer reflection of the pain that those encounters can cause. It’s only carefully hidden in the allusion to the lessons that need to be learned.
Sometimes people who come into our life are a true blessing. We recognize that straight away and treasure them and would like them to stay around longer, if not forever. Parents who love us, friends who understand us, colleagues who become friends, lovers we feel we joyful and happy with.
At other times people come into our life and they don’t feel quite as much like a gift from heaven. They can take the shape of a parent or someone else mistreating us when we are children and in dire need of protection, friends who gossip about us, lovers who cheat on us, burglars who steal from us, drunk drivers who crash into our car, bosses who treat us unfairly, or just co-workers we feel uneasy around.
It’s a bold statement but I think both groups of people are equally valuable. In both cases there is an opportunity for growth involved, the invitation to learn a small or a big life lesson. And, unfortunately, pain. The currency of the learning experience called life.
The first group of people, I’d call them ‘blessings’, cause pain by leaving. They make us feel the pain of losing someone that we loved or felt attracted to and that made us feel good. The second group of people, I’d call them ‘blessings in disguise’, are people who hurt us or who get under our skin, no matter if they do so willfully or because they just don’t know any better. In either case, we’d rather not have that painful, unpleasant, or disturbing experience. We’d rather be comfy and happy.
There is a learning opportunity, a healing opportunity actually, hidden in both kinds of encounters.
In the first scenario I suspect we mourn the loss of that person just as much as the loss of what they contributed to our life: Love, wisdom, friendship, safety, comfort, creativity, humor, loyalty, honesty, truthfulness, authenticity, courage, insight. Whatever it was, by them leaving we’re thrown back onto ourselves and left with a painfully empty space within us, a space that was previously filled with whatever we needed to feel whole and safe and at peace.
In the second scenario we are confronted with more direct discomfort or even pain, inflicted by people who make the hair on the back of our neck stand up, or who leave scars on our skin, heart or soul – and make us wanting to hide, flee, or seek shelter. We are trying to avoid the discomfort and the pain.
Both scenarios remind me of a book I’m currently reading and that I have written about before: Debbie Ford’s Dark Side of the Light Chasers. Debbie writes about the shadow as well as the light attributes that are part of each and every one of us.
Shadow attributes, she says, are the parts of ourselves that we have come to dislike and reject because at some time in our life we “learned” it was not good, unhelpful or undesirable to have them. That’s the moment we started to reject this attribute within us, despite the fact that we have it. And after doing so long enough we tend to forget it’s even there. We disown it. Which is when we start projecting it onto others, disliking or hating it on the outside of us, thereby keeping up the illusion of not having anything to do with it. But we do and we can’t escape this fact forever.
Light attributes are the shiny equivalent of shadow attributes and we also tend to recognize them in others without recognizing them as parts of ourselves. We have also disowned them at some point in our life, when we “learned” (for example by being told repeatedly) that we are not great, not talented, not courageous, not smart, not beautiful, or … (fill in the blanks). Only others were.
Our light attributes are then reflected in the sort of people we chose to be our hero, often famous personalities: talented music stars, courageous freedom fighters, smart scientists, creative artists, beautiful models, enlightened spiritual guides. Or on a smaller scale it’s the people we look up to in our daily life: family members, friends, colleagues, mentors, lovers.
Both, the shadow and the light attributes, are a part of us. Because if they weren’t, if not at least a trace of them was already in us and slightly familiar to us, how could we recognize them in others?
So coming back to the poem, the people we meet, the pleasant and unpleasant encounters, are both pointers towards disowned parts of ourselves. Parts we need to integrate. Either by accepting the uncomfortable truth that we, too, can at times be hurtful, harsh, uncaring, disrespectful, stupid, irresponsible, controlling, annoying, ugly, weak, addicted, a smart-ass, … (fill in the blanks). Or by accepting the unbelievable truth that we, too, are great, talented, beautiful, smart, gifted, caring, courageous, worth loving, inspiring, … (fill in the blanks).
In both cases we are simply not aware of it. Yet.
As Debbie Ford states, and I slowly start getting my head around this, it’s only when we reintegrate both aspects, the “bad” attributes that seemingly only others have, and the “good” attributes that seemingly only others have, can we heal and become whole and healthy and truly be happy again.
How do we learn that? By not letting the learning opportunities that present themselves slip by. By looking at the people we find hard to deal with and asking ourselves what it is about them that makes us so uncomfortable. And by looking at the people we love or admire and asking ourselves what it is about them that so strongly attracts us. The stronger our urge to flee from someone, or the stronger the love and admiration we feel for someone, the closer the look we should take.
Because if we don’t, the same kind of learning opportunity will keep showing up. Over and over again. An eternal, never tiring loop of that same old experience. Until we finally get it. Until we finally see it. Until we heed the call, take a closer look and follow the invitation to integrate those attributes and discover and embrace and love ourselves for all that we really are: the beautiful and the ugly, the caring and the inconsiderate, the generous and tight-ass, the trustful and the jealous, the courageous and the fearful, the gifted and the sucking, the free spirit and the control freak, the strong and the weak, the playful and the rigid… (fill in the blanks). In short: the glorious mess that makes us human.
Oh yes, and brace yourself for the pain. It’s an unavoidable part of the process. But it’s so worth it. At least according to Joseph Campbell, an American mythologist, writer and lecturer whom I’ve recently stumbled upon. He’s developed the concept of the hero’s journey in which he outlines the stages of spiritual growth by courageously facing that which we’d instinctively prefer to ignore because it seems easier and safer.
According to Joseph Campbell, we can all be a hero – the hero of our own life. If only we follow the invitation to “adventure”. For example by heeding the call of the people we meet, for whatever reason they come into our life and for however long they stay.
I’ve only just started grasping all those intricate miraculous and wondrous dynamics. And I’m only at the beginning of my journey, actually no, maybe I’ve just crossed crisis point, of one of the cycles. (Can we go through multiple cycles at once? Sure feels that way at the moment…).
In any case, I’ve met some amazing people, and I owe them a lot. And the measure of my gratitude is not how long they stayed or how long I stayed, but how much I have learned from them. And I’ve learned a lot. So much. Still do.
And talking of shadows, I have to admit here that, very often, the smart-ass in me starts off flattering herself by thinking that I’m the one they can learn from. When, in fact, it’s my turn to learn from them. So thank you. Very much so.
And please take very good care of yourself, too. I feel with you when you go through your own trials. I am happy for you when you manage to slay your dragons. And I hum with you when you find and collect your treasure and bring it home. And I send you a smile.
You know who you are.