The Suddenlies That Change Your Life
I have often led workshops for people who want to learn techniques for gaining insights and momentum that will help them transform their lives in some way. Some hope to adopt new health habits and experience better health as a result. Others seek new ways of looking at themselves and their potential to change the stories about who they are, what their strengths are, and what they can expect to experience in the future. Some signed up for the workshop because they wanted to experience a connection to something larger than themselves and live a more spiritual life of greater service to the world. At the end of our work together, I will typically ask everyone in the workshop to gather around in a circle as I start a story I want them to add to. I begin by saying, “Once upon a time, a group of people came together…” Then I pass to the person on my left the rattle I’m holding—a shamanic tool I use to help them get into a more relaxed state of mind than they would be otherwise. I ask them to add to the story before passing the rattle onto the next person in our circle, who should then continue the story.
The rattle and the story make their way around the circle, with each participant adding something. When the rattle makes its way back to me, instead of saying something like, “And so it was,” or “And this concludes the workshop,” or even, “And they all lived happily ever after,” I say, “And then suddenly…”
That startles them.
I explain that I’ve done this because regardless of how much we plan and analyze and take action to make our stories about what we want to happen come to life, there will always be unexpected “suddenlies.” These are the “plot twists” in our stories that swiftly and dramatically change the road we are on.
And they offer opportunities.
You, like many people, may have suddenly faced changes you never anticipated.
If so, it’s your turn to decide what your story will be now.
How will you respond to this new moment?
You didn’t ask to have your life disrupted, to have your movements restricted and choices you took for granted suddenly gone, but here you are. Now what?
What will you do in response?
You might begin to worry about the future, anticipating all that might happen tomorrow and in the weeks and months to come.
You might distract yourself with entertainment.
And you might choose to make the most of this opportunity for self-reflection and take stock.
Where have you been up until now? Are you satisfied with the choices you made that brought you to this moment?
If you regret some of your decisions, have you at least learned from those experiences? Are you wiser now than you were back then?
What will you do differently now and in the future as a result of what you’ve learned?
As you reflect on your story and experiences up until this moment, you might want to look more closely at what lessons your experiences offer, even perhaps writing about them—the story of you on your path to where you are today.
You might want to think about where you want to go in the future. If it’s hard to imagine what your life will be like given all the uncertainty that surrounds you, free yourself to dream a more daring dream, one in which plenty of resources and opportunities are available to you. Maybe you can’t imagine what they are—you can’t see their form. Imagine them anyway. What would you want to spend your time doing if there were nothing to hold you back from living the life you would want to live? Would you spend more time with people you care about? Seek out new friends? Learn about different ways people interact with the world? You might want to look more closely at how you tend to interact with people and whether you want to make some changes.
In the future, would you want to exercise more, or change anything about your relationship to your physical health, being more aware of your eating and sleeping habits, for example?
What about making changes to your emotional health and your habits around expressing anger, or sadness, or vulnerability?
As you spend more time indoors, and as spring brings forth changes outdoors—trees budding, grass turning green—think about your relationship with nature. Has it been rare for you to spend time in nature, paying attention to what you’re seeing, hearing, and sensing? If you have done it, how does it make you feel? Would you like to spend more time in nature and even perhaps have a different relationship with it? I believe that when you observe nature, it observes you.
And spending time in nature has taught me that nature has many messages for us. Have you ever gotten an insight into your life simply by spending some time in natural surroundings, or interacting with a pet, or watching clouds in the sky at sunrise or sunset? Could this spring be a time of renewal for you?
This moment can be a pause that is worrisome or boring, or it can be a pause that refreshes, to quote the old advertising slogan. You can reboot some area of your life. When you do, you are likely to find some other area changes, too, because the chapters of our lives are all interconnected—health, emotional well-being, relationships, job or career, service to the community, and so on.
One thing I have not just learned but experienced again and again is that this too shall pass. When it does, do you want to approach your life differently as it relates to how you spend your time? How you approach learning and growth? How you approach friendships and relationships with those you care about?
For example, how about having a “talk buddy” that you can think out loud with, someone who can offer you a different perspective?
Would you want to become a better listener? You could practice listening to someone without simultaneously figuring out what you want to say once they stop talking. Try listening to someone as they talk without trying to come up with solutions to “fix” them and their problems (if that’s what they’re talking about). Try listening to someone without anticipating your chance to one-up them, to compete with them by saying something funnier or more clever. Becoming a better listener might help you with your goals as you work with others. Think about a time when someone listened with full attentiveness to you. How did it make you feel? Did it help you in some way? Could having a talk buddy help you and this other person to do better listening and make positive changes in your life? Could it help you work through some of your feelings and better express them? If so, how could that benefit you?
Looking back on my life, I can see how pursuits I thought of as unimportant when I was younger turned out to have far greater value than I realized. As you deal with a “suddenly” that has disrupted your life, why not take the opportunity to think about what you have yet to learn and master? You could begin that learning and mastery by reflecting on your story up to this point. You could also start imagining a future in which you make more conscious choices about what you want to experience and how you will respond to the “suddenlies” that show up and then, like all things, pass away.
My hope for you is that your story will be one that you, the storyteller, have had a major role in shaping.
A version of this article appeared in Spirituality & Health.