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Daily Archives: September 1, 2019

Navigating Big Life Changes with a little bit of help

When my dad died at 89 after living a blessed life, I couldn’t do math or read anything longer than a paragraph for three months. After giving birth to each of our sons, I shut out the news world because the stories of violence and pain punctured my full-heart.  Since we moved abroad almost two months ago, I struggle with focus and keeping track of details.

Parents passing, babies arriving, and moving to a new country are all major life events. And, no matter what the reason for the change, we are usually in for an unexpected ride. I have learned over the years, to go with the flow and be patient with myself during big transitions. I’ve also learned not to hold shame for memories that aren’t particularly happy or prideful. 

After my dad died, paying for groceries became a challenge.My mind would go blank when confronted with simple addition and subtraction. I would push bills and coins across the counter at the local Trader Joe’s and ask plainly, “Is this enough?” At first, it was so frustrating and then, I decided to stop being so surprised and indignant about my newfound inability. The mantra in my head slowly switched from, “What’s wrong with me?” to, “I need a little bit of help.” 

When our first son was born, I switched pediatricians because the office was in an area of Oakland that painfully reminded me that we, as a society, have left many humans behind. For years to come, I held confused feelings about my inability to face humanity compounded by the privilege of switching pediatricians. I learned later, I needed a little bit of help and it came in the form of me controlling some of my environments during those infant years.

Yes, time heals and has shed light on major changes in my life. But, my perspective has also been informed by a framework. I use the Enneagram for my continued personal development and in my coaching practice. One of the core principles of the Enneagram is that humans have three centers of intelligence: head, heart, and body.  Most of us are familiar with ideas like, my head wanted one thing and my heart another, but my gut said to do this.  For those of us in the Western world, we likely lean on the head (mind) as the ultimate source of knowledge and the location of our sense of “knowing”. But, the body and heart have equal importance and value. 

In the Enneagram system, each one of us is more familiar with one center than others. For example, I’m a body person. I am comfortable with instant action and trusting my gut. It’s my superpower; until — it’s not. I use my heart least, and in times of stress, overuse my head. With practice and work, I’ve become more skilled in using all three centers. When we operate in one (or two) centers constantly, we are more than likely fulfilling some egoic image or structure we have built versus consciously choosing what’s right for us. In short, the centers of intelligence help us break through limiting patterns and access more of ourselves.

In the case of a major change, the centers of intelligence often yield to one another or become dominant or subordinate. Like burners on a stove — one center is hot while the other two can remain cold or warm. No need to touch any dials or knobs; the centers know when to show up – if we listen.  I like to think of them as automatic pilots helping us to navigate the change. 

When my dad died, the center of intelligence I needed most was my heart. The emotions I faced were big, deep and complex. I felt the sorrow of losing a person I loved so dearly and joy for what his passing meant to him as a man of deep faith. I was also receiving all the love and emotions others felt for him as well as witnessing the pain of my siblings and mom. 

I didn’t need my brain during the days and weeks following my dad’s death. Nor did I need it for the ensuing mourning period. I didn’t need math; I needed to feel. My heart was there to intelligently help me connect to my feelings, emotions, and memories. And, as the weeks passed, my heart helped me navigate my new life without my Dad.

When our sons were born, my heart was split wide open. It was true for me, as it is for many parents, that I have never felt a greater love. It was bliss and wonderment so big I thought my heart would burst. Once again, I needed to be in my heart. I didn’t need to think anything through. Pay bills or stay updated on the US War with Iraq. I needed to experience this once in a lifetime love and let it nurture the connection with my babies. If I thought about everything that needed to be done or was exposed to the hard truth that the outside world is often harsh and cruel, it would have taken me away from the bonding and profound connection with our sons. When a heart is bursting with love, even the the smallest of slights can feel incredibly painful. I remember telling a friend, “it’s puppies and rainbows for me for awhile.That’s about all I can handle.”

Now, I’ve moved almost 6,000 miles away. New continent, new country, new language. I struggle with details and follow-through. It may be that I have exhausted one center of intelligence and another one is picking up all the slack.  I’m not sure yet, but let me try to explain. There were so many complex mental logistics leading up to the move that my head center was large and in charge for months. I was like a master project-manager: ticking boxes and shredding to-do lists in my wake.

Now, that we have moved, I find myself using my body (where my intuition resides). I simply don’t understand a lot of the information presented to me. Some due to the language barrier or cultural awareness of why things are done a certain way.  So, I rely on my gut. When our boys asked to go into the city to ride scooters with some of the neighborhood kids, I had to use my intuition. Kids here are much more independent and being new, I don’t know any of their parents. So, I just listened to what my body told me. And, off they went (and safely returned!).

I do think that big changes are exhausting and it’s possible that we are so tired, that our brains shut down. Yet, there are many examples of big changes in my life where my head center was dominant – especially in my career. 

I know from experience that we can override our centers of intelligence through sheer force of will or denial. We can force one of the burners to stay off when it really should be on high. When we do this, we are stuck in an egoist pattern that impedes us from accessing our whole self.  I also know from experience that when I see others hijacking this natural change process, they just need a little help. 

With love, light and a little help,

Ellen 

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