What does 'the end' bring up for you? Fear? Relief? Expectation? Resignation?
Most of us have our preferences for certain phases of the circle of life (cue Lion King music). Some of us lust for beginnings, the excitement of a vast horizon, the promise of something new. We relish bursting forth. Others of us are drawn to the middle where we can nurture, develop, hone, and maintain that which already exists. We appreciate the hum of the well–oiled system. Then there are those of us who crave completion—bringing in the harvest, running the last leg of the race and crossing the finish line. We revel in the pride/acknowledgement/
relief of the final ta-da.
The United States is a country big on beginnings. Founded in revolution with wide open spaces, it has long been the place where people from old countries come to find fresh starts. Also good at middles, the U.S. developed industries that pulse with productivity and civic institutions to foster a thriving middle class. But when it comes to endings, Americans have less of an appetite, distancing ourselves from any possible whiff of defeat, decay, and dare we say it, death.
Here's an old Scottish folktale that offers a useful reframing of mortality.
A young boy wakes to find his mother dying. Walking on the beach the boy meets Old Man Death headed for his home. Not wanting to lose his mother, the boy conspires to get death into a nutshell and then throws it into the sea. (Who knew death was so easily corralled—the genius of youth!) Returning home, the boy finds his mother alive and well. But he and his mother soon discover the broader consequences of his deed. They cannot break chicken eggs, nor light a fire, and no one in their village can butcher a cow or pull vegetables from the soil. Life becomes impossible without death. The boy confesses his act to his mother who convinces him to retrieve death so that life can go on. Upon releasing death from the nutshell, the boy's mother dies, and the villagers gather to grieve and celebrate her life.
The desire to cheat death by ignoring or preempting it can be tempting, but as the folktale points out, we do this at our own peril. The fact is that things end all the time, for better and worse, with or without our sanction. So for those of us less adept at the third act, here's a quick primer for better endings:
~ Accept that endings are natural and good in their way. Without endings we would not have the energy or space we need for beginnings. Endings are not necessarily a sign of failure, but reflect completion and maturity as well (imagine that!).
~ Find ways to honor endings, and celebrate them where appropriate. This helps with integrating this phase into our lives. Taking time to remember what has happened and to say "thank you" for the gifts received is a rewarding step before moving on. Whether we find ways to tie a bow on it, or to let it go (whatever it is), creating moments and rituals for completion are useful markers in the grand scheme of things.
~ Feel the grief; it's normal and not a signal that something is wrong. Grieving is the emotional processing of loss, even for small things like misplacing our keys, or big and less tangible events like letting go of a part of our identity. Each of us experiences grief in our own way, and grief doesn't have a schedule. It does get more familiar, and in that way easier, with practice. The most important thing is to feel grief, and not to try to sidestep or stuff it.
Endings can be particularly poignant times bringing with them a deepening of perception and more meaning into our lives. Blues are bluer, the sounds of songbirds sweeter, the gesture of another more moving. Realizing we are at the end—the last tomato from the garden, the final page of a great book—we feel the lusciousness of life all the more profoundly.
Learning to embrace the whole of the cycle—beginnings, middles, and endings—is ultimately the most enriching. While we may have personal predilections for different phases, the reality is that one stage is always the prelude for the next. In other words, the end is just the beginning.
List three things that have ended or are ending for you recently. If you acknowledged the end is some way, how did you do it? If not, why not?
Pick something that is ending for you. If you wish to honor what you received from it, pick an object or image to represent it. Stand in front of it and make a slow deep bow while feeling your appreciation. Try this several times. What does bowing do for you?
Alternatively if you prefer to let go of something that is ending, write about it on a small piece of paper and find a safe way to burn it. What does burning it do for you?
What other gestures help you experience the end?
Beth and Eric
This monthly slow essay is from Beth Meredith & Eric Storm of Create The Good Life.
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