In 1969 Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote the book, On Death and Dying in which she defined the five stages of death. She was careful to point out that it was not necessarily a comprehensive list, or that it would apply to absolutely everyone, but she was—like I am—more interested in what makes us the same than the few factors that make us different.
Kubler-Ross eventually noticed that these stages applied to any powerful personal loss from a job to a relationship, and for each of us the process is much the same. Can you see how, despite the fact that you can feel alone and different and insecure, that you are ultimately just like all of us? That the experiences we traverse throughout our lifetimes have—internally to our consciousness—all been very much the same? When we recognize this fact, empathy rises. We don’t see another person’s situation from our perspective, we’re able to see it from theirs.
Of course there are similarities like this all over the place. That’s all my accident allowed me to notice—was that there was patterns in human behaviour and interaction. Humans can all seem quite messy and illogical when we view it from our ego’s perspective, but if you can detach the ego and look at it all long enough and carefully enough, it always makes logical sense. We’re all just following patterns of behaviour that are the logical results of what’s happening just like plants try to find light and water.
We all want to achieve a conscious sense of belonging and to achieve it we first must develop a sense of being lost separate, and only then can we learn to consciously return to the state of oneness that we all experienced as infants. And even if we never reach that ultimate realization through awareness and meditation, we will still achieve it shortly before death at which time you return to being what you were before you were born.
To help make the point clearly, I’ll give you another example. I’ll often have people come to me after their divorce because they’re concerned about their own behaviour, which feels erratic, variously cloying and closed off, and especially the ladies will be concerned about their sex lives. The reason this is a pattern in my practice is because it’s a pattern for all of you. Whether you got left or did the leaving, you’re either shocked at where you are or you just feel you’re away. Away from the bad marriage. But only in those cases where someone left their partner for another partner does the person know for sure that they will be accepted into another relationship. The rest of people suddenly realize that they now have to do the same things they did in high school and university—namely be attractive enough in a variety of ways to appeal to someone that you would actually find appealing.
This all leads to a period of longing. A desire to have your desirability affirmed. A need to be held, to be told we’re beautiful, to feel like we could be accepted again. How this translates is usually pretty slutty. A lot of guilt disappears when someone finds out that having one sexual partner for 25 years and then 15 in one year is actually quite normal—it’s just most people don’t talk about these things in public. At least not about all of them, because you will get pretty needy at times and your radar for partners will start to sweep a lot wider to find someone. And it’s understandable that people would not want to be judged for a “weak moment.”
After slutting around a bit, another phase kicks in that involves reality. There are financial implications to being alone and this is when people usually start to realize that, even if it was them that left, their problems are not over because their marriage is done. They still have bills, and those are even worse as one person. Likewise with child care. And now you have to fit dating and all the stuff your partner used to do for you into your schedule. Life can feel pretty overwhelming at this point, which is usually when I get a call.
Again, this is a phase, so eventually you figure out how to be alone and that’s when people usually start entertaining truly healthy relationships that build on the knowledge they gleaned from their previous relationships. I know I’ve been increasingly better at how to find a good match for me as I’ve matured and, while I wasn’t a super terrible husband, there is no doubt that every girl after my divorce got the treatment my ex-wife actually deserved had I recognized those elements of a marriage back then.
Life is phases. A lot of what I do is contextualize my clients experiences relative to being human. They find real comfort in my acceptance of where they are as perfectly fine, no matter where that is. My job doesn’t care where you start. We all go the same direction using the same awareness, so it’s really a matter of downloading your ideas about what you think is happening and instead making you aware enough that you can see what is truly happening so that you can respond to that instead of an illusion.
You are not alone. The feelings you are feeling have been felt by billions and billions of other people and probably most animals too. Don’t lament these phases any more than you would lament the sad or scary scenes in a good movie. They are all a part of a great story—yours. So live it fully and deeply and with the least amount of second-guessing possible.
Now go have yourself a wonderful day.
Following a childhood accident should have left him dead, Scott McPherson spent his life meditating on thought, consciousness, reality and the self. Seeing the emotional damage done by ego-based overthinking he began dedicating a part of his life to guiding students toward more peaceful and rewarding lives. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, Canada.