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. This illustrates that, despite feeling alone, and different and insecure, we are ultimately just like everyone else.
If we look more closely, we can see that the experiences we traverse throughout our lifetimes have all been very analogous. 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. I was easily able to see that there are 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 we 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 whatever light or water is available, given the stage of development they are at at any given moment. But what we share is what we’re looking for, which is connection.
We all want to achieve a conscious sense of belonging, but to achieve it we first must develop a sense of being lost and separate. Only then can we learn to consciously return to the state of oneness that we all experienced as infants.
So how does this separating and coming together happen? 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 society’s current zeitgeist in general. Whether a person got left or did the leaving, they’re either shocked at where they are, or they just feel they’re away. Away from the bad marriage. But away where?
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 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 we too would actually find appealing.
This all leads to a period of longing. A desire to have our desirability affirmed. A need to be held, to be told we’re beautiful, to feel like we could be accepted again. How this often translates is that many men shut down and grow bitter, while traditionally, many women often feel extremely free, and that often translates as extreme sexual liberation that often leaves the ladies unfortunately defining themselves as being ‘slutty.’
Of course, a lot of guilt disappears when someone finds out that having one sexual partner for 25 years, and then 15 in two years is actually quite normal —it’s just most people don’t talk about these things in public. But any time we’re feeling needy, our radar for potential partners will start to sweep a lot wider to find someone. So it’s understandable that people prefer not want to be judged for these needier periods.
Despite that lack of attachment, once someone is sick of being bitter, or tired of a lack of consistency or attachment to temporary partners, another phase kicks in that involves reality. There are financial implications to being alone and this is when separated or divorced people usually start to realize that in a more practical and serious way.
Even if it was us that left, our problems are not over because our marriage is done. Both parties still have bills, and those are much harder to manage as one person. Likewise with child care. And now we have to fit dating and all the stuff our partner used to do for us into our schedule. Life can feel pretty overwhelming at this point, which is usually when I get a call. People feel alone and overwhelmed.
Again, this is a phase, so eventually everyone figures out how to be alone and that’s when people usually start entertaining truly healthy relationships that can build on the knowledge we’ve gleaned from previous relationships.
Life is these accordion phases. So a lot of what I do is contextualize my clients experiences relative to being human. They find real comfort in accepting where they are as being perfectly fine, no matter where that is. After that, we all go the same direction using the same awareness.
While we can feel terrible while we are torturing ourselves with thought, ultimately we are never alone. The feelings we feel have been felt by billions and billions of other people, and many have been experienced by most other animals too. These are phases of existence that are common and shared. We are never ‘wrong. ,’ But we are always ‘traversing.’ Sometimes what we’re traversing is pleasant, sometimes not. Acceptance is the key.
In the end, we don’t need to lament these phases any more than we would lament the sad or scary scenes in a good movie. They are all a part of a great story —ours. So let’s live those stories fully and deeply, feeling the highs and lows, just like in a great novel. And when we’re at our best, we will have those feelings with the least amount of second-guessing possible.
Do not lament your phases. Simply stay conscious and, as Dory said in Finding Nemo, “Just keep swimming.”
Now let’s all go and deeply live the story of today.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.