When Facing Existential Loss: 6 Tips for a Bold Life

by Tess

pic monkey love prayer

This is a guest post from Halina Goldstein.

I have spent much of my life struggling with loneliness. Eventually, it led me to an inner transformation and from there into a state of peace and contentment, alone. And then I met my soulmate. 

We both believed our marriage would last until death would us part. And death did — it has to, sooner or later. Sometimes death is physical. In this case it was not — and yet it felt like it. It was a death–like divorce. 

And so once again I found myself alone, grieving my lost happiness as much as fearing the return of loneliness. It was the fear that led me to a bold determination: I would not allow myself to suffer again; I would do whatever it took to get ahold of my life, the sooner the better.

I planned to unpack, to do stuff, to go to work, to connect with friends, to learn new things on the Internet … But life had other plans for me. 

On the very first day of this new, unwanted life alone I got sick with a high fever and was coughing, choking and tired beyond description. Unpacking was not an option, and neither was talking. I called my friends anyhow, but by some strange magic no one would answer. I turned on the TV just to keep my mind occupied, but there was no signal. Same thing with the computer. No matter what I tried, nothing worked. There was no escape.

I felt like a castaway. And yet it was exactly this state of utter isolation that helped me heal and find my way back to joy. That’s why I want to share this experience with you.

The thing is that whether we are being kicked out of our sense of belonging and safety overnight or over years, by physical death or by other forms of separation, our reaction is the same: 

We respond with fear 

Now, in many situations, fear is an amazingly helpful state. It triggers our survival instinct. It helps us deal with a potentially dangerous situation and prevents us from losing our life. 

When we’re struck by a personal loss, the resulting fear and stress help us take care of the most necessary practical and physical arrangements and create some sort of basic existence. 

But what about emotional survival? 

How are you supposed to handle that? Be bold? “Feel the fear and do it anyway?” 

In most cases, that’s a great approach. But then, what can you do about the fact that who you experienced as the love of your life is gone? You can do nothing. 

But you can still be bold. Just not the usual kind of bold.

An existential loss calls for a different kind of boldness 

Let me explain: 

Figuratively speaking, when life made me an emotional castaway, rather than letting me play a heroine and move on with my life as fast as possible, it took me to a sort of inner Avalon. 

According to medieval legends, Avalon was a mythical, magical island to which the fatally wounded King Arthur was carried to recover from his injuries. Avalon was reigned by , a powerful sorceress and healer. 

So what this wise, old legend tells us is that when a hero (male or female) is wounded, further heroism is of no use. Instead, the hero must withdraw and take all the time necessary to heal. 

Obviously, you cannot withdraw from life forever. And you don’t have to. But you can and have to create your Avalon, your place of healing, rest and transformation.  

What does it mean in more practical terms, then? 

How do you create your inner Avalon? 

Avalon is all about allowing (as opposed to resisting, which is where most pain comes from). 

  • Allow yourself to withdraw. Take time to just be, see and feel what emerges. 

  • Allow yourself to grieve in whatever way is right for you. Some people (including some family members, friends and colleagues) might react to your grief with fear and will therefore urge you to move on with your life. But rushing it is not going to help. Allow grief to work and heal you in its own way and time.

  • Allow yourself to receive the rest and the nourishment that you need: physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

  • Allow yourself to live. Breathe. Move. Be yourself.

  • Allow yourself to enjoy the signs of life within you and around you. Feel the gentle touch of wind on your face. Watch children play in the park nearby. See how nature is changing all the time.

  • Allow yourself to see love. The universal kind of love is always there. It can never die, and it is here for you. Learn to see it. 

“Only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow, but this same necessity of loving serves to counteract their grief and heals them.” Leo Tolstoy

About Halina Goldstein

Halina Goldstein is a mentor, teacher and writer supporting widows around the world on their way from grief to growth and joy. Halina’s gift for readers of The Bold Life is the Guide to Peaceful Evenings, with three concrete ways to create your inner Avalon.  

     

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    { 16 comments… read them below or add one }

    Sandra Pawula June 16, 2013 at 10:12 am

    This is such a moving story, Halina. I love how you used Avalon as a metaphor for recentering and nourishing ourselves after a crisis. I agree with you completely! Force doesn’t always work. We have to find the right way to respond to ourselves and that in itself is bold.
    Sandra Pawula´s last post…How to Deconstruct Pesky Thought Patterns and Wacky Emotional Habits

    Reply

    Halina Goldstein June 16, 2013 at 10:53 pm

    Thank you Sandra!

    As a matter of fact, the Avalon metaphor came completely out of the blue, and it was interesting for me too to follow that guidance. In my experience, following one’s intuition is the best way to find the right way – and yes, many times that in itself requires one to be bold and challenge one’s own fears.

    Warm greetings

    Halina

    Reply

    Software Shop June 16, 2013 at 4:38 pm

    You should never use force. When you force something it usually breaks.

    Reply

    Halina Goldstein June 16, 2013 at 11:01 pm

    That probably goes for hardware more often than for software… :-)

    Seriously, although sometimes force is required (and life-saving), your remark reminded me of this quote by Ping Fu:

    “Bamboo is flexible, bending with the wind but never breaking, capable of adapting to any circumstance. It suggests resilience, meaning that we have the ability to bounce back even from the most difficult times. . . . Your ability to thrive depends, in the end, on your attitude to your life circumstances. .”

    Kindly,

    Halina

    Reply

    Software Shop June 17, 2013 at 9:00 am

    Well said Helina, I completely agree with you. I like the Bamboo quote, excellent example.

    Reply

    Halina Goldstein June 17, 2013 at 10:55 am

    Glad to hear that – thank you.

    Reply

    Sebastian Aiden Daniels June 17, 2013 at 3:53 pm

    I like that you suggest to take time to heal from wounds after something happens. I know I use to think I had to be healed right away or something was wrong with me after something happened. I realize now that isn’t the case. I enjoyed reading the post.
    Sebastian Aiden Daniels´s last post…Don’t Take Yourself So Serious

    Reply

    Sue | London Life Coach June 17, 2013 at 11:03 pm

    Hearing about inner Avalon is very interesting. Thanks for sharing Halina. Nothing is permanent in this life. But this reality can be very difficult to accept when we lose someone or something that we dear the most. But no what Halina said, stop resisting. Go with the flow and move on.

    Reply

    Halina Goldstein June 17, 2013 at 11:14 pm

    Thank you Sue and I agree totally!

    It doesn’t make it any easier that our culture does not teach us how to deal with and embrace loss and impermanence. We may know about it intellectually, but few people in a partnership actively prepare for it (except financially perhaps). And that’s just the way it is… So yes, going with the flow of it, including when the flow takes you to some very difficult places is the way to go. Eventually, that same flow brings you back to life, and the love within.

    All the best,

    Halina

    Reply

    Halina Goldstein June 17, 2013 at 11:07 pm

    Thank you for sharing this, Sebastian. And you know, it’s not just you. It’s fairly common, and even more so in the personal development community. We tend to forget that self-love comes before self-improvement, and that even if there are exceptions, most healing does require time, like all life does… :-)

    Warm greetings -

    Halina

    Reply

    Fran Sorin June 18, 2013 at 12:13 am

    Halina -

    This is the best post I have ever read on how to deal with an existential death…and how to heal.
    You are an incredible wordsmith. But it is your message that strikes an authentic chord. As you and I have discussed, divorce is a kind of death. Unlike physical death, our society doesn’t talk about emotional/physical healing. Rather the focus is on ‘how to get out there again’ – financially, socially, work wise- and of course, to begin dating ASAP.

    When I went through my divorce, without consciously knowing it, I mourned. I felt like a failure, I was ashamed – plus a host of other less than positive feelings. I couldn’t acknowledge my sadness and although I put up a good front, I was hurting on the inside….

    Your suggestions will offer individuals affirmation on doing what their instincts may be telling them what they need.

    Tess Marshall- thank you for hosting Halina – she is a gem! With gratitude-Fran
    Fran Sorin´s last post…How Learning To Listen Can Make You More Productive and Connected

    Reply

    Halina Goldstein June 18, 2013 at 1:32 am

    Thank you dear Fran for those kind words… – and for sharing your story with us. You’re an inspiring example of where the healing journey can take us eventually!

    Just like there are significant similarities there are also significant differences between divorce and widowhood, I want to acknowledge that too. And yet, as I see it reflected in countless personal stories, the essential healing process, the journey back to life and the potential offered are parallel.

    And exactly as you say, Fran: What we all can do for each other is suggest and support. The ultimate guidance comes from within.

    Warmly,

    Halina

    Reply

    Marty Tousley (@GriefHealing) June 18, 2013 at 6:34 am

    Terrific post, Halina! I’ve placed a link to your piece at the base of my own article on a similar topic: Transition after Loss: Tips for Navigating the Neutral Zone, http://www.griefhealingblog.com/2013/05/transition-after-loss-tips-for.html
    Marty Tousley (@GriefHealing)´s last post…Voices of Experience: Learning To Be Happy Again

    Reply

    Halina Goldstein June 18, 2013 at 7:09 am

    Thank you so much Marty – I so appreciate your feedback, your support and everything you do!

    Warmly,

    Halina

    Reply

    Anne-Sophie June 18, 2013 at 7:48 pm

    What a cool concept, Tess. I’ve never thought about stepping into my inner Avalon, but I know I’ll remember this should I ever need more help from within.
    Anne-Sophie´s last post…When Life Gets in the Way

    Reply

    Halina Goldstein June 18, 2013 at 10:47 pm

    Hi Anne-Sophie, great to see you here and I’m glad you like the concept.

    Your remark makes me think that Inner Avalon can also serve as a metaphor for daily renewal, not just in times of crisis… don’t you find?

    Warm greetings,

    Halina (author)

    PS: Thanks again Tess for inviting me – you have a great audience here!

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