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Elan Vitae


  • Ann Wilkie Arens


There it was, I could feel it, the thick scratchy wool and circular shape. As I pulled the little black record with the red center and silver ribbon out of the ornament box, I took a moment to look at it and reminisce as it laid in my hand. It was one of my families’ favorite Christmas tree ornaments. My sister had gifted it to my daughter as a tribute to the record year where she, and, my whole family, had met deep sadness and still continued to thrive. My daughter loves country music and it was an ode to Eric Church’s song, “Record Year.” The song’s lyrics, “One bourbon, one scotch, one beer, having a record year,” in a curious way mirrored the sequence of our life events that came in short order, two deaths of very close family members and a divorce that recreated how our family was structured. This small ornament summed up one year’s life passage that was filled with heavy loss, grief, and change, but also brought with it laughs, insights, and deep learning.

When life changes, we need to shift and adapt whether it was our choice or not. Each of us will go through these adjustments, it is what life is about. Currently, our world is feeling this wave of realignment as we walk out of the pandemic juggling the negative and positive changes that it has brought. During these times, we will each run into small disruptions that we can easily manage as we move forward. Then, there are the large upheavals that suck out every ounce of energy from our bodies. The question is, how do we maneuver through these transitions and events to find new beginnings that are stable and fulfilling once again? These are a few insights and skills that I have found invaluable while navigating these transformative times.

Positive Support Networks. Having one person or a reliable and encouraging tribe who are there to listen and raise you up is infinitely important. Building that community of support is critical as you move through life’s challenges. Research is brimming with studies that show the far-reaching, positive effects that these special people can provide in moving through and to new places in your life. The Reverend Dr. Jacqui Lewis articulates this evolution of presence and care so beautifully in a passage from her book Fierce Love: A Bold Path to Ferocious Courage and Rule-Breaking Kindness That Can Heal the World, “Right where you are, in the hurt and sorrow, that’s right where the insight is, that’s where the answer is, that’s where the wisdom is. The transformation is there, the rebirth is there. And you’re not alone. Your friend, your lover, your family, your helper—someone from your posse will midwife it with you. The healing will come, and you will emerge, shaped in the merciful womb of the fiercest love. The pain of birth is excruciating. But someone who loves you knows how to reach in and grab you and hold on to you until you make it through. You’ll emerge lighter, less encumbered, ready for new stories, transformed by old ones.”

Perspective. When life takes an unexpected turn, it is our innate human nature to look at the negative, however, there is always much more taking place. The Chinese Yin-Yang Theory is an insightful illustration of how the adversities and joys of our lives can highlight and transform into each other. The theory describes how the yin and the yang create each other and the transition within them is constant and continuous. The yin of night, introspection, and stillness is a part of life’s yang of daytime, achieving, and creating. This theory helps me remember we are never stuck in the negative or the positive, it is always a continuous cycle that encourages us to grow.

Letting Go. When transition hits, the balance of knowing what to hold on to in life and what to let go can be difficult to navigate. The feelings of uncertainty and confusion may arise and with it the desire to be safe and to hold on to everything that is in our control. The act of letting go, which seems like an easy practice, can be much more difficult. In my yoga teacher training, I first learned of aparigraha, the fifth yama or life restraint, in the Eight Limbs of Yoga. It is the act of non-attachment and non-possessiveness. It made me notice what I was tightly grasping and acknowledge if it was still useful in my life. If it wasn’t, then it became obvious it was time to let it go. This release will add space for new ideas and relationships to take root and grow. It is no easy task, but when you can let go the feeling of lightening as you move forward is immense.

Boundaries. Setting boundaries when life is bubbling is not for the faint of heart. Your body and mind are in a constant state of stress and at times it can be difficult to articulate what you need when you are overwhelmed. Noticing situations that set off the stress response within can be a red flag that a boundary is being crossed. Brene Brown in her book, Daring Greatly, explains boundaries as, “having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others.” Having the strength to set the boundaries in times of change is a skill that will reap big and healthy rewards.

Each of us will have a record year, or two, as we journey through life. This daily pledge by Lori Hetteen makes me nod and smile as it acknowledges the realism of adding honesty and the above practices into the sparkle and difficulty of our everyday lives. “Daily Pledge: I will not suck the mystery out of this miraculous and magical world with my demand to know and understand everything. I will have faith. I will rest in the fact that something much bigger than me is holding this beautiful crap show together and in the end, love wins. Sleep. Repeat.”


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