You wake each day in a beautiful home with hallways that echo pitter-patter of children’s feet running joyfully to find you in the garden, fingers in soil, planting what will soon be, organic sun-kissed strawberries to blend in smoothies, bring smiles to sweet faces, put springs in eager steps, and infuse nutrition into zealous bodies.
Or, as sunlight streams over the bow of a ferry that moves speedily towards the city teaming with like-minded innovators who defy critics, doggedly pursue greatness, make sensible plans, and take bold action, you design innovations that will revolutionize humanity, lead to a nine figure buy-out, and land you on a sun soaked white sand beach pondering your next great invention.
That was yesterday, before your spouse delivered a decisive blow to end your marriage, dissolve your partnership, divide your assets, become an “equally” present parent, push you towards a soul-sucking career, kill your entrepreneurial spirit, and douse your dreams – or – is it, can it be, tomorrow and the next best chapter of your life?
What beckons is the creative power of the unknown. Ralph Blum
In the midst of a divorce, when it feels like the ground under your feet has crumbled to rubble and the landscape is unrecognizable, the wisdom of Ralph Blum may feel a little precious—pie in the sky, unrealistic, maybe even dangerously irresponsible. But consider this: certainly, when the divorce earthquake hits, the first order of business is to climb out of the ruins and get to safety. But what happens next?
Most of us do not wish to commit to a post-apocalyptic subsistence looking for unexpired canned goods and temporary shelter. We want to rebuild our lives. And this is the perfect opportunity to be the architect of this new world, the master planner who decides what beautiful construction rises in place of the wreckage. In other words, now is a perfect time—the smart time—to start dreaming.
Karen Covy on HuffPost has this to say about writing a happy ending to your divorce:
See your divorce as a failure? Revise your story so that from that failure you rise up to create a better life than you ever dreamed. The facts in all of these situations are the same. But the interpretation of those facts, the “story” you tell, has changed. Do that, and your experience changes too.
A Chapter From My Story
Over the last thirty years, I’ve been engaged, married, divorced, and cohabited. I’ve fallen in love and had my heart broken. In love and engaged, my fiancé and I jumped in with both feet at the height of the real estate market and bought a $1.167 million fixer-upper in Mill Valley, California. I sold my Pacific Heights, San Francisco apartment and used the equity to make essential, but almost invisible improvements to the house. When our relationship ended in the spring of 2008 –months before the economic recession– my fiancé and I agreed I would keep the house and eventually refinance the mortgage. Initially, my decision made sense.
As a successful family law attorney in the Bay area earning multiple six figures, I could pay the mortgage and carrying costs plus my business and personal expenses. But as we all know, in September 2008 the economy tanked, and by 2010, even divorce lawyers suffered as couples chose to remain married because they couldn’t afford to separate and establish two households.
Ever the optimist and being the daughter of resourceful real estate investors, I knew the real estate market would rebound, so I remodeled the downstairs and rented it to a friend. But the economy sputtered along, and I grew weary. So in the winter of 2010, I made a choice to sell the property even though it meant my former fiancé and I would lose in spades.
The pain I felt was unprecedented, and my “inner mean girl” had a hey-day. I was a smart woman who made a “stupid” mistake. I should have known better. The so-called facts didn’t matter much; it didn’t matter that my fiancé and I had signed an agreement when we bought the home; it didn’t matter that, according to real estate experts, our investment was sound. Intellectually, I knew the recession was instrumental in my losses, but logic be damned. I was a single successful forty-two-year-old lawyer who had lost a chunk of change, and it stung and hung over me like a dark cloud.
I felt the pain of loss—losing the house, the end of a relationship, and the biggest financial hit of my life—which meant laying down to cry, sleep, retreat a little to let the emotions flow without restraint. I faced the facts of my choices, trying not to confuse the facts with my ability to control them. And this is what I did when I stood up: I took steps to continue to pursue my dream of being a successful entrepreneur instead of going back to work at a large law-firm as a trial lawyer in San Francisco, a career at which I had thus far been highly successful, but which was not my dream.
How do you “transform fear to faith,” and move from sorrow to soul-soaring? This is a question to ask every day, as you put one foot in front of the other. Here are Buddhist (nontheistic) philosophies I used on my journey through loss that may be of service to you, as well as pragmatic ways I help my clients use the legal process as a vehicle to pursue dreams.
Metta – Maitri (Pali/Sanskrit for love or kindness)
When we feel lost, unsure, fearful, and powerless, it’s tempting to grasp at anything that will soothe, numb, and give us a semblance of security. Salves like alcohol, heart-pounding exercise, berating ourselves or repeatedly sharing our pain with anyone who’ll listen provide temporary relief, but won’t heal our hearts. To move through the pain of loss and feelings of failure, we must crack open and cultivate Metta, Maitri, loving kindness or, in Western terms, self-love. To find true solace and a sense of worthiness, we must practice self-acceptance, forgiveness, and compassion.
Like a caring mother
holding and guarding the life
of her only child,
so with a boundless heart
hold yourself and all beings
as your beloved children.
To gain a deeper understanding of Metta-Maitri-Lovingkindness, consider these, some of my favorite, teachers, books, and guides.
Jack Kornfield, former Buddhist monk, author, and Buddhist teacher, offers free meditations for discovering “a new way to meet life’s greatest challenges with acceptance, joy, and hope” in print on his website (Meditation on Lovingkindness) or books like, The Art of Forgiveness, Loving kindness, and Peace, via free audio on Dharmaseed, and in person at Spirit Rock, An Insight Meditation Center in Woodacre, California (one of my happy places).
Tara Brach, Ph.D., clinical psychologist, Buddhist teacher, and author, weaves psychological, Buddhist, and poetic teachings into her work that focuses in part on, healing trauma, including those caused by separation, divorce or ending a domestic partnership. Tara offers insight in her free weekly talks, which are available on her website and DharmaSeed, and in her books.
Sangha (Pali/Sanskrit for community)
Moving courageously through grief to forgiveness and loving oneself during difficult times is, for most, an uncomfortable process accompanied by desolation and depression, and is best done with the guidance of a trusted counselor, such as a therapist or minister, and with like-minded uplifting peers, which you may find in a sangha.
Research shows that when somebody is filled with fear and they hold hands with someone that they love or trust, you could watch their brain calm down on an MRI. And we know that hugs that last 20 seconds release oxytocin and that is incredibly soothing. And you can do the inner practices of loving-kindness and compassion that, in your mind, invoke a person you care about with you and loving you, and that can create the same biochemical shift—reducing the sympathetic nervous system and getting the parasympathetic nervous system going. ~Tara Brach
I was lucky to have a supportive family and turned to them for moral support. My mother is one of my biggest fans, has never given up on me, and certainly didn’t when I made costly financial changes. Uncertain about when I would sell my house, to lessen the financial pressure I moved in with my sister for what turned out to be 7 months. I understand you may not have supportive parents or siblings. Thankfully, you can, like I also did, connect with caring people in church, temples, retreats or on a therapist’s couch. You also can work with a compassionate ingenious mediator and/or lawyer who will help you lay the foundation for your dreams during the legal process. What might this look like? Here’s a page from my playbook.
Instead of simply telling my clients what they may receive in divorce based on family law, I ask my clients to describe their future dream lives. It can be a challenging question. Martha Beck assures us that we may not always have our purpose and mission worked out completely in our own hearts and minds, but that if we allow the dream to breathe a little, we can see where to start. Sometimes it starts with and is supported by, a single thought, mantra, to ground the dream in your waking life.
When consulting with a client who is trying to assess the damage and look toward the future, I start with some questions. If they’ll need to go back to work I ask, “What type of work would you love?” If you have to move, “Where would you love to live?” I then consult and coach them to do their best to reverse engineer their dreams during divorce. If it doesn’t seem like a perfectly smooth transition from marriage, separation, and divorce to dream life, I suggest aiming for a stepping-stone towards the futures they dream of. This is why I often return to the analogy of divorce-as-earthquake—life as you know it collapses around you. In the process, you have to get out from under the rubble and lay the foundation for a life you’ll love, including where to live, what to do, even how to parent.
Reverse Engineer Your Dream into Reality
Rick Hanson, Ph. D. devotes his working life to communicating how we can change our brains for the better—how we can learn to react productively and creatively to life’s developments. Apparently, though, we do have to learn it. While our brains are marvelously plastic, that is, able to change old patterns and reroute for better, more positive outcomes, we have to train them to do so. It’s a bit good-news/bad-news, according to Hanson:
[T]he brain is bad at learning from good experiences but good at learning from bad ones… the human brain has a “negativity bias.” We continually look for negative information, over-react to it, and then quickly store these reactions in brain structure. For example, we learn faster from pain than from pleasure, and negative interactions have more impact on a relationship than positive ones. In effect, our brain is like Velcro for the bad but Teflon for the good.
The good news is that the brain is plastic, as in changeable. You and I are learning beings, and if we are mindful and centered on our own growth, we can overcome the attendant suffering of divorce through awareness and intention. You can lay new paths in your thinking, move past survival mode to dream building, reverse engineer your dreams into your everyday life, get past the primal fear around food and shelter, past the reptile brain, and into your creator, crafter, CEO brain, into your vision of what’s worthwhile and good.
Author Your Own Hero’s Journey
A hero is said to overcome adversity through feats of ingenuity, bravery, or strength. Through such a lens, being the hero of your own story seems a tall order indeed. After the earthquake of your divorce, it’s not time to compare yourself to someone else’s idea of what makes a hero. This is the right time to rewrite the hero of your story in your own image, in service to your emergent and sustainable well-being.
You are your most important stakeholder. Even the airlines know this. You know how they instruct you to put the oxygen mask on yourself first before you attempt to help others? You have to breathe in order to get past the danger and bring your world back into the light. This is a strangely difficult action for many of us to take, this self-consideration, but critical to our peace, happiness, and utility. If even the airlines understand this, we can too. And we can go past our basic need for oxygen to consider the vital importance of investing our creativity and strength into making our dream of a richer life and a better world a reality.
What Did I Do to Change My Story and Build My Dream?
I took action. I continued working, and as my mind cleared and I became refocused. I moved out of my sister’s house and into a home in a neighborhood I loved. I also continued to pursue a business model I loved: instead of a traditional law practice, I created a luxurious and safe space (brick and mortar) where I held classes and began building a community of women to connect during a divorce, then transitioned to a virtual practice with one-on-one coaching, online workshops, and one-day retreats. This life was a dream, and then it was my life. Your dream can become reality too.
Anything I can imagine being, doing, or having– I can be, do, or have. ~Esther and Jerry Hicks
If you refuse to give up on your dreams in divorce, and would like my help pursuing a life you love during the separation, divorce or the dissolution of your domestic partnership process, schedule a complimentary divorce consulting session.