In Flux

Embracing transitions and change

Connecting the Dots

Identifying life themes, learning life lessons

"We are pain and what cures pain, both.

We are the sweet cold water and the jar that pours." ~ Rumi

We all have our personal life themes—those really big, recurring issues that seem to repetitively insinuate themselves into our lives, forcing us to take yet another look. For some, this may revolve around the family of origin—problems with parents and siblings—not fitting in, not being appreciated, feeling misunderstood, or even feeling totally alienated from the family. For others, the key issue may be about financial and material success—never being able to “get out from under,” or feelings of never having enough, always wanting more but finding abundance elusive.

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Problems with authority, or religious/spiritual conflicts and crises, may present as the main issue for some, while the search for a life partner or a significant committed relationship may be the driving force behind others’ lives. You can be sure that whatever your own life’s theme happens to be, it will continue to engage you, finding ways to be recognized and persisting until you get it.

Repetitive struggles with any of these can leave a person feeling like a victim, frustrated and unresolved. But if the lessons of these themes are understood and mastered, they are capable of helping to move you one step closer toward personal growth and empowerment. In the ideal world, a healthy individual has fully integrated all aspects of the self—mind, body, and spirit. Part of our life’s work is to aspire to and ultimately achieve this goal.

 

How you “see” the world

As we go through life just trying to figure things out, I’ve noticed that many of us inevitably, and more often than not unconsciously, choose one specific way to express ourselves in the world—a preferred way through which we engage and process our life themes.

For some, to think is to “know.” Here, life is filtered through the practical, logical, and analytical mind. Data is collected, deemed useful or not, collated, and finally integrated or tossed out. These individuals frequently spend a lot of time “living in their head.” Over-intellectualizing, however, has its dangers; oversimplification, rationalization, and rigidity of thought leave little room for an emotional and spiritual perspective.

For others, to feel is to “know.” The first line of communication with yourself and others is through the world of the emotions. Here, the feeling tone rather than the fact seems to count the most. But, exaggerated, sustained, high emotion can prove exhausting, and roller-coaster emotions can deplete us on every level as well.

For some, to move is to “know.” Our physical packaging, our bodies, may serve as the vehicle through which some individuals “feel,” how they best commune with the world around them. Because our physical body is noticed most immediately and most readily identifies us, perhaps too much emphasis has been placed on this aspect of expression. There is an unnatural preoccupation with working the “container,” attempting to reshape and fix our external appearances to create what is considered to be the ideal.

Perhaps, what all of us may be striving for lies in simply being, entering into a place where “to be”—just as you are, without judgment or agenda—is to “know.” But, of course, that’s so much easier said than done since to be, just as you are, is probably one of the hardest things to learn. It requires acceptance of who you are through the process of tough self-examination, honest introspection, and hard analysis of how you interface with what life hands you. It also requires trust that you are being partnered by spirit. This is a difficult concept for many of us to acknowledge, let alone grasp.

So is surrendering to a higher power, something most of us are not readily taught. Those who have learned to surrender have often done so when things have gotten really bad, when they have hit a wall or rock bottom and have no other place to go. To think that most of us would give up control, give our selves over voluntarily in this way without any kind of assurance or guarantee of having a better outcome, doesn’t come naturally to most of us.

Before you even begin to think about what your life theme(s) is, it’s a valuable exercise to give some thought to how you “see” and process the world around you and ask yourself these questions.

  • Is there room in your way of “seeing” the world to include and be informed by other ways of “seeing” the world—different points of view, different perspectives?
  • Does your way of “seeing” the world allow you to fully appreciate all aspects of yourself?
  • Does your way of “seeing” the world help you to accomplish your goals, or does it get in the way of moving forward in your life?
  • What is your life theme?

Once you’ve taken a look at how you “see” the world, try to identify the major life theme(s) that dominates your life. 

  • How has this theme affected the way you are in the world?
  • How much of a role does this theme play in the way you define yourself?
  • Does this theme allow you to express yourself in a way that feels affirming and supportive of who you are?
  • Does this theme negatively influence you, and if so, what do you get out of staying in this mode?
  • If this theme is a result of limiting beliefs, what would be the outcome if you could let those go?
  • How does this theme influence or define your life’s mission or purpose?

 

What are your life lessons?

 “Everyone gets the experience; some get the lesson.” ~T.S. Eliot

Everything we do in life has the potential to be a life lesson. For each stage of life, there are specific lessons to be mastered. Ideally, our task is to become introspective about the major transitions in our life, allowing the insights we’ve gained from them to remain with us. Being able to draw upon past events and experiences helps us to master the bigger picture.

  • What lesson(s) had to be repeated many times before you acknowledged its existence? Did the lesson come as an “aha” moment, a revelatory recognition, or after several attempts to do the same thing while hoping for a different outcome?
  • When you finally got the lesson, how did that affect your thoughts, emotions, feelings, attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs?
  • How have the messages of your life lessons inspired/encouraged/motivated you?
  • How have your lessons changed the course of your life, your perspective of yourself, your view of the world?
  • Have the life lessons you have learned taken you beyond your limitations?

When you view life as just a series of random events you may feel that you have little control over what happens to you and over the outcome. But by identifying your life theme(s), the way you “see” the world, and the way you process what happens to you, you have a great opportunity to gain an overview of your life by “connecting the dots.”

Abigail Brenner, M.D., is a psychiatrist in private practice. She is the author of Transitions: How Women Embrace Change and Celebrate Life and other books.

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