Today I got to sit with a couple who come to therapy for the sole reason of improving their already beautiful relationship. I'm struck by how intentional they are, how deliberately they choose to work together in their lives not just during a crisis, but every day. It's a rare treat to be reminded of how powerful a life can look when it's intentional.
When life tears into us -- through a tragedy, an illness, a loss -- it's natural to give in to the grief and shock of the experience. The path of grief and recovery is a long and unstable one that must be taken, or we remain in misery and suffering throughout the rest of our lives.
One way I've found to move from suffering into recovery is through the practice of intention. We humans need ritual, something to mark the moments that shake our world, a way to feel that we're standing on solid ground again. Think of the rituals that surround December 7... September 11... even Memorial Day itself. These are attempts at marking painful times and creating a new starting point. On December 8 and September 12, we move forward again.
My brother died on Good Friday 2014. Somewhere around Christmas, I realized that I needed a plan for Good Friday 2015. I needed something to give my suffering meaning, something to mark the journey I was on. I needed to regain some semblance of control over that day so it would not forever be marked by such a shocking and painful event. So in January of this year, I set my intention. On Good Friday 2015, I would go on a pilgrimage to a holy site in New Mexico. The day would be about honoring my brother's beautiful heart, recognizing mental illness, and praying for all the people I know who live with it daily. With intention set, I put my hours of walking to good use, training for a 10-mile hike in the northern New Mexico desert. All my heartache went into those daily walks, and Good Friday became something life-affirming I no longer dreaded. In fact, I looked forward to it.
This example may seem radical, and perhaps it is. But it was the experience I needed to get started with life again. Your ritual, your meaning-maker, your new start need not look like mine. But create one of your own. Take back that date, that place, that memory that brought you such pain, by being intentional. By creating a new ritual, a life-affirming experience--not to take away the original pain, but to stand along side it as a recognition of a new start.