Doors. Closing and Opening.

by Simon Goland, September 21, 2022

It has been a very long time since the last reflection. Over a year, I believe. I am sending this one on September 21, because it is a day of profound significance for me. Today, a year ago, on September 21, 2021, a conversation happened that drastically and utterly changed the trajectory of my life.

“Life is made of so many moments that mean nothing. Then one day, a single moment comes along to define every second that comes after.”

How fascinating – as well and humbling and mind-and-heart-blowing – is the fact that we hold so many things in our lives as a “given,” trust in their eternal-ness, and never stop to question the fact that it may not be so. If you were to ask me on September 20 a year ago, as to how well prepared I am for surprises in life, I probably would have said that I have had my share of wake-up calls (the more impactful and memorable ones were here and here) to be aware and present to meet the next one, with a lot of awareness, presence, and grace. Little did I know.

“Try not to resist the changes that come your way. Instead, let life live through you. And do not worry that your life is turning upside down. How do you know that the side you are used to is better than the one to come?” – Rumi

The Universe is full of doors, they say (whoever “they” are). I am pretty sure I have said it too, more than once. They close and they open, and in between those moments, our lives unfold. If it only was as easy as this theory sound. Close a door. Go away for a weekend. Drink and party, or spend time in solitude, writing something on a piece of paper and then burn it on a campfire, at midnight, under a full moon. There, done and complete. Come back home Sunday night, and – voila – there is an email waiting, with the perfect invitation that is the new door that is opening for the next perfect thing. If it was only that easy.

There are many experiences and realizations that lie on the terrain between the door that is closing and the one that is going to open, someday. There is surprise, shock, disbelief. Often, a complete disorientation as to what is happening, or why. Or WTF. That, in and out of itself, takes an amount of time that is shrouded in complete mystery. Then, somehow, quietly, the acceptance of the reality of completion sneaks in, as one begins to embrace the fact that this particular door is indeed closed. The necessity of sadness, sorrow, and grief – profound at times – over things completing and ending begins to emerge. There is the process of seeing the things one is being attached to, and learning to surrender and let go. There is the highly likely need to cocoon for a while, withdraw into oneself, be silent and still, reflect and integrate. And there is also the need for trust in the unfolding, in a way of being guided by forces much greater and more mysterious than we can imagine. Oh, yeah, did I mention grief already?

It is interesting for me to read the paragraph above, because it sounds easy, linear, concise, and with a lot of clarity. Chronologically, though, this paragraph captures a year of my life, and it really is not even over yet, for I am still living in the mystery of the space between doors.

There is also more than one way to go through such experience. Some of my past ones included resistance to what is happening, putting much effort in trying to control what and how it was unfolding. Shutting down my emotions, so that I won’t feel the pain or the hurt of the door that was about to close. Not surprisingly, none of that helped, even with my mighty willpower (think Enneagram Type 8 with decades of practice), or made the process easier.

It was different this time. Very early on in the process, my brilliant and wise counsellor asked me, “What was the lesson your soul wanted to learn during this phase of the journey?” That hit deep, at the very core of my being, and the answer came up very quickly and clearly: “You, Simon, are finally going to learn to keep your heart open, no matter what!” And I did, meaning I still do. I held that lesson very close and kept my heart open throughout this year, which was a powerful way of (hopefully, finally) breaking my lifelong defense patterns. It also meant I felt everything, every moment and every day, for this past year, for being human means periodical encounters with loss in its many forms. Being present with all of my experiences, without running away, was powerful, potent, and painful. There was – and perhaps still is – a deep, rich, long, and intimate encounter with grief, among other “companions” I have had this past year. The wisdom of Francis Weller in his beautifully heart-centered and poetic “The Wild Edge of Sorrow” was relevant and timely, with words such as,

“Our broken hearts have the potential to open us to a wider sense of identity, one capable of seeing through the partitions that have segregated self from world. Through grief, we are initiated into a more inclusive conversation between our singular lives and the soul of the world.”

This paragraph, too, has been resonating for a long while:

“We are remade in times of grief, broken apart and reassembled. It is hard, painful, and unbidden work. No one goes in search of loss; rather, it finds us and reminds us of the temporary gift we have been given, these few sweet breaths we call life.”

It brought forward what I think is one of the most profound lessons that grief has to teach – everything we love, we will lose. It was a hard and scary truth to accept, yet the more I sat with it, the more I realized how utterly true it is. There really is no way around this lesson, anywhere in life. This lesson also brought forward a lot of deep soul work, diving into dark shadows of my psyche and bringing back all the withered, hungry, scared, and alone parts back to the light, integrating them into my current way of being, into wholeness.

“The work of a mature person is to carry grief in one hand and gratitude in the other, and to be stretched large by them. How much sorrow can I hold? That’s how much gratitude I can give. If I carry only grief, I’ll bend toward cynicism and despair. If I have only gratitude, I’ll become saccharine and won’t develop much compassion for other people’s suffering. Grief keeps the heart fluid and soft, which helps make compassion possible.” – Francis  Weller

One of the qualities of that space between the doors is emptiness, with its close sibling aloneness, dropping by for visits of regular, yet unpredictable and unannounced, frequency. They play well, these two, and seem to like each other’s company a lot. A bit like the Dementors from Harry Potter, as their presence is noticed when the colours of the world fade and grayness descends, covering everything both around me and within my head and heart with what feels like a dense fog. There were enough times I caught myself and was able to shift out of it (though without an explicit Patronus Charm). There were also times I missed it and succumbed to the fog for days or even weeks. It’s tricky, this Dementor’s Fog, for it sneaks in subtly and quietly, one little thought after another, making its way through the tiny gaps of presence with endless patience while my attention is elsewhere. Then, before I know it, the world is gray, foggy, and meaningless. Again and again.

As I think back on the times in the Dementor’s Fog, I am deeply grateful for close and loving friends who somehow knew to reach out and touch base, offering presence, love, food, or play time. I am grateful for my puppy, Luna, whose soft and playful presence has the magical way of bringing me into my heart – a powerful antidote to grayness. I am deeply grateful for my counsellor, whose wisdom and ways of seeing me are boundless, and who is always – ALWAYS – able to create powerful shifts in my awareness. I am also grateful for my determination to stay with the soul’s lesson, which continues teaching me its wisdom on this fascinating journey I am still on.

The next emerging phase is living with the mystery of how my life will unfold and where it will take me. There is a line in “The Midnight Library” that resonated for me: “I hit rock bottom and found something solid there,” because – while I can’t articulate it clearly yet – I am feeling myself standing on something solid and beginning to look ahead. Perhaps it is something tangible that is beneath my feet. Perhaps it is an integrated experience of presence that has an inner solidity. Whatever it is, I know that I am beginning a whole new phase of life. Onward into the unfolding mystery of not knowing.

“Letting there be room for not knowing is the most important thing of all. When there is a big disappointment, we don’t know if that’s the end of the story. It may just be the beginning of a great adventure. Life is like that. We don’t know anything. We call something bad; we call it good. But really we just don’t know.” – Pema Chodron