The third way…

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I have been thinking a lot about ‘the third way’ recently. I was listening to a podcast a few months ago and the subject was about complex loss, such as when a loved one goes missing and there are no answers as to what happened to them. Dealing with these traumatic emotions and grief is somewhat different to more clearly defined loss, like a death from natural causes. During the conversation they discussed closure, whether it can be achieved after a complex loss, they said closure is not necessarily the aim or the end result, that there is a third way. The third way in this instance was rather than be swallowed by the grief and stay in the obsession of the loss, or shut it out in an attempt to reach ‘closure’, there is a messy, uncomfortable, but more authentic, third way. This third way is acknowledging the suffering and feeling the painful emotions, along with reaching for and moving towards the future without necessarily having a sense of closure. Can you feel in that description the third way feels vulnerable and messy, and yet honest and real?

In so many cases the third way is the way of healing and most true way to move through challenging times. In my case I have been trying to reconcile, in my mind and heart, a failed marriage; it was toxic and painful, but there was deep love and connection. The first way to process it could be; it was toxic therefore it was bad and unhealthy so chalk it up to a negative experience – put it in the ‘bad’ box. The second way could be; the love was so deep that I may never get over it, or feel that way again, the love of my life is lost, wallowing in the loss. And then there’s the much messier, but more authentic third way; there were parts that were unhealthy and toxic, they were bad. There were parts that were magical and loving, they were good. There is no box to put it in, it moves between the two extremes. This means there is no closure per se, it’s an ongoing organic process; there are happy memories which can hurt because it’s over, and there are painful, angry memories which can bring relief that the situation isn’t current anymore.

The third way runs between the first and second ways, which are both the more extreme options. The third way combines the two, it’s therefore a meandering path that traverses both sides without a pre-planned route or destination. This is what makes the third way so uncomfortable for us humans; we like to know exactly where we’re going and how to get there. I feel it’s so important to honour both the beauty and the pain, to feel the full spectrum of the feelings and flow with the third way.

This concept of the third way is applicable in so many facets of life; politics, health, the environment, day-to-day experience. For example when it comes to drinking alcohol, we have a growing binge drinking problem in the UK; large numbers of people don’t drink during the week then drink as much as they can at the weekend. Both of these are extremes; no alcohol and all the alcohol. The third way is the way of moderation, in this case it might be having a few drinks a couple of times a week. You often hear people say they find it possible to either not drink at all, or binge drink, that the discipline of moderation is the most difficult. You see the same when it comes to food; people yo-yoing between eating whatever they want, often to excess, then going on very restrictive diets in an attempt to counter balance the excess. When in actual fact the balanced approach of listening to your body and eating what you need, with some treats thrown in for fun, is the healthiest approach.

In Buddhism it is called the middle way; The Middle Way refers to the Buddha’s enlightened view of life and also the actions or attitudes that will create happiness for oneself and others. It is the rejection of extremes, which is depicted in the story of Shakyamuni; he first lathered himself in luxury, then deprived himself of everything, he realised neither extreme would take him any closer to spiritual enlightenment. ‘In his rejection of both self-mortification and self-indulgence, Shakyamuni awakened to the true nature of life—its eternity, its deep wellspring of unbounded vitality and wisdom.’

The Cambridge English Dictionary explains ‘the third way’ as a political movement in which the development of business is balanced with the needs of society. It is proposed to be the third way between capitalism and socialism. Taking the example of American politics at the moment, in some ways its easier for people dehumanise President Trump and his followers, and even hate them, than it is for them to have their own opinions and at the same time have compassion for, and see the humanness in, the opposition.

The tricky thing is choosing either extreme can often feel more exhilarating; there is usually adrenaline associated with the high of excess, and there may even be a sense of accomplishment in the extreme of denial. Taking the third way can feel unstimulating, boring and overly measured. There are of course circumstances which require an extreme response; a high level of adrenaline and life or death commitment to a cause. For example it took a World War to neutralise the threat and horrifying atrocities committed on behalf of Hitler.

I’m sure you can think of many circumstances, in your own life and globally, where navigating a third way between the extremes would bring more peace and healing. However as we have seen it’s not necessarily the easy option for us, in most cases it takes discipline, vulnerability and radical honesty. Cultivating this third way in our own lives, in our own struggles, and on a global scale, is a worthy practice. It will feel messy and uncomfortable, the path may not be clear, but it is where we find wisdom, acceptance and true healing.

The Power of Ritual (warning: my soul laid bare)

Last year I was trying to get over my marriage ending, find some resolution, understanding and move on. It’s a process. One particular day I felt very strongly guided to do a ritual for the ending of the my marriage. Funnily enough it was also 4th July, Independence Day for all my American friends. (There was no forward planning on that one.)

This is the spot that I chose, near my home in London, right by the river in a beautiful and private place.

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I wore my rings for the last time while I sat by the river feeling all the waves of emotions that were coursing through me.

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I took a copy of my marriage certificate with me (you need the real one for the divorce – which takes 2 years…so a copy was the practical option). I burnt it as a symbol of the of the ending. There was no malice involved, more of a ‘dust to dust, ashes to ashes’ type mourning vibe.

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It felt important to write a message from my soul to his on the last little piece of the certificate. Words that I couldn’t say to him in person because he would probably think I was a crazy person. I was in floods of tears as the emotions spilled out of me. At this point I should probably add, in the name of authenticity, that I also had a bottle of Prosecco and packet of cigarettes with me.

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Once I had finished saying my goodbyes I rolled the little note into my ring and prepared to throw it in the water. I said so many prayers for him and for me, that the pain would ease, that life would be bright again, that there was some point to all this.

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I threw it in the water and watched it slowly sink. So much beauty and meaning in the middle of so much pain.

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After I was all cried out and a bottle of Prosecco down I decided to go out, by myself, to celebrate the 4th of July. So I did. I went to an event in central London and met some great people and had a fun and crazy night.

It was interesting that I completely followed my intuition to do the ritual, I hadn’t read any suggestions online, I just did what I felt. And it struck me that so many rituals in life involve earth, fire and water. We are baptised in water and cremated in fire or buried in death. I was inexplicably drawn to sit down on the earth, burn my marriage certificate and throw my ring and final love note to my husband in the water. Life and death. Cleansing and detoxifying. Grounding and yet overwhelmingly emotional.

The ending of the story is not ‘and then I was fine and healed and life just got better and better’. No. It was a very special, painful, emotional, deeply loving part of the process. It created more love and acceptance and that is really all we need.

With so much love, Gemma xx

(1)0 ways to cope with a break up 


I’ve been wanting to write about this for a long time because I’ve read so many lists of usual suspects on how to cope with grief, pain, loss and myriad of emotions that comes with a relationship ending. By the usual suspects I mean…

‘Do exercise, don’t drink alcohol, don’t isolate, get therapy, sleep, make sure you’re looking & feeling as good as possible…’ 

While they are all good suggestions on paper, at the time they can make you want to punch someone or collapse into a heap. Now this is probably a little controversial; these contrived ‘positive thinking and doing’ lists are mostly what we all know to do anyway – most people are not great at taking awesome care of themselves in the good times – so this can make you feel even worse when you’re not holding it together in the bad times. And this brings up what I feel is one of the most important subjects – shame. These ’10 ways to get through a break up’ articles, listing some of the above, can be a real shame trigger. Because when you’re barely getting out of bed or have swapped your tea at bedtime for tequila, the list is yet another thing you’re failing at. 

Shame is insidious and deeply damaging. Going through the break down of a marriage can bring up bucket loads of shame and talking about that is, I feel, much more useful. You may well have heard of Brene Brown, one of my favourite authors and shame & vulnerability researcher, she has uncovered for us that shame is feeling that we are somehow bad, rather than we did a bad thing, which would be a feeling of guilt. She explains how nothing good ever comes from feeling shame, there is nothing motivating about it or useful in it. Brene describes shame as ‘the instensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging’. And it’s one of the most human and primitive emotions there is. She also calls it lethal. 

My list of ‘how to deal with break ups’ has only one crucial point – do everything you can to avoid shame. When our lives get turned upside down and inside out there will very likely be mistakes, bad behaviour, harsh words, drinking too much, eating too much, skipping the gym for weeks… I’m not saying those are good things and they’ll help you, they won’t, but we’re human and we’re messy. I’m saying it’s ok and you’re ok and whatever you, or others, do and say it doesn’t mean you are bad and deserve to feel shame. In fact quite the opposite. It means you’re in pain and need to be loved, not judged, by yourself and others. 

I am all for self love and self care, taking a long bath or going for a massage are wonderful ways to take care of yourself. But what’s even more important is when you’ve fucked up, and trust me I have, to reject the shame you and/or others pour on you. This is warrior self love. Loving yourself in the midst of the battle. 

How do you do this? In my experience having just a few close people in your life who can be your champion, even in the darkness, is the most healing. Having someone empathise and reflect back to you your messy humanness and your beautiful spirit – and telling you that it’s all ok and you’re loved no matter what. I have been lucky enough to experience this both through professional support and family and friends. If you don’t currently have someone to be your champion, go find one. 

Do all the good things on the lists as much you can, and when you don’t or do the opposite, know that you’re doing the best you can. If anyone tries to shame you, keep your distance for a while. If you’re shaming yourself reach out to your champion and get vulnerable, share your good, bad and ugly feelings and know that you’re not alone. Brene says there are three things that shame needs to keep growing; secrecy, silence and judgment. Being human means being messy and imperfect. I’m holding your hand and you’re not alone. 

Will I ever feel that way again?

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Maybe the spark you felt in your relationship, that you are missing so much and can’t seem to find anymore, is actually you. Is your light mirrored back to you by the other person. If you’re feeling this loss give yourself time and space to come back to yourself to rediscover the connection and delight within you. Try not to worry that it’ll never return or you’ll never find it again.

The experience of loss, separation or divorce tears you in two, and more than likely into many pieces. It takes time and healing to reconnect the pieces of yourself. This disconnection within you, which is not forever unless you allow it to be, is what I feel is the ‘missing something’ we fear may never return after the loss of a loved one.

When I say it’s not lost forever unless you allow it to be; I mean there is a choice here. In order to heal deeply, learn the soul lessons and step into a bright new future you need to fully feel your feelings, be truthful and love yourself generously. All of these can be challenging and painful but are so worth it.

Honestly I’m still working on all of it. I’ve created the time and space to fully feel, I’m working with coaches and healers (including my angels and guides) to be open to the soul shifts and I’m taking steps to truly give myself the love I so desired from my husband. I fuck up often, I do great sometimes, I feel good at times and others I’m completely at a loss. And that’s ok, that’s normal, humans are messy.

I know this feeling that seems to be lost, that I long for, is the reflection of my light magnified by deep connection. It was in me and it still is – perhaps I feel I don’t have access to it at all, or maybe for very fleeting moments, but it’s not lost and will shine with even more radiance in my future and in yours.

I love the image at the top of the page and the Japanese concept of kintsukuroi. If you liken yourself to a piece of pottery, when broken into separate parts it seems your beauty and function are lost. However in healing yourself with gold, with love and trust in yourself and the universe, you are and will be far more beautiful and full of light for being broken. The best is yet to come my love.

Photo credit: theuncarvedblog.com

Loss


At the end of a relationship, in my case the end of my marriage, loss and grief are huge. The emotions come in waves, similar to peeling an onion, just when you think you’re making progress another wave looms up and crashes down on you. 

It’s not only the loss of the person you were in a relationship with but also so much surrounding the parts of life you shared. In my case I dove right into my husbands life by moving to where he lived, our day to day friends were his friends and I built a whole new life around our relationship. Many of those special friends I have known and been close to for over 10 years. In the aftermath of our separation I moved back to my family and eventually back to my previous home, leaving all the people I whose lives I had been so entwined with behind. 

At first I didn’t fully register the loss of the friends I had left, I was utterly absorbed with the direct feelings of the end of my marriage and desperately trying to get through each day. A year later and it’s my soon to be ex husband’s birthday, I’m sure he will be spending it with all our friends, just as I have done with him for many years. The overwhelming feelings of loss and sadness at not being a part of my old life are unexpected. I expected of course to feel the pangs of a memorable date that was once so important to me. But the enormity of losing so many people leaves me again unsure how to find some relief. 

I love making birthdays special for other people! And each year I would make my husband a special cake, once it was a giant scone cake with cream and jam – one of his favourites. One year I organised a themed birthday for him held in a hotel nearby. The theme was a surprise and it was ‘kids party’. I decorated the table and make snacks, blew up balloons and planned party games for us all to play – ‘pin the tail on the donkey’ etc. The cake that year was a super indulgent chocolate cake with pure chocolate bar icing and covered in sweets. It was hilarious as our aged 30ish friends at the party reverted back to behaving like kids and a food fight ensued! 

Happy memories which are more painful than simply memories. I’m hoping and longing for a time when so much of my adult life and the memories associated with it are not a warm fuzzy feeling quickly descending into a hot knife piercing my heart. More time, more love and more life I’m sure will be the best cure. 

My heart is full for all those feeling sadness, loss and grief for any part of their lives. I’m praying with you.