Finding The Serendipity In Life’s Losses & New Challenges

Pin It

This week I’ve painted another stone tile to add to my wholehearted living bowl. If you missed the first post about this creative practice, you can read about how and why I’m doing this creative exercise over here.

The wholehearted word that I’m adding this week (“Serendipity”) is actually a word I’m going to carry with me throughout this year. I had wanted to choose a word for 2012 by 1 Jan and start the year off with it, but nothing was coming to me. Last week during a mandala session with Heather Plett from, I was telling Heather that I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed with all the wonderful speaking and project opportunities that are coming my way at the moment.

It’s a good problem to have, for sure, but for someone who likes to have lots of time to prepare, someone who likes to go deep into everything, and – let’s face it – someone who is a perfectionist-to-a-fault (yes, us devoted perfectionists, have made a distinction. There’s regular perfectionism and then there’s perfectionism-to-a-fault, which even we have to admit is taking perfectionism too far!)… well, anyway, the new adventure and momentum is a bit scary, because if I say yes to it all, I’ll have less time to prepare than I usually do and I’ll in front of bigger audiences. I’ll probably be fine, because I usually over-prepare and a part of me knows that I can think on my feet with this stuff because I’ve lived it. It’s embodied knowledge.

For the past 18 months, I’ve deliberately given myself a lot of structure, predictability and routine and kept my life pretty quiet while I focused on integrating my grief and returning to resilience and wholeheartedness. That structure and predictability has helped me to feel grounded in the groundlessness of grieving and forming new perspectives. But I know I’m ready now for a more adventurous and high-change lifestyle again.

I want to step up the pace and do it all and I know I can. And yet I also know that there’s a little part of me that’s very anxious about it all because it believes that, “When things get bigger, better, faster, or more adventurous, I’ll have less control over my heart and I’m at greater risk of disappointment, failure and loss.” I know it’s going to be a big wave this year and I want to step forward and start ride the wave, but this little part is hedging, hesitant.

I didn’t want to steam-roll over the scared part or to let the scared part rule my decisions, so I knew this called for a creative approach that would enable me to own and transform the small, scared part. So when Heather offered a mandala session, I immediately took her up on it.

Powerful Insight & Gentle Change Through Mandala-Work

Heather asked me to first create a free-form mandala with words for all of the anxieties that were floating around. Here’s what I created:

The question-marks express all the uncertainty and the exclamation marks and bright yellow emergency signs represent the fear and risk i felt in response to that uncertainty. I filled the circle with all of the anxieties – big and small – that I could think of.

Doing the exercise made me realize that it mostly boils down to a generalized fear of losing control. That helped me make a bit of a shift because I could recognize that it was a generalized and vague fear rather than any specific threats in reality. I also realized that it had a lot to do with fear of appearing lacking in competence or integrity.

So somewhere in my head is the story that improvising, being messy or making a few mistakes or not knowing what to say or do next means I’m lacking in integrity and competence. So I could examine that storyline… It’s B.S. of course – especially in the sort of artful work I do. Grief is so diverse and what my clients need is so diverse, so I need to be present and improvise, rather than coming in with a comprehensive structure and pre-packaged ideas and “answers.”

I noticed that as I worked on my mandala I started feeling less stressed and more excited about the adventures ahead.

Then Heather asked me to create another mandala, this time with the word, “improv” in the middle, and to explore my confident, hopeful, positive, resourceful thoughts and feelings about “riding the wave” and taking on the adventure and possibilities that this year has to offer. Here’s what I created:

I started with the urge to do something symmetrical but deliberately chose to rather start somewhere in the middle-ish, and to make a big splash/ mess image in the middle and then let it all run from there, rather than doing a symmetrical piece. The insights/ themes that came up while I was creating the second mandala were pretty awesome:

I remembered that my first business was called “serendipity.”

I had a business selling clothing that I’d hand-painted when I was 18/ 19 years old. I was reminded of how much I love the idea of serendipity. And then I remembered that my art teacher for 15 years who I loved so dearly was the one who taught me that serendipity means “happy mistakes.” Over-preparing and controlling doesn’t allow room for happy mistakes. Remembering this reconnected me with my adventurous, confident self who had started a business called Serendipity and also reconnected me with all of the confidence, creativity and resourcefulness that I developed in those 15 years of art classes.

I then got to thinking about what else gets squeezed out when I over-prepare.

A big one that came up was collaboration/ connection/ community, and letting other people contribute and experience their own power to contribute/ create/ change a situation. And letting myself be changed by other people. I value all of that stuff highly. In fact, sometimes I think that connecting and being changed by relationships is all that really matters in life. I want to have intimate and collaborative experiences where we’re moved and changed by each other. Those are the most powerful and meaningful experiences. I can only have that if I embrace serendipity.

I asked myself what I need in order to feel more able/ confident to improvise.

Here’s what I came up with:

  1. Trust – which I can only get through experiencing myself trusting myself. I can’t “prepare” trust!
  2. And I need to get better at calming my mind when I feel anxious, because when things are fast and I’m anxious, I find it hard to access my wisdom, but when I relax, it’s there in abundance.
  3. I need to look after my body when I am busy. My wisdom is in my body – my body knows how to do a bunch of important things that ensure my survival and wellness (breathing, etc) and it does so without instruction from my conscious mind/ learning and researching how to do it in a book. I have also lived what I teach, so the wisdom is there in my body. I need to get better at trusting my body, and looking after my body is probably a good way to affirm that relationship of trust, and to express that I value my body.

I love how accessible and simple mandala-work is, and I love that Heather is offering this as part of her work now. Heather is a wonderfully skilled and creative meaning-maker. If you’ve got something bothering you that you haven’t been able to “figure out” with your left-brain thinking, sign up for one of Heather’s mandala sessions and let her show you how you can access the creativity of your right-brain thinking and intuition to change your perspective or move forward. (This isn’t an affiliate promotion/ link! I just got so much out of my mandala session with Heather that I wanted to tell you all so you could go get some too!)

Would you like guidance to explore and heal your grief?

I’ve put together a 35-page grief “workbook” for you; an introduction to Remembering For Good and living wholeheartedly after loss. Learn more about the Remembering For Good grief workbook.

The first book in the QUESTIONS + ART AFTER LOSS series, Untangle Your Grief is a beautiful 65-page book of artful questions and creativity-sparking art prompts to help you to create meaning, belonging, and hope after loss.

Pin It
4 Responses to Finding The Serendipity In Life’s Losses & New Challenges
  1. Sonya76
    February 2, 2012 | 2:41 am

    Sometimes you have to disconnect your rational left brain thinking in order to come up with a solution – I think this is where a lot of intuition comes from.

    • CathDuncan
      February 8, 2012 | 6:09 pm

      @Sonya76 yes – intuition is definitely a more right-brained way of thinking.

  2. Casey B
    February 2, 2012 | 12:49 pm

    Thanks for the great insight about mandalas and working with them to free up the space in your head to focus on things which are more important than the swirling thoughts which tend to have a capacity to knock us off our guard. I’ve enjoyed reading so many of your posts that I thought I’d sort of repay you by nominating you for the Versatile Blogger Award.

    • CathDuncan
      February 8, 2012 | 6:08 pm

      @Casey B Thanks, Casey!

Leave a Reply

Trackback URL