ROI: the measurement of return on an investment relative to the investment’s cost.

Loss: the fact or process of losing something or someone.

I thought it was a scarecrow that caught my eye while driving in Mexico last month. But when we made a U-turn to check it out we found a dummy propped on a chair holding a note. The note explained why it had to be burned up and then added a request for the coming year. On New Year’s Eve it would be filled with firecrackers, set ablaze and tossed into the street in front of a cheering crowd. Gerardo, the dummy, apparently had an issue with one-liter beer bottles and is hoping for better beer in 2018.

If I had to attach a note to an effigy of myself for the past year, what I would write? 2017, at first blush, was a year of loss: my mother died, a family relationship was broken, and several attempts at new ventures wound up stalling.

“Do not worry that your life is turning upside down. How do you know the side you are used to is better than the one to come?”

–Rumi

As I reviewed this past year it dawned on me that in spite of (or possibly because of) all the suffering, the light that broke through the pain was more powerful than the darkness. This light didn’t show up overnight, it was a process that came in many forms: through spiritual connection, writing, listening to books on long car rides, reading books and sharing life with people who challenge and support me.

Here are three steps I want to share that helped me move from each instance of loss to light.

“A self that’s suffering needs to be dis-assembled. Soothing is the enemy of enlightenment.”

–Martha Beck

  1. Sit
  • Sit with the loss. Instead of burying the pain by ignoring it, self-medicating with a glass of wine, getting on the phone to play out one more time how much you’re hurting, or wallowing in self-pity by checking social media and being reminded what others are doing that’s so much better than where you are, stop and sit and feel what you’re going through. At first it will feel heavy. The weight may begin in your chest, then begin to move and churn in your stomach. It isn’t comfortable because the pain is real. And it’s the only way we can begin to dis-assemble the loss that is taking over our mind and spirit and body. As much as in your power, stay put. This stage doesn’t last forever.

“Maybe you have to know the darkness before you can appreciate the light.”

–Madeleine L’Engle

  1. Wrestle
  • Wrestle with the loss. Think about what you’re feeling after sitting with the pain and allow yourself to grieve the death, the hurt, the betrayal or whatever loss you are experiencing. Maybe you need to give voice to your anger, to scream into a pillow or out loud, to run into the woods, to sulk or slam pots and pans and doors. Maybe you need to weep and sob until there are no more tears. You will be spent. Exerting this kind of energy often moves the loss into a different space. There may be something you can do, but more often than not there is no-thing to do. You may realize the thoughts and ideas surrounding whatever you’re facing are not real or true. At this moment the light has a chance to come in through the cracks.

“Mostly we have just enough light to see the next step: what we have to do in the coming hour or the following day.”

–Henri Nouwen

  1. Release
  • Once you sit and wrestle with the pain, you’ll be capable of releasing the hold that this particular loss has on you. As the light pierces through the cracks, you admit that your loved one who just passed is no longer suffering. You confirm the job you lost is opening the door for a path you’ve been considering for some time. Or deep down you know the person who broke your heart was bound to leave at some point. Instead of getting stuck in the emotions that overwhelmed you when you first felt this loss, focus on the information you received when you sat and wrestled. You know what to do. Release the grip this loss has on you so that you won’t lose yourself.

Using these three steps when I face major or minor losses, sometimes several times a day, is a worthwhile investment.

Thinking back to Gerardo on the chair, here’s what I’d write on my note:

“Goodbye to a year of profound loss which brought unexpected joy. I’m ready for anything.”

–Lois Melkonian