There is much wisdom in those who say that life is not really linear, but rather is more like a spiral: cycling in and around the same issues again and again. I find this in my own life in many ways: the things that challenge me seem to come back repeatedly until I really get a handle on them and then they stop appearing. The problems that I’ve faced repeat until I get them “right”.
I find this fascinating at several levels. There is a popular song, Breathe, by Anna Nalick with the words,
“‘Cause you can’t jump the track, we’re like cars on a cable
And life’s like an hourglass, glued to the table
No one can find the rewind button girl,
So cradle your head in you hands
And breathe, just breathe.“
There have been many times when I have related to those words and find myself wishing, hoping, praying that there were some way I could go back and do things differently…. my son missed his SAT test last week, for example, when I was gone and that is one of those stupid mistakes that has haunted me… “If I’d only remembered to call and wake him up that morning… if I’d only hounded him….” But I can’t fix it and it bothers me.
But what is interesting as I reflect on the big picture is that while I cannot go back and fix these instances, fix these mistakes in the specific circumstances, through the course of my life I am coming to see that I will have another opportunity to “get it right” or rather, a situation similar to this will happen again. It will. And perhaps I will have learned from the past mistakes and do better. Anna Nalick wrote the song when she was 17. She hadn’t been given the experience yet of life cycling. But I have no doubt that if she lives long enough, she will. We can’t go back, but we can go forward, and we will have the chance to learn from those mistakes and respond to similar situations differently in the future.
But the other way in which I experience this cycling as true is that we also have the opportunities to learn that when something feels similar to a time in the past, it is an invitation to look at it with the eyes of someone who has survived and hopefully thrived through those earlier experiences. We can then see those situations with the gift of the hindsight that we gained then and apply it to the situation now.
I’ve found myself reflecting on a time when my body was telling me that a situation was the same as a nightmare I had experienced a decade before. It felt the same: I couldn’t sleep, wasn’t eating right, and had become very sick. I was anxious all the time. I couldn’t figure out what was going on. Why did this feel absolutely the same as what I had gone through before? Why was I in so much pain and wanting desperately to run away just like I had felt before? But through the wisdom of an amazing person in my life I was able to hear and see that my body was telling me that this was the same situation as what I had gone through before. Yes, the specifics were very different. The people involved were different and in very different roles in my life than those who were the players before. For those on the outside, they would have seen nothing similar at all in the two situations. But many of the important key stressors were the same: lies, secrets, abuse, a situation that felt completely unsafe in which I did not know where or when the next hit would come; only that it would come. My body was telling me that I had ridden this ride before. And as a result, I had the gift of being able to choose what to do with that information. What worked for me last time to navigate these waters? What didn’t? How would I choose to move through this in this instance that was not “doing the same thing over and over and insanely expecting different results”? What built relationships? What severed relationships? Which relationships were important to boost up and which ones should I have let go of much, much sooner? These were all questions that I needed to navigate again as I steered through them the first time. I didn’t like it at the time, but I was given the gift of the past to help me make better choices, informed choices and to move forward with eyes open this second time. My body let me know I was back in the cycle, with another chance to learn, to grow and to navigate the waters differently.
I would not wish on anyone that we would have to repeat painful things. I don’t like that when we haven’t learned all that we need to from a situation we are given the “opportunity” to learn it better a second time round. But this is the life we’ve been given. Each of us has been given opportunities to learn specific lessons. And we will keep being given these chances until we get the lessons learned. It’s a gift, it’s a curse – it’s life.