If you are currently being presented with a challenge or relationship that’s stretching you to your limits - pay attention! Unless you learn what must be learned from the situation, you will repeat the lesson, again and again, until you get it right.
Think of the movie, Groundhog Day. Whether you enjoyed the film or not, its message was clear: learn what you need to learn today, or you won’t move on to tomorrow.
In real life however, you are not afforded the luxury of being able to repeat a single day over and over again until you get it right. Instead, if you fail to pass your lesson the first time around, the Universe will dish out the same lesson again but with a heavier hand. If you still don’t learn the lesson, you’re in for an even bigger reminder in the future…
An example of this truth: let’s create an individual, David, who has escalating health issues due to being overweight. Maybe the first time around, David falls short of breath while walking up the stairs. He fails to take this as an indication that he must build up endurance and take better care of his heart. Several weeks later, David feels a sharp pain in his chest while he’s out to eat with some friends. It's a pain unlike any he’s ever felt, and he momentarily wonders if it’s related to the unhealthy foods he’s been eating since his divorce two years ago. David brushes these thoughts aside and ignores the signals his body is sending. Four months later, David suffers a heart attack. Now he is forced to confront his health issues on a very serious level.
This is just one example of how the Universe/God/Life will get through to you.
Remember this: The Universe knocks politely first, then returns and pounds on the door. Finally, if you haven’t responded, the Universe kicks down your door and barges through.
Another example…and it’s about me. Years ago, when I was still in graduate school, I loaned my closest friend an enormous sum of money from the savings I had set aside for school. My friend promised the money would be replenished swiftly - and since he had just begun to make a juicy six-figure income, I felt ‘okay’ with the loan.
However, after the first few months of making payments back to me, it became clear that he no longer saw paying me back as a priority. In fact, he stopped making payments altogether.
The stress of the situation was eating me to bits! We’re not talking about a $1,000 loan here; we’re talking about more money than most people - including me - made in an entire year.
As the situation dragged into its 10th month, the stress began to take a noticeable toll on my body. I called a masseuse to help re-align my back, and without telling her anything about my life, she knew exactly what was affecting me based upon the specific damage done to my body. She urged me to let go of the emotional attachment I had to my problems because they were destroying me on a physical level. I had every intention of taking her advice, but my mind was not yet disciplined enough to listen.
Several months later, the Universe knocked again. This time, during a writing residency in France & Germany. Note: I was sick with stress when I left the country. Any peace of mind I’d ever had was light years away. I was angry at myself, resentful towards my friend, and filled with worries about how I was going to climb out of debt. Ironically, I was reading a book called, “Awakening the Buddha Within” by Lama Surya Das. I managed to make it through the entire book while my own Buddha stayed stubbornly asleep.
In a small town in Germany, I searched for a new book to keep me distracted from my worries. In all the bookshops, I couldn’t find anything written in the two languages I knew - English or French - which meant that for the next three weeks, between work/writing, even in as beautiful a place as the Mosel Valley, where sweet Rieslings flowed freely and wooded forests hid magical castles tucked away in the hills - my mind remained plagued with anxiety.
One afternoon, I wandered down a cobblestone street and, lo and behold, I discovered a bookshop I hadn't seen before. Of course, most of the books were written in German, save for one, shockingly familiar name printed on the spine of a paperback book: Lama Surya Das. I hesitated in disbelief before pulling the book from the shelf and reading its title aloud, “Letting Go of the Person You Used to Be.” Not only had I found the one English book in all of pastoral Germany, but it felt as if book had been planted in this bookshop especially for me.
The book became my bible for the rest of my journey. It encouraged me to do exactly what I knew I needed to do: Let go. If I didn’t let go of my attachment to the problem I was having with my friend, not only might I lose a lot of money, but I'd also likely lose my friendship and sanity.
Still, this lesson in letting go extended to more than my immediate situation. I’d always been a perfectionist and control queen; I even prided myself in those facts. And while those traits sometimes helped me along my journey, most of the time they just led to unnecessary judgments of myself and others as well as an inability to relax and be.
As my residency took me to the South of France, I finished the final chapter of new favorite book and settled into my new home. My first night in LaBastide, in a beautifully restored 18th century manor house, I suddenly felt compelled to take out my notebook and make a list of everything that was no longer serving me, everything I needed to release.
The list read:
I let go of dishonesty.
I let go of overeating out of boredom or to numb my emotions.
I let go of mindlessness.
I let go of limiting beliefs about myself - what I can do, have, and be.
I let go of self-hate and insecurity.
I let go of delusion.
I let go my friend and the $ problem.
I let go of compromising myself. I will not compromise myself. I will not compromise my spirit’s path.
That evening, a British woman from the residency approached me on the terrace. “There will be a lunar eclipse tonight,” she said. “This is a powerful time to let go. If you’d like to join my friend and I in a ceremony, we are preparing to make a small fire and burn lists of the things we want to release.”
Serendipity shook me to my bones! I knew nothing of celestial activities, and had only been following my own intuition when I’d created my personal list. I nodded and smiled at the woman, promising to meet back on the terrace in an hour.
Words cannot express the absolute freedom I felt after I burned that list. I felt released from everything that had been shackling me. I was suddenly clear inside. A complete relief! And, as if being rewarded for my bravery, a creative surge pulsed through me and I ran up to my room and didn’t sleep for three nights while completing the first draft of a novella. It was as if the book had been waiting to come into creation, but because I was so clogged with worries, it had no way to work itself through me.
When I emerged from my room, I took a walk through the nurturing green pastures surrounding LaBastide. I passed crumbling stone churches, children at play, and trees standing proud in the fields. I even discovered a warm-hearted grocer who kept the Desiderata poem taped to his shop window. The mayor’s dog followed me as I explored the woods, as if to make sure I found my way home. Everything that happened those following weeks seemed to happen to support me. Even the insects were on my side; whenever I began to drift into my mind (to the land of stress and suffering) a fly or ladybug would hit me in the face as if to say, “I’m here! Stay awake! I’m reminding you of something much bigger than yourself!” Every tree, every bug, every star in the sky was reminding me to stop worrying. Nature wanted me to live, to be present, to stay out of my head, to experience the beauty of life all around me.
If only I’d adhered to that warning...
After I returned from France, my problems crept back in on me. My perfectionist attitude took hold of me again, and all the lessons I’d learned over the past year seemed to disintegrate into air. I fell back into my old worrying ways, filled with stress and anxiety. The Universe was getting impatient with me! She’d knocked several times already, and I wasn’t opening the door. Or, maybe I had opened the door, just a peek, before slamming it shut again. Little did I know, the door was about to be blown open with a canon.
About six months later, my friend decided to end our relationship. At first, I was relieved. At least now I know he has no intention of re-paying me, I thought. I can just deal with the consequences and move on from here. But as the weeks went by, I realized that my friend did intend to re-pay me. He’d just been having difficulty in his new work position and hadn’t been receiving the salary he though he’d be receiving. He apologized for causing me so much stress but reminded me that he’d never done anything in the past that should lead me to believe he wasn’t a man of his word. He said this obstacle had driven us apart, and though he would pay me back as soon as he could, he wanted our relationship to end.
I realized how much I cared about him and how I wished I’d never let this obstacle drive us apart. I begged him to re-think his decision, but he was through with me. For the first time, I noticed the effects the stress was having on my friend's. He looked older, thinner, and with heavy bags under his eyes. I’d been so focused on how the issue was affecting me, I hadn’t noticed my dear friend’s pain and suffering. I hadn’t realized that he was doing the best he could to remedy the situation because what he’d been doing had never felt like enough to me. Against my heart’s desires, we went our separate ways, only meeting once every few months when he handed me a check (how much colder can it get!?)
I cried myself to sleep with regret. I hadn’t just lost a friend, I’d lost a teacher too - a soul mate who had been placed in my life to present me with a lesson about reality. Unfortunately, I hadn’t realized how much his friendship meant to me until he stepped away. This was the Universe blowing open the door.
*Update* Thankfully, today, over a decade after this incident - we are casual friends. And, to my credit, when I look back at the situation, I was probably a bit harder on myself than I should have been. It takes two to tango, and my friend and I were both amateur dancers when it came to the ‘loaning money tango’. Even so, my lessons from the Universe remain. When She knocks for the first time, you better listen! Don’t wait for that canon to blast through...