It’s hard enough for most of us to make desired changes. Divorce is an unwanted change—or at least one you didn’t imagine you’d eventually desire back when you were walking down the aisle (even if by the time you split, you’re quite ready for it).
To get divorced is to step out of the story you imagined for yourself, one that perhaps felt destined, or as is “should” be. One of the great challenges of divorce is to become comfortable with a story that you would not have written, a narrative that hasn’t gone according to your plans. We have to not only face this new “story,” but also, eventually, write a new one that does work for us.
Developing a spiritual life can be a huge aid in rewriting a life story you desire.
We’ve been told stories from the time we were little, and most of us grow imagining our lives as a kind of story, with ourselves as the protagonist. It might be a good or bad story, but it’s often a pretty simple story-paradigm. Within this storyline, as long as things go “well,” we feel okay. But when things start to get more complicated, we’re not so okay. Life has a way of getting complicated. So after a while, living within this simple story can become start to feel like a cage.
Whether or not you’re religious or believe in a higher power, developing a spiritual practice can help you question the overly-narrow story you’ve been telling yourself.
A spiritual practice can help you see the ways in which your ideas of good and bad are limited and limiting your own growth and happiness. It can help you re-imagine yourself, and write a new story that accommodates your new reality.
I love the serenity prayer that twelve step groups like AA use, because it points to the importance of recognizing what we can, and can’t control:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
Only when we realize the extent to which our story is out of our control, can we really enter into a deeper relationship with the world around us and with ourselves. This challenge is also one of our greatest invitations to grow.
Differentiating between what we can and cannot change helps us take deeper responsibility for our inner lives and our actions, and therefore exert more control over them. It also helps us perceive what twelve step groups call “a greater power”—a story beyond our own human story, the existence of a world, and even of forces beyond our own.
So how do you develop this new spiritual life?
Here are three simple steps:
1. Reconnect or connect more deeply with the religious tradition in which you were raised.
Go back to what you connected with as a child. Or if you did not connect with religion as a child, this might be a time to explore your roots and heritage.
2. Explore a different religious community.
Many people value belonging to a religious institution but feel judged by their existing faith community or the doctrines of their faith. Rather than giving up on religion altogether, try investigating a more supportive one. Divorce can be a great time to check out a religion or branch or congregation that is different from the one you were raised in but supports the critical values that ground you. It may be a different branch of Christianity or Judaism, or an Eastern religion such as Buddhism that can feel totally different and new, and may focus more on practice and experience than on “belief” or “faith.”
3. Try a non-religious form of spirituality.
Try engaging in a tradition such as yoga or meditation to experience the benefits of expanding your perspective and stepping outside of your day-to-day worries. Or spend time in nature to feel connected to something larger than the self.
When we re-imagine ourselves within a spiritual context, we come to see that we are not the center of the world. This is a hugely freeing realization. There is no one, simple center. All spiritual practices posit a type of inter-relatedness, a way of remembering that we are part of a greater whole. This realization of interconnectedness—which we all must realize again and again throughout our lives—makes us both smaller and larger. On an individual level, we are smaller. But on a cosmic level, we are larger because we see ourselves as connected to something larger, enabling us to reframe our task not as trying to control what happens to us, but rather control how we respond to the external and internal happenings.
Nadia Colburn brings together mindfulness, writing and yoga in her online class, Align Your Story, and she works as a coach for women in transition. Her writing has appeared in The New Yorker, slate.com, The Boston Globe Magazine, and other places. She is a founding editor at Anchor Magazine: where spirituality and social justice meet. Nadia holds a PhD in English from Columbia University and a BA from Harvard, and has taught at MIT, Lesley and in workshops around New England. She is also a certified Kundalini yoga teacher and an Order of Being Aspirant in Thich Nhat Hanh's Plum Village tradition. See www.nadiacolburn.com.