A follower of my Instagram page asked me this week to write about the process of making sense of things that don’t make sense – the nonsensical events in our lives that often represent the fractures, fault lines, and shadows of our hearts. This is a timeless topic given the inherent chaotic, unpredictable nature of life (despite our persistent – and usually futile – attempts to harness control over ourselves and our circumstances.) We want to make certain what is uncertain and know what remains unknown, and yet much of the time this is impossible.
I could sit here and list all the events that could be considered nonsensical, but I don’t need to, because I know that your mind has very likely offered you a memory or few that trace the fault lines of your own heart already. But if you need a definition, I would say that a nonsensical event is something unexpected and outside the realm of normal human experience. Something for which there is no category in the filing cabinet at the back of our minds.
We have to operate in the world assuming certain things to be true, in order to stay sane.
You see, the thing is that we have to operate in the world assuming certain things to be true, in order to stay sane. Those assumptions are generally:
- Good things happen to good people (and bad things happen to bad people);
- The world is a predictable place and we are safe within it (“It won’t happen to me”); and,
- Events always have meaning.
Holding these assumptions preserves our well-being, even though logically, you can see that they are not always true. However, for the most part, these assumptions work in our favour.
Until they don’t.
Until something nonsensical happens and turns our world upside down.
Then what? How on Earth do we deal with bad things happening to us even if we are good, the fact that the world is not predictable and our safety is not permanently guaranteed, and that events can and will happen at random?
Well, first, expect psychological fallout. Expect that the “normal” reaction to such an event is to feel abnormal in your own skin and head for some time. It’s very difficult to continue on as normal when your world tilts so far that it may now rotate on an entirely new axis. The fallout may include feeling emotionally paralysed, or constantly being in a state of anxiety in preparation for the next thing to go wrong, or the urge to hide away from the world forever.
For most people the fallout won’t last*. At some stage, you will transition into the next phase of healing (and the next phase, and the next phase after that – there is no perfect trajectory here). And yes, because we are adaptive, resilient, creative, powerful beings, we can heal.
It just might not look the way you expect it to.
Your world may forever look different. It may not just be a changed landscape, but an altogether unrecognisable geography that you have to learn to navigate from the very first step. And the way we learn to navigate this new ground is by making sense of the nonsensical. By finding meaning out of what may seem meaningless.
Even when we can’t.
The process of making sense and finding meaning in earth-shattering, soul-splitting, heart-breaking events in our lives is probably not going to look like you expect to.
Here’s the other thing: the process of making sense and finding meaning in earth-shattering, soul-splitting, heart-breaking events in our lives is probably not going to look like you expect to, either. At least, not in my experience (personally and professionally). It’s probably going to be far less straight, open, highway and much more winding-dirt-road-not-charted-on-Google-maps. But the human spirit is irrepressible and you will find your way down that road with a little willingness and curiosity. Even though I can’t tell you exactly what your road will look like, I can say these are some of the waypoints along the journey that you might come across:
I wish I could tell you the secret formula to making sense of all that has no sense to it. But, I can’t, because it doesn’t exist. I can’t because there are some things in the world and in our lives that we will never understand. Why? I don’t know. Perhaps we are always destined to be mystified by the inexplicable so that we remain curious seekers in the world. What I do know is that when you’re figuratively hanging upside down trying to turn your world right-side up, the only place you are likely to find sense is within. Listen to that small, wise voice. She might be a little quieter, maybe a little more tentative than usual. But she’s still there, and she still knows more than you give her credit for. The “sense” may never come for the event itself. But it will come from what you learn about yourself after the fact.
You can’t force pieces of your past to fit together in quiet, perfect submission to your demands. You can’t force it to look prettier than it is, with its sharp edges, bruised skin, and exposed nerve-endings. Sometimes the meaning is not in the event. It’s in the unfolding, the unlearning, and the unbecoming after the event. It’s in who shows up. It’s in who stays and who leaves. And sometimes it’s eight thousand days down the track, sitting there waiting for you to be ready to see it, a little lesson patiently holding time for you.
Meaning is found in the unfolding, the unlearning, and the unbecoming after a heart-breaking event.
Here, you’ll learn to find flow. You’ll learn that any state of resistance (avoidance, denial, bargaining, anger, revenge, resentment) keeps you stuck where you are and halts your healing process. And by god you’ll fight. We all do. You’ll fight with everything you have until flow is the only answer left and the relief will be palpable. You’ll become a little bit okay with uncertainty. You’ll become a little bit okay with not knowing. And those little bits add up to you being just a bit more bendy so you don’t break as easily anymore.
4. Losing the Questions
Somewhere down the road is a sign with two arrows. The arrow indicating the direction from which you’ve come says, “Hold On” and the other arrow, indicating the direction ahead says, “Let Go.” Choices can be a real bitch, can’t they? This is the point where you get to decide how to proceed.
You can hold on to your need for answers. You can hold on to the injustice. You can hold on to the pain. And by holding on, I mean white-knuckle-nails-into-palms type of grip here. I mean the type of grip, that if it were around your throat, would asphyxiate you in no time. I mean the type of grip that keeps in you one spot.
Or you can let go. And by letting go, I mean you release your grip. You can surrender to all that is unanswerable, lose the questions or ask different ones. You can gather your hurt and take it with you, but carry it gently so that it doesn’t scar you further.
The point is that you have the choice. (And you even have the choice to delay your decision and float in a holding pattern for a time. That’s okay, too, and may offer you the breathing space you need as you prepare for the next stretch of road).
Even though it may never make sense as you wanted it to, you can still find a place for your experience in the tapestry of your life. The shadows give the tapestry contours, delineating lessons from longings, delights from despair. The only other alternative is to fight with pieces of yourself which is to imply that you are not whole. We are only whole with the inclusion of all experiences that have lead us to this very moment, including the nonsensical ones. We need it all in the frame for balanced beauty.
Thank you for the topic suggestion @beachsoulseeker75! I hope this went some way to explaining my experience with all things nonsensical. I’m grateful for your curiosity and willingness to explore this because I’m sure it’s one that will resonate with others.
*For some people, the fallout does last and they experience conditions such as posttraumatic stress disorder. If you are concerned that you might struggling with fallout, please see your doctor. We have some very effective treatments that can help you.