I know this isn’t a condition that’s commonly discussed. A, because it’s so uncomfortable, and B, because I just made it up. Of course, there’s lots of talk about “empty nests.” But you don’t need to be sending a kid off to college to feel that deep, hollow ache of “NOW WHAT?” echoing through your soul.
You can experience Empty Next Syndrome (ENS) after a birth, a death, a move, a milestone, a breakup, a breakdown, a success. a failure, a change, a challenge or any random act of reality. I first became aware of this condition in January. I began the New Year full of energy and a to-do list a mile long: Work on blog, edit videos, start a book, blah-blah-blah.
Then, Life Happened.
In the most heart-aching, soul-shaking, stress-making way. I’ll spare you the details, but it’s been the stuff of sleepless nights and nightmare days. For months, I’ve been stuck in the muck of drama and trauma, agonizing and strategizing. Blog ,schmog.
Most days, I couldn’t even face the grocery store.
In time, when the drama and trauma subsided a bit, I sat down to start writing. I tried. And I tried. And I tried. But I was totally at a loss for words. (Which is pretty rare for me.) I panicked. If I couldn’t even write a single blog post, how could I make my bigger visions soar? Day after day, staring at the blank screen, it finally hit me.
We are not machines.
When our circuits are blown by a crisis, a challenge or a change in our lives, we can’t just flick a switch and start functioning like nothing happened. And when you’re a do-er, a fixer and an accomplisher, like so many of us are programmed to be, this can be a major shock to our systems. I kept trying to “pull myself up by the bootstraps,” “get back on the saddle” and to “put on a happy face.”
But none of those cliches worked. This did:
I gave up.
After dozens of attempts (and tirades about what a loser I am), I stopped trying to come up with clever tips for navigating Empty Next Syndrome. Instead, I lit a candle, planted my feet on the ground and took some deep breaths right into my heart.
Then, I imagined an electrical switch on my brain and turned it to OFF. Next, I envisioned a switch on my heart, and turned to ON. I asked the universe, “How can I help others who are struggling with Empty Next Syndrome?” Instead of avoiding the void, I went into it.
Out of the emptiness, these words emerged:
You suffer from the belief that the only way to move forward is in a straight line. Instead, try thinking of your life as a spiral. With the goal of going deeper, rather than further, you’ll find much more peace in your heart. This cultural preoccupation with “Next” has you hurrying through life with a grocery cart, trying to stuff it full of everything on your list.
When you choose to trust that everything is happening in its perfect time and that standing still is its own sacred movement, you’ll be free. And discover things far beyond the confines of a list. What if instead of seeing yourself stuck in the muck of nothingness, you believed you were pregnant with possibilities.
What if you viewed the empty times as rests between musical phrases. Or the white space in a vibrant painting. Or the pause of punctuation in the run-on-sentence of your life.
If you can accept the concept that life here on earth is a classroom, then this so called “Empty Next Syndrome” is a much-needed vacation. Give yourself permission to rest, to restore, to rejuvenate, to recalibrate, to reclaim and to revisit Who You Are. Let go of what has been. Allow the new form to come in.
The presents of presence.
I’m not sure exactly where those words came from. Whether it’s from my Heart, my Soul or my Inner Dragonfly, I do know that this message is meant for you as well as me. We all have access to deep wisdom and healing if we’re willing to delve into the discomfort of not knowing.
Of course, when our lives are broken open, it’s human nature to look for a cure in the outside world, no matter what you’re going through, instead of looking for a way out of Empty Next Syndrome, I hope you’ll find the fullness within. Honoring the space between What Was and What Will Be, allows us to find the gifts of What Is.