Nevertheless, we need to practice conscious completion. This means being present, to the best of our ability, with the sensations, thoughts and emotions that arise during endings.
When we “show up” for endings, we invite others to “show up.”
During my last visit with my dying mother in 2010, she insisted that she was “going to fight this,” even though it was painfully clear that her body was winding down. I wanted us to speak honestly about this, and about our relationship. I had things I was longing to say, and questions. And I wanted to hear whatever she needed to say to me. All that.
Her refusal to admit that this was (likely) our last visit prevented that conversation from happening. I had to insist. Eventually, she agreed to talk, as long as she could have a nap first. So she did. When she awoke, she said, with steely resolve, “I’m ready.”
For about an hour, we had the most truthful and focused conversation we had ever had. We actually connected. It was, for me, a miracle. I felt satisfied, complete. She was utterly exhausted afterwards, and immediately had another nap.
I felt a bit guilty for having “worn her out,” but I found out later from her friends that she had repeatedly mentioned that talk, saying that we had had “such a good visit,” and that she felt close to me for the first time in decades.
We both were nourished by that conscious goodbye.
Conscious endings give us a fresh start for new situations.
A client of mine who had changed jobs noticed he was wary at work, anticipating the worst. He realized he was projecting the awful interpersonal dynamics of his old job onto the new one, even though the culture at the new organization was emotionally intelligent and responsive.
I took him through a somatic closure process, and he was able to acknowledge, express and let go of the emotions and dynamics of the old job. Afterward he felt relieved. In the following weeks, he found himself able to engage more wholeheartedly with his new coworkers.
I want to share this somatic closure process with you. It’s a practice I learned from Denise Benson, a brilliant therapist and somatic coach.
You can practice this by yourself as a journal exercise, or you can speak it aloud.
You can also practice this with your therapist or coach, or with a supportive friend or group.
Somatic Completion Practice
First, choose which ending you want to attend to. It might be a job you recently left, a loved one who has passed away, or a painful breakup. It could be a familiar aspect of yourself that is falling away.
Even if you are happy about this ending, it is important to complete it. Conscious completion frees up stuck energy, giving you momentum for your next steps.
Next, speak aloud or write about each of the following four categories (in whatever order works for you) as they apply to your ending:
For example, for the “Resentment” category, you can say (or write), “I resent that________” or, “One resentment I have about_____is: ______.”
You can do this “stream of consciousness” style by naming one resentment after another without pausing. Every once in a while (maybe every 3 or 4 resentments), tune into your body sensations and hang out with them for a bit.
Write them down or describe them aloud to help you stay with: 1. what they are (are they a temperature, a texture, a sense of movement or stillness, a “mood”, etc.), and 2. where they are (your big toe? Deep inside your chest? Floating just above your head?).
Or, you can do it this way: express one resentment, pause, and then complete a long, slow inhale and exhale. Feel your sensations.
Then move on to the next resentment. Follow it with another long, slow deep breath. Continue until you have expressed all the resentments you can access at the moment.
If there are more Resentments, Appreciations, Regrets or Learnings to be expressed, you can repeat this practice later on as much as you need.
Don’t forget to check in with your sensations! Being wide awake in your senses is the key to conscious, embodied endings. Experiencing your bodily sensations of ending frees up your somatic energy to fully engage in what comes next.
If during this process your body starts unwinding, let it!
Your body is literally “letting go” of the old, making room for the new.
You might need to repeat the closure practice several times to feel complete, especially if what is dying or ending has been a significant part of your life.
Authentic endings help us forgive ourselves and one other.
You can use the somatic completion practice in a group or organizational context.
A pastor-friend of mine brought a version of this practice to the final board meeting for their community’s youth empowerment project. The project had gone bankrupt because of financial miscalculation. It was being closed down.
Everyone involved had put their hearts and sweat into the project. Each member felt some degree of grief, guilt or bitterness. They needed to have an honest discussion, free from acrimony.
My pastor-friend invited each participant to express: two resentments, two appreciations, two regrets and two learnings. The group listened to one another without interruption, and gradually the atmosphere lightened.
My friend observed that the combined structure of clear limits (“Tell us two–and only two–of each category.”) plus full permission to express “negative” feelings (resentments and regrets), created a safe container that allowed difficult feelings and opinions to be expressed without ugliness or blame.
The group was able to access gratitude and mutual appreciation as well as grief and disappointment. By the end of the meeting, the general atmosphere was surprisingly peaceful (as well as deeply sad, etc.).
I invite you to try out this practice with your endings:
When your dog dies.
When your last child leaves home.
When you finish your diploma or degree.
When you retire.
Let me know how it goes…