I was thinking about arcs the other day, about how almost everything has its own arc – a beginning, a slow or fast rise, a peak, the waning, and the eventual completion. We often sense when an arc has completed itself, but can override it nonetheless.   There is an arc of a playdate (and when overridden, within minutes, minor injuries and squabbles inevitably ensue), an arc of a conversation (wait too long past this arc and in enters boredom and irritation), an arc of a relationship (caution:proceeding past the arc of this one equals immense suffering), and the arc of a life.

(I don’t know that we can override the arc of a life.  That is perhaps what can be so terrifying to many.)

Over time, I have gotten better at listening to the signals that an arc is ending.   Often they are subtle, requiring me to be still so that I can hear beyond the noise of my own (and other’s) wants, agendas and stories.  I’m learning that if I miss the signals, it’s usually because I’m more interested in a fantasy than what is true.

Take the relatively innocuous playdate example.  It’s a beautiful day at the park. I’m enjoying chatting with the other moms, the kids have been playing peacefully for a solid 2 hours (wow!).  And then the signals begin – subtle at first: a child’s tone of voice becomes slightly sharp, a worn-out look crosses another child’s face (only for a moment though).  And I know – the playdate is done.  Go directly home.  Don’t wait.

But I do.  I do wait, because I am enjoying the adult connection time, because the sun is still so warm on my skin, because I am delaying the trip to Whole Foods.  I am ignoring Reality for a fantasy of what I want more…then, within minutes, a child falls off the bars or a fight over a toy breaks out, and Life has once again let me know that I have outstayed the welcome of the moment. I have moved beyond the natural flow of life.  The arc was done 5 minutes ago, but I didn’t want to let go.

I’m getting better at sensing when the arc of a relationship is done and actually acting on this knowing.  This has been a big life lesson for me, one that I have resisted learning for years (with immense suffering as an inevitable byproduct).

Of course, I found that it’s really okay if I don’t listen to the subtle signals.  Life is kind and patient.  “Oh,” it says,“You’re not quite ready to listen? Okay.  I’ll just keep giving you more hints until you pay attention.” Sometimes Life has to hit us over the head with a hammer.  This is still Life being kind.  It has our best interest at heart – but it is resorting to more blunt tactics to get us to let go.  “The arc is done”, it says.  “It’s time.  Let go.  There is goodness waiting for you…”

And so I keep practicing listening for the signals, paying attention while they’re gentle and subtle, and then moving quickly to bring completion to an arc when I know it is done.  (Note: This can sometimes mean mustering unimaginable amounts of inner courage and surrounding myself with all manners of support.) In this way, I am ready for the next arc and all the magic that it has to bring.

I am learning that what Life has to bring is way better than any agenda I might have or any fantasy that I want to hold on to.  So, I am completing arcs now in a relatively timely fashion.  It’s a nice break from being hit in the head with a hammer.  🙂