The Antidote? Inviting Surprise and Mystery Back Into Our Lives


I think that we can all agree that the world looks very different now from the pre-pandemic world we’ve left behind. I don’t remember the last time we were not in a ‘zone’ and even more importantly, it feels different.

Recently I’ve been feeling emotionally unwell and what made it initially worse was that I couldn’t put my feelings into words. I think the months of isolation made it very difficult for me really gage how I was feeling. I’ve realised that to some extent we need others to help us become conscious of feelings that rest just beneath the surface and that we may not be aware of. Also, that being aware of the lives and feelings of others also offers us a contrast against which we can check in on ourselves. Does that make sense?

If we are left alone with our thoughts for too long, negative thoughts can take over and become exaggerated, making us feel depressed. It helps to have someone who can snap us out of these types of moods or hold space for us as we try to make sense of ourselves and our experience.

It wasn’t until I heard the term ‘ambiguous loss’ used by psychotherapist Esther Perel  that I began to feel less confused. She used it to describe the loss of physicality and the impact of this on our mental health.

We suffer ambiguous loss when we experience the loss of physicality which is the loss of our physical connection with meaningful spaces that we once inhabited and the loss of physical closeness with those we love.

At first, it’s easy to say that we can bear the loss if it’s only for a little while. But when there is no end in sight and no certainty as to when we can return to work and be close to those we love – the unknown begins to take its toll.

The loss we feel is ambiguous because we continue to work without physically being at work and we continue to connect with others on zoom without really connecting with them in physical proximity so there is an illusion of continuity without real contact.

Furthermore, there is an emphasis on safety which means that we are no longer inhabiting the places that bring wonder, delight and mystery into our lives by happenstance.

This loss can bring an immense amount of stress as we try to compensate subconsciously for the loss by working harder, trying to make life feel as normal and as certain as possible. But this doesn’t change the way we feel and it’s not the answer.

The antidote to ambiguous loss is threefold. She recommends demarcating intentional boundaries, creating rituals to mark sacred space and recreating meaningful routines as a way to invite surprise and mystery back into our pandemic lives.

Esther Perel

Setting intentional boundaries means naming where our limits are. Healthy boundaries are direct. They are aligned with our values and feel very grounding. Often we don’t feeling well in the areas of our lives where these boundaries are not clearly set.

Personal rituals allow us to mark sacred time for ourselves and for those we love. And meaningful routines add to our quality of life while at the same time allowing us to meet our responsibilities.

This antidote allows us to work with these underlining feelings directly which is especially important during this time of uncertainty that we are facing in the world today.

What meaningful rituals and routines are you going to create to invite surprise and mystery back into your life?

* Photograph taken at the Istanbul Archaeological Museum

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  1. A beautiful new blog site. I love the title too, although I loved the last one as well. This idea of inviting surprise and mystery into our lives resonates with me. I’m not sure what rituals give me access to that. Maybe just being deeply appreciative of the moment and what it brings Expecting to be delighted, and making “wonder” a practice. To look beyond the surface of things.

    1. Thank you Deborah. I love the other one too but moving forward, it felt a little too heavy for me. Yes, being deeply appreciative of the moment is all about intentionally making space for the joy of what is without allowing our ego to crowd it out. I would say that intentionally making this space is an invitation 🙂

      I hope you had a lovely holiday and I’m wishing you and your family lots of love, health and happiness in the new year.

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