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Taking inventory of your life after loss and heartbreak with Poorna Bell’s In Search of Silence

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“Grief is the terrible reminder of the depths of our love and, like love, grief is non-negotiable. There is a vastness to grief that overwhelms our minuscule selves”. – Nick Cave

Things fall apart. We grieve and feel a deep well of hurt inside of us. We feel stuck, wondering if this is just how it will be from now on. But then, ever so slowly, we start to put ourselves back together again. We look at where we are and we take stock. Day by day, we rebuild a life; albeit a very different one from before. We survive.

Poorna Bell knows the lines and contours of the pain of grieving. Her memoir, In Search of Silence, is a powerful story of love, loss, and rebuilding a life on new ground. It starts with the saddest of endings and new beginnings: her husband, Rob, taking his own life after years of addiction and depression.

Poorna knows that she can’t carry on the same life in London. Nor can she continue business as usual in the leadership team of HuffPost UK.

“There comes a point, whether through death, loss, illness or heartbreak, when you are forced to take inventory of your life”, writes Poorna. “I loved my life in London, but there were parts of it I wasn’t happy with, that I needed to question.”

“You look about your life, and you realise that you don’t recognise the things in it. They no longer fit the person you are.”

Instead of continuing as before, Poorna ponders the coordinates where she can think about building a new life. Cutting across remote landscapes in India, New Zealand and Britain, Poorna questions why we seek other people to fix what’s inside of us – and builds her own authentic healing pathway instead.

“It was not as simple as leaving my current life and buggering off around the world. Unless you are good at compartmentalising or medicating your life, your troubles, your sadness, your disappointments do not operate to postcodes, latitudes or longitudes.”

Manu Bay, New Zealand. Photo by anja.

Poorna is conscious of the comparisons to Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestseller about travelling for self-discovery (a book that I personally think gets a bad rep, Elizabeth Gilbert’s a wonderful author).

Yet Poorna’s trip is less about escape and more about return, including to India, as one place she calls home, and to New Zealand, where her late husband grew up and his family live. She realises that her adventures can’t be a temporary distraction or way to pacify her, even if they could be.

“I didn’t need spiritual awakening. I didn’t need travel to save me or show me how lucky I was. This was about me taking my life in my own hands and willing this new version of myself into existence.”

Along the way, Poorna retreats into nature. She relishes “the frequency that truly peaceful places emit, their sound created in the lapping of waves and the language of birds”. It’s in these places that she feels at home and at peace.

Annapurna Base Camp Trekking Route, Ghandruk, Nepal. Photo by Rosan Harmens.

“The reason I love trekking, or rather, being around mountains, is that there is no hiding from my bullshit. I can’t get on my phone to distract me from an uncomfortable thought. There is a lot of thinking to do, and it happens at its own pace and timeline”.

Poorna shares something that all of us who love the outdoors can relate to: “Being here, in this landscape, forces a change. In the spaces of silence we finally hear a voice that is our own. It comes unbidden, softly, willingly, not through trauma or coaxed through the words of a therapist or a friend delivering tough love”.

She continues with one of my favourite quotes from the book:

“Mountains offer a gentler path to understanding yourself, without the need for a catastrophe.”

As she wills the new version of herself into existence, one word strikes loud and clear in the quiet headspace she finds: writer.

“I always knew I was going to become a writer, not because I had a romantic notion of bashing away on a typewriter with pencils twisted in my hair, but because, as early as I can remember, it’s what I did.

In the same way that reading books was a conduit into wonderful new worlds that I could go and live in for a while, where I trod on their soil and breathed their air, writing helped me articulate how I related to the world.”

By escaping the echo chamber of corporate London and following where her past, present and future selves lead her, Poorna finds the frequency of her own voice. She finds where she wants to be.

“I didn’t expect to fix my sadness, but I wanted to create an inner reservoir of calm and quiet that I could draw on whenever I was in need”, writes Poorna, channelling my go-to Stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius.

Masinagudi, India. Photo by Nashad Abdu.

Poorna also finds a new understanding of love, far from narrow definitions restricted to romantic couplings:

“I understand why people think the only thing that can fix a heart broken by love is another love equal or greater in magnitude. But that doesn’t have to come from just one other person. When you think about all of the love you will ever experience in your lifetime, including that which you have for yourself, that is still an immense foundation to build your life on.”

In Search of Silence teaches us to escape the echo chambers that fog up our view of who we are and how we wish to spend our lives. It gives us a more expansive definition of love, one that values self-love no lower than any other form. It reminds us that things end and things begin. And it comes down to asking these questions:

“Are the lives we have the ones we want, or the ones we felt pressured to have? Do we really want those things, or would we have done things differently? What is our own thought, our own hope, and what is the echo of everyone else’s?”

As of May 2019, In Search of Silence is available now to pick up, curl up with, lose yourself in, and – like all great stories – come out slightly different on the other side of.

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