Finding the Courage to Live Mindfully


This is a guest post by my dear friend Kali Hawlk. I am so moved by her willingness to open her heart and be vulnerable with this community. <3

I struggled to sit down and write this post, because I wanted to share something with you that I’m still struggling to frame — to frame into a narrative that is powerful and relatable, to frame into a parable that you can use to learn a deep lesson, to frame into an exercise that provides a cathartic release for me.

When Cait reached out to me and asked if I could write a guest post for her wonderful blog, I felt honored by the request, then excited to write about my own experiences with minimalism and mindfulness. But I quickly realized there was really only one story I could share with you today, and I felt scared because I was unsure of how.

After days of going to great lengths to procrastinate on this post, I finally got started tonight. I was alone in my apartment and the neighborhood street outside was quiet. With the windows open, I could feel a breeze that kept hinting fall is right around the corner. It was a lovely environment in which, as Hemingway put it, to sit down and bleed.

And I knew I was going to have to bleed profusely in order to write this particular post.

I was working on a pretty nice little intro that slowly built up to the point I wanted to make with you here when my phone pinged. Looking down I saw a new text message, from my new ex-husband.

My concentration broke; my train of thought skittered off the rails. I put my head in my hands and stared through my fingers at the keyboard, wondering how I could possibly explain the enormity and complexity of the situation that led to my divorce.

Waking Up and Not Knowing Where You Are

Have you ever started driving down a road you knew in acute detail and, for whatever reason, you zoned out at the wheel — only to snap out of it, look around, and realize you have no memory of how you got that much further down the road?

I had that experience earlier this year, only the road was my life and the car was a relationship that I no longer recognized. The feeling of waking up, looking around, and thinking, how am I already so far from where I wanted to end up? is a devastating one, especially when you feel trapped by what you perceive as an irreversible mistake.

To make what could be a novel into a short blog post, allow me to summarize what happened to me as succinctly as possible: I snapped. I came out of a foggy, dreamlike state where everything just kind of… was. I realized, this is my life and I am not living it how I want. And then started furiously clawing my way out of the box I built for myself.

I built that box by disengaging from who I was and what I wanted to do with my life. I gathered the raw materials I’d need to construct it when I made decisions based off other people’s expectations. I hammered in the nails when, instead of doing the hard thing of creating my own path, I tried walking down other people’s in hopes that copying everyone else who seemed okay would make me okay, too.

The Struggle with Guilt and Other Useless Emotions That Hold Us Back

When I first realized that I wanted out of my marriage, I thought I would drown in the waves of shame, guilt, sadness, anger, and panic that slammed into me. I could not get divorced. It wasn’t an option.

How could I cause so much suffering and pain in this person that I cared deeply for? That I loved in a way that was still special and important… but who I could not spend the rest of my life with? Wasn’t sacrificing my own happiness so as not to disrupt the life of someone else only fair as punishment for making this momentous mistake in the first place?

What would my family think? How badly would I disappoint them? How much would I hurt them? What would my friends say, or people that I knew? How could I even tell them?

What would his family think? What awful, horrible things would they say about what a monstrous person I was?

Combined with these worries, an endless stream of thoughts about what a failure, what a selfish, cruel, evil human being, what a bad person I was swirled through my head. I was paralyzed by fear, self-loathing, and guilt.

Until a close friend of mine told me that if I was unhappy, then something needed to change. And if failing to make mindful, intentional decisions led me to this point, it was time to stop making that mistake. It was time to be honest about how I felt, what I needed, and where my life would go.

I needed to quit letting external factors dictate my actions. I needed to make the decision that was right for me. Because no one else is living my life and it’s the only one I’m going to get. Our experiences of this existence are valuable beyond words, and we shouldn’t limit our steps to the path that works for other people but not ourselves.

Guilt and shame will choke you to death if you let them. Don’t let them drown out that little inner voice that you know speaks the truth, that you know is in line with who you are and what you need to do.

Starting Over (and Why We Had To)

But why? Why did a need to change my life need to include the decision to end a marriage?

The closest I can come is to ask you to imagine two thin wooden beams. The beams are straight, and lying near each other. At one end, the beams are touching — but instead of running straight upward together, making two parallel lines, one leans toward the left and one toward the right.

As the beams run out from where they touch, they get farther and farther apart. You could rearrange them to make them touch, but assuming the ends are fixed — the ends where the beams touch — the only way to do this is to break one or both of the beams and rearrange the pieces next to each other.

The beams represent who we are. Not just what we want or our hopes and dreams, but who we are at our cores. And the length of the beams represents time.

I met my ex when I was 19 years old in college. I married him when I was 22. Though my gut felt uneasy about some things — things that indicated who we were as people — I did love him profusely. He was, and is, a wonderful person and one of the friendliest, kindest souls I’ve ever known.

But as time went on that gut feeling got stronger as I traveled farther along my beam. I felt unease every time we made a decision that didn’t reflect the path I wanted to take with my life. Try as I might to align my core self with his (while ever more frantically attempting to practice gratitude for all the things I couldn’t complain about), the beam resisted more and more each time I put pressure on it. Tiny splinters began appearing where I tried desperately to change who I was to suit the decisions I made in the past.

And one day I realized if I pulled back any harder, I would snap and find a path littered with a broken beam and full of what ifs, missed opportunities, and dreams that never even got a shot at becoming reality.

I wish I could more clearly express what lead us to this point, or why things ended this way. But this image must do because, while I’m okay sharing pieces of my life in a public forum, my ex may not feel the same way. I want to both protect and respect his privacy and emotions, because I do care deeply for him.

And as bizarre as it may sound to say about someone you divorced, I do want him to flourish and find the sort of happiness I felt didn’t exist in our old state of being. He deserves long days full of inspiration, satisfaction, and fulfillment.

We both do.

Finding the Courage to Live Mindfully

When I realized that my decisions within the relationship were not a reflection of who I was or what I wanted out of my life, I knew that I couldn’t continue making those mistakes. I didn’t know how to deal with the fear of judgment, I didn’t know how to stop worrying about what other people would say about me.

But I did know I didn’t want to live with the knowledge that I turned away from what was right for me, or stayed in a place where I felt unhappy, unfulfilled, and lacking direction and purpose because I was scared.

As soon as I blurted out to my dad one day that I was unhappy, I broke down in tears and felt immensely sad, ashamed — and relieved. As soon as I walked out of the courthouse after filing for a divorce, I silently cried all the way home over many things — and I felt like a massive weight had been lifted off my chest.

And as soon as I moved to a new city and took my first walk around the streets by myself, I felt calm. I felt like something that had shifted around unpleasantly for years within me finally clicked into place.

Living mindfully is not always easy. It is often unpleasant, scary, and painful in the moments you choose to step away from the herd and intentionally create your own path.

Living mindfully requires you to wake up from what might be a perfectly nice daydream, in which things are okay and you are content and everything is fine. It usually means turning away from something you know and accepting the risk, the challenge, and the potential for epic failure that comes with taking a leap into the unknown.

But living mindfully also means finding the courage to tune out everything else and identify what your own inner truth looks like — and what it’s trying to tell you. When you let that feeling take the stage, when you listen to it, and, hardest of all, act in accordance to what you know to be the right thing for you, you’ll have the opportunity to create a life full of meaning and purpose.

Kali Hawlk is a freelance writer who loves helping creatives make more — of their money, their work, and their lives. She provides weekly posts encouraging makers and doers to create with intention on
  • You have a beautiful writing style Kali. I’ve been to your site and read some of your work and it always me say, “Wow”.

    Congratulations on having the courage to make the change. I can imagine how incredibly hard it was regardless of the reasons why you were unhappy. I was in a bad marriage for many years. I dealt with repeated infidelity, physical and emotional abuse, and my spouses unwillingness to have a J O B. And I was so very ashamed that no one knew, not even my parents. Looking back, I so wish that I had had the courage to end my marriage many years sooner but I was scared.

    The truth is that I never got the courage to leave. He had a stroke and passed away and that was the ending of our very bad marriage. I still regret not having the courage to make changes to my life years sooner.

    • Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for the kind words — but more importantly, for sharing your own story with me. I can’t imagine how scared you must have been during this time, and I’m glad that one way or another you were able to make the changes you needed. I feel you’ve absolutely found your courage now, to speak about that situation and share it with others.

  • Kali, beautiful post. I think it is a reminder that “sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same.” I wish you both true happiness.

    • Thank you, Kristen. I appreciate you sharing that sentiment — I agree with it, and I deeply appreciate your wishes for happiness!

  • I love how there is such quiet strength in your words. As humans, we have an amazing capacity for tolerating things we think we should and just trudging along. Thank you for sharing your story and reminding everyone that we really are in charge of much more of our happiness than we think. Best wishes on your journey.

    • Thank you for the kind words, Penny! You’re right, most of us get caught up in a web of shoulds that stop us from progressing, growing, and leading lives that are more meaningful and satisfying. I’m glad that this can serve as a reminder that we are empowered to make our own choices and decisions :)

  • Congratulations on finding the strength to both take action and share it with us. It is a reminder that we all need to make mindfulness an ongoing habit. I too have been down those long roads, only to look up and realize that I was lost and had no idea how I got there. My first marriage lasted 12 years, which was probably 9 or 10 years too long.

    • Thank you, Berin — I appreciate you sharing some of your experience, too. It means a lot to me to know that many of us have experienced something similar and can relate and understand.

  • Thank you for sharing your story! I know it took a lot of courage to write this post.

    I think one of the hardest things to deal with when making a life-changing decision is people’s reactions at the time. It’s only years later when they see we chose the right path.

    • Thanks, Elizabeth. That’s really insightful and I agree.. dealing with people’s reactions in the moment is excruciatingly difficult and painful. I’m not sure if that ever gets easier, but from my experience I’m learning to recognize when the “what will other people think” issue starts blocking me from doing something I need to do. Thank you again for sharing this!

  • I’m sorry Kali. I’m sure that was not an easy choice to make, but you knew it was right for you. Just because there may be some uncomfortable feelings at first with the decision, living a life that isn’t true to you can be a slow death. I know SO many of my friends who have stayed in unhappy marriage for one irrational reason or another. “It’s for the kids…” or “divorce is expensive.” Do you not think your kids don’t feel that? Do you think it’s better to have financial struggles for awhile instead of a lifetime of unhappiness? Glad you took a step, albeit not an easy one, towards a better life for yourself.

    • I appreciate your kind words, Tonya. I completely agree — I’ve also seen a number of people in those situations who didn’t make a change for reasons that, in the long run, weren’t legitimate reasons at all. People will do a lot of mental gymnastics to make the known, safe thing (even if it’s not an entirely pleasant or good thing) seem like the only option.

      What you said about living a life that isn’t true to you can be a slow death really resonated with me, too. I think that’s absolutely true and too often we trick ourselves into thinking we should just be happy for what we do have instead of going after what could be out there for us. Again, I appreciate you sharing this. It really means a lot to me to read it.

  • Very brave and thoughtful writing. Thank you for sharing your story. You and your ex are going to have beautiful lives!

  • Thank you, Kali. Beautifully expressed. I have to admit I usually cringe when I see “guest post” on a favorite site, but after reading this I completely understand why Cait asked you to write to us. At one time or another we’re all trapped in a “daydream” about something (personal relationships, career choice, finances) or “all of the above”. We do it in a misguided attempt to protect or shield ourselves from something we don’t want to know or admit. If we’re lucky, we decide we want to see things as they really are, take the blinders off, and start again from a new place.

    • Thank you so, so much, Jill. I really appreciate your kind and honest words, and I loved reading your comment. I think you’re spot on with the fact of why we do this — we try to protect ourselves — and what we must do next once we realize we’ve been living with the blinders on — make a choice to be brave enough to start again. Again, thank you :)

  • This is me, now. The decision has been made. The weeks to come will be horrible. Thank you for posting your experience. It is serendipity that I read this just as I was beginning to feel fearful about my choice. Good luck. You are a brave woman.

    • I’m sending big hugs and positive vibes your way, Liz — from one brave woman to another! There will be tough days but there will also be days where you feel happier, more free, and more excited about what you can start building than you ever thought possible. If you ever need someone to chat with, please don’t hesitate to reach out. You’re not alone in this.

  • Thank you Kali for sharing your story of courage. I bursted into tears reading this because I’m afraid that’s where I am with my life at this very moment. This morning I was journaling about if this was truly where I wanted to be in my life or if I’m just being complacent? Am I playing into the role that others want me to fit into? I realize I have not been mindful about the choices that lead me to being where I am now. My husband and I are less than 2 years into our marriage. I think there’s still time to realign but I know in the end, if it doesn’t, I will need the courage to walk away from it…no matter how much that decision hurts because in the end, that will be the best for all of us.

    • Ann, I’ve been trying to write a response to your comment all day — I teared up when reading it. Please know that you are not alone, and you’re not wrong or a bad person for feeling this way. I hope you can figure out what path is best for you, whatever that means, be it realigning or choosing to start again. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you ever need someone to talk with or just vent to. Happy to be there for you. I’ll be sending big hugs and positive thoughts your way <3

  • Oh my goodness Kali, that was such a vulnerable and truth-filled post. I have been away from the PF community a bit lately and as soon as I read “apartment” I figured a missed a move from your lovely suburban home, let alone the end of a marriage. I’m so happy you were able to realize these things and take action to make your life what you want for it. You’re one tough cookie, and I’m thankful you’re doing what will make yourself happy going forward. Big hugs.

    • Thank you so much, Alicia — your comment means a lot to me, along with the hugs :) There’s definitely been a lot of change in a short amount of time, but weirdly I feel like I have more control over my life and what happens in it now, despite the chaos, than I’ve felt in years. Again, thank you for the kind words. I really appreciate it.

  • As someone who’s several years on the other side of a similar decision, I can say: it is so incredibly hard to make that choice when nothing is visibly “wrong.” It is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but truthfully, it opened up such other parts of my life. Once I realized I was strong enough to “fail,” I took so many more chances in my career, my friendships, and other places. It’s wonderful knowing you’re strong enough and smart enough to figure out whatever will come your way.

    • Thank you so much for sharing this, Jenny — it means so much to me to know that others can relate and understand through their own personal experience. I appreciate knowing I’m not alone :) Thank you again.

  • All the best to you on your new journey. I made the same choice in 2012 and it was difficult, scary and I didn’t know if I’d make it on my own. I have and I’m so glad. My ex-husband is also much happier and in the end, that’s what matters. We each have a path that we walk and sometimes they don’t line up and that’s ok. You’re a smart young woman!

  • Kali,

    The ability to post vulnerability takes so much courage. Thank you…for sharing your words and your story. Your strength shows grace, and the fact that you wish your ex with fulfillment and satisfaction in life as you take on new paths in life is mature beyond years. I am so sorry for what happened, but I wish all the best for you during this time as you begin a new journey full of opportunities.

  • They say that death and divorce are the two hardest events to survive in life. And as someone who’s been through both at a young age, I can truly say that this is true. I can relate to everything you wrote, Kali, and I’m sorry that you woke up to find yourself so unhappy. But I’m proud of you for taking steps towards changing it and creating a life that fulfills and propels you forward. You have great things ahead of you! xoxo

    • Thank you, Carrie. I feel so blessed to have people like you in my life, who are so supportive and understanding. I appreciate all the love and encouragement you’ve shown me — it’s made a tremendous impact in my life and I can’t tell you how grateful I am.

  • Kali, I’m so sorry that you’ve had to face all of this. Kudos to you for doing what needed to be done, even if it wasn’t easy. I know the best is yet to be!

  • A beautifully crafted piece of writing. I wish I had had your wisdom when I dealt with these same issues many years ago. I look forward to continued reading…….

  • You are so wise and full of grace. What a thought-provoking piece — we have to remember that mindfulness is also about our relationships and who we surround ourselves with. Things may seem right or even be right for a period of time, but things change. If it’s not working and there’s no solution, it makes sense to move on and be happy. Stop trying to fit a circle into a square. I wish you the best and know you are on to great things.

  • Hi Kali, I couldn’t believe what I was reading as you where talking about my life to a tee.. I went through same experience leaving a marriage 7 years ago after being together almost a decade and two kids later.. It took two years of logistics to figure out how on earth I was going to do it and yet I told nobody in those two years what my plans were.. Like you said though it was like a weight off your chest, I felt that “literally” once it was done and public.. I’ve been very blessed that we both still get along and co-parent extremely well together.. You are a very courageous person and we all need to learn to live intentionally and authentically.. I know people who are in miserable situations just because it’s comfortable or just too hard and many of them are in varying states of depression.. Sadly, they just haven’t found their courage yet..

    • Thank you for your kind words and for sharing your experience, Karena. From your story I know you too are a strong and courageous person, and I admire you for making the decision that was right for you despite the fact that it was hard. It makes me happy to know that you still get along and co-parent with your ex today! I appreciate you taking the time to comment, and thank you again for sharing your story with me.

  • Wow Kali, what a simply amazing post. Your clarity has actually helped me put some things I’m dealing with into perspective. I love your transparency and can’t wait to read more of your work!

    • Thanks, Taylor — I’m honored to know this helped reframe some things for you as well. And it’s always wonderful to know transparency is appreciated! Thank you again, and I wish you all the best :)

  • What a brave and beautiful post. What is missing here that I hear from so many divorcees is resentment and anger. How were you able to transition to a new life of being single without anger when he wasn’t didn’t accomodate you and what you wanted to become? Sounds like you guys tried to work through things and didn’t make this decision hastily. I greatly admire how you can write about this with such an aura of calm and peace. Blessings to you in your new life.

    • Thank you, Leslie. There were a lot of problems and issues in my relationship but none of them came from a hateful place — we were and are different people who find joy and seek fulfillment in drastically different places. I can’t be angry or resentful with someone for that. I can’t tell you how much I hope my ex finds as much joy and happiness in his new life as I’m discovering in mine.

  • Oh wow. Thank you for your words. They resonate deeply.

    I am a few weeks out from the break up of a long term relationship that had me bending, conforming, limiting my own future for the sake of “us”. I didn’t see how far off course I was from the life I’d thought I’d be leading, from the vision I used to have for myself. My identity was so intertwined with “our” life, when “we” suddenly no longer existed, I didn’t recognize much in my life anymore. I have never felt so scared, so alone, so weak. Thankfully that sharp pain and rawness has mostly subsided and I am now recognizing myself more and more. I never want to compromise myself so much ever again. It was terrifying, not recognizing anything in my life. Not knowing who I was anymore.

    Although the details are different, the themes are the same. Having the courage to make a scary change. Having the floor disappear out from under you and managing to find the faith that you’ll land on your feet, although you don’t know where.

    I’ve been told so many times by dear friends helping me through, “you’re so strong, you’re so courageous, I’m so impressed with your ability to do ___.” A lot of the comments you’ve received are similar. I trust the people who tell me these kind things, but lord, they are usually the opposite of how I’m feeling.

    Thank you for sharing. It’s always comforting knowing we’re not alone in this.

    • I found myself nodding along the whole time I read your comment. I completely relate and understand, especially on that last point.. in the moment, it’s hard to feel like a strong or courageous person and so easy to feel ANYTHING else. I’m grateful that you shared your story and experience, and as you said, it’s a comfort to know that we’re not alone. It’s amazing how much we isolate ourselves, especially when going through something like this. But the thing is, most people get it. And many people have been there before.

      Best of luck to you in your journey. I wish you nothing but the best as you rediscover your own life!

  • I read this post this morning. How fortuitous. Today would have been my fifth wedding anniversary with my now ex husband.

    All of the feelings you name, the guilt and shame and fear, they’re feelings of isolation. Hearing another person, even though we don’t know each other, voice my same experience breaks down that isolation. Thank you.

    My ex and I are getting together for burritos today, not so much in a mood of celebration as honor.

    Thank you again for your words.


  • All I can say is wow. And thank you. You are a powerful writer and your words will help so many people going through a similar situation. I could not agree more with this: “Because no one else is living my life and it’s the only one I’m going to get.” In the end, the only person who will care how we lived our lives is ourself (ourselves? you know what I mean ;) ). I have massive respect for you for realizing what you need and want out of life and for having the strength to make that change.

  • Oh good lord, I didn’t read this closely but it nearly made me cry (I’m at work).

    I am going through a very similar journey right now. I don’t know where it will end – hopefully together, but possibly not. We’re only a couple of years into marriage, but coming up on 10 years together. It is the hardest thing ever. I salute your strength and wish you all the happiness in the world.

Comments are closed.