When you embrace change as the not-always-easy fundamental of life, you are aligning your energy with reality, and that in turn will not only make things flow more easily for you, but will give profound meaning to even the most painful changes you will encounter.
Much of the pain of change is self-inflicted. It’s caused, not by the change itself, but by our reaction to change. It’s caused by denial and resistance, how we stiffen up and harden our attitudes as we face change, rather than mustering our curiosity, softening our wills, and embracing the new.
All that resistance we put up to just making the change that we need to make suggests that we’re not really ready and are not taking care of ourselves in the midst of change. And how do we do that?
Whole books have been written on this subject, but here are three important strategies that have a spiritual bent to them. They are:
- acknowledge your losses and deal gently with whatever in you feels it is losing,
- be appreciative and show your appreciations, and
- keep what you value and believe uppermost.
There’s huge wisdom in the comment that most of us spell the word “change” L-O-S-S, and it often surprises me as I talk to people during times of change in their lives how reluctant they are to acknowledge what they have lost and to let themselves feel the pain. Instead, they often beat up on themselves for “living in the past” or “wallowing in sadness,” or, alternatively, and men are particularly good at this, for channeling their feelings of loss, which they find unacceptable, into actions of anger.
But it is OK to feel loss. We are hard-wired to hang on tight to the things we think will keep us safe and happy…to love what is mortal and hold it to our bones as if our lives depended on it, as Mary Oliver says. We don’t need to go through the trauma of change beating ourselves up for feeling bad. Usually our grief is like a little toddler who tugs on your pants for attention over and over again until you think you’ll go crazy…but if you just bend down and pay her a little bit of attention, she’ll be soothed and go on her way. Ignore her, though, and there’s hell to pay in the end.
Secondly, be appreciative and share your appreciations. When we’re stressed out, this doesn’t come naturally to us; we often have to do it by discipline. It’s worth it though. Voicing our appreciations gets us out of ourselves, if only for a moment, puts us in a better frame of mind, influences people to be of assistance to us and even, believe it or not, research shows this, puts endorphins in our system and helps us to be more effective in dealing with stress.
One thing I did while on sabbatical was attend training sessions to equip me to debrief people after traumas and disasters, something that I’ve meant to do ever since 9/11. As a part of that training, we listened to the dialogue between air traffic controllers and the pilot of a plane that had lost its controlling mechanisms. We then watched the plane land, and then crash; about 200 people died in that crash. That was disaster debriefer training boot camp. One of the things I most vividly remember about that experience is that, as the pilot approached the runway, knowing that a crash was likely, he said to the air traffic controller, with just a little catch in his voice, “Thank you for your help. You did the best you could.”
Now, this might seem to you like a breathtaking display of spiritual maturity…a pilot, facing the most unwelcome possible set of changes in what had been a routine day’s work, in the midst of bringing every ounce of training and skill he had, stopped to thank those who had done all they could.
The pilot survived that crash. Due, no doubt, to all that skill and training, and to the physics of the impact, but perhaps also in some small part because of the endorphins of gratitude and ability to relax into all that was his life in that terrible moment.
Thirdly, know, as you struggle with your chosen or unchosen change, that when you soften your attitude and let yourself go with the flow that is all that is your life, you are aligning yourself with the great force at the heart of things, which we call by many names. ..
[M]y theology tells me that the great powers of healing and renewal…hear those words about change…the forces that fuel the great radiance that was at the beginning of time and space, the most basic, fundamental reality we can ever know is alive with change. And when we relax into the changes that are required of us, we’re not just living ploddingly effective lives; we are partaking of and swimming in the reality of realities.
God is the mess itself, the evolution, the shove we get to grow, more like the exquisite beauty of trees growing through seasons and loosing their seeds to grow in new places other than the perfect statue of a tree, solid, pure, and never changing. God is more like the dying person who learns, at last, to say thank you and really mean it, the new parent who says goodbye to childless freedom and embraces the responsibility of growing another human being, the man who inventories his life and decides to give up the demon drink, the victim who makes the best of her life in spite of her oppressions and uses what she learned to help others. That’s God’s work in the world. Even more radical, that’s God’s being in the world. In creation with the rest of us, moving slowly and with plenty of losses and reverses, toward greater love, gratitude, and
understanding of mystery.
So. That unwelcome change that I need to make? I’ll still grieve my losses, soothe my inner child, and mope a bit. I’ll still count my blessings and focus on my strengths and move on into all that is my life. And I’ll do it with a sense, not of fighting off my faults or being on a hopeless journey toward perfection, but of simply being a pilgrim on life’s path, deeply participating in the precious mystery at the heart of the universe…that change is perpetually in the air, that it is what brings us not only delight, but growth in spirit, and that that is not just the condition of our life, but its very meaning.