The vast majority of the work I do with my clients centers around their discomfort with and acceptance of change. Change in circumstance, change in life phase, change in their bodily form, change in beliefs, change in feelings toward a partner…change.
Sometimes, I wonder why we think that we are entitled to comfort, order, and peace when we live in a universe that is at its very essence chaotic and ever changing? We literally live on a giant rock hurtling through nothingness, orbiting around a ball of fire. At any moment that ball of fire could explode or another giant rock hurtling through the nothingness could collide with our giant rock. I say this not to freak you out, but more to remind you of the craziness of what we call life on Earth. It really is rather insane, if you think about it.
In this universe, change is the only thing that we can rely on. It is the only constant: seasons change, loved ones die, babies are born, bodies age, car accidents happen, jobs are gained, jobs are lost, people fall in love, relationships end. When we cling to our expectation of order and predictability or the illusion of control, we cause our own suffering. The greater the resistance to change, the greater the suffering. It’s like we’re clinging to the shore of a river, rather than relaxing and floating along with the current. Plus, we miss out on the beauty of the uncertainty that makes life what it is.
As someone who spent 10-years of her life as a creative producer in advertising before becoming a therapist, I made a living off of my ability to predict and order things and make them run as smoothly as possible. This career came naturally to someone who has always relied on her ability to (seemingly) control a situation to make her feel more comfortable. As a child, my life was rather unpredictable; single mom bartending to support us, we moved a lot, finances were never guaranteed. Controlling what I could made me feel safe, even if it was as simple as what games my friends and I would play, or exactly how my posters hung on my wall. There was safety in convincing myself I had some semblance of control over life (needless to say, I was a rather bossy child).
However, after many years in the creative industry I came to realize that it was actually my ability to adapt when things went haywire that made me a good producer. Because you can plan a photo or commercial shoot to a T and something will always blow up. Talent doesn’t show up, equipment malfunctions, props or sets look nothing like you were promised. In those moments you could either panic and shut down or you could pull back, look at the situation from a bird’s eye view, adjust your plan, and get to work creating something amazing. And it’s the same in life. You can plan your child’s life perfectly and they might still get into trouble as a teen. You can plan your wedding day like the picture perfect Pinterest board and it might still rain.
It’s not only the expectation that we are entitled to consistency in life that causes suffering, but also our inability to be agile in the face of the inevitable changes that happen. We sit cursing the change, wishing things would go back to the way they were, living in the past, rather than seeing and working with what is right in front of us and then continuing to move forward on our path.
In order to be agile you have to be in a constant state of being a student. A student of life and of ourselves. We learn, then we unlearn, and then we relearn. In the process of unlearning, we’re not throwing away our experiences, they shape us and have helped us get to where we are, but rather we are noticing what isn’t working anymore. We are pulling back and reassessing the situation, watching our emotions and reactions to things and relearning new and more productive ways of moving through life. Whether we like to admit it or not, most of us know the difficult times in our lives have been some of our greatest teachers, allowing us to go deeper and come out stronger.
And here I go again talking about the importance of mindfulness. Regarding the discomfort that comes with change, having a developed mindfulness muscle can really make all the difference in your ability to experience more happiness and less stress in life. Let me explain how…
Meditation doesn’t have to be an hour of sitting on a cushion in lotus position (the one where people’s feet are crossed up over their thighs), it can be a few minutes throughout the day; maybe while you’re waiting in the doctor’s office, or waiting in the car to pick the kids up from school. It’s a practice of turning inward, noticing what’s happening in our minds as a witness, not as a participant. It’s the bird’s eye view that I was saying earlier makes one a better producer.
A teacher once gave me this powerful metaphor for mindfulness:
Think about a bus stop, one of the stops that has the glass seating area and overhang. Now imagine you’re walking down the street and suddenly the sky opens up and it begins to downpour. The weather did not mention rain today, so of course you left the house without an umbrella (if you’ve ever lived in NYC this happens a LOT). You run and take cover under the bus stop, figuring you will wait out the rain. What could it be? 5 minutes? 10? After 10 minutes it’s still pouring and you’re cold. The wind is blowing and it doesn’t look like it’s stopping anytime soon. You need to get home. In that moment you realize you’ll have to walk out into the rain and get wet. You’re going to get soaked, but it won’t kill you. You take a deep breath, tuck your head, and on you go.
In this metaphor, mindfulness is the bus stop. Rain is always going to happen, and many times unexpectedly. Mindfulness provides you that small shelter where you can stop for a moment and gather yourself, decide your next steps, take a breath, shrug your shoulders, and then get on with it. It helps to develop an open state of mind that can relax with paradox, ambiguity, and change rather than grasp for control. It builds an ability to take a pause and to act, not react.
By getting to know ourselves and our patterns in this removed, bystander type way it helps us understand the patterns non-judgmentally, and become open to where we are and to whatever is happening in life in this exact moment. We then have the space to make a conscious choice rather than a reactionary one. Am I going to cling to the shore, to my life and circumstance pre- “insert stressful life change here?” Or am I going to relax, loosen my grip, and float down the river with the current? Experiencing life and change in a softer way…unlearning and relearning along the way.