Change happens. In fact, change is the only certainty in our lives. As they say around here, if you don’t like the weather in Michigan, just wait a few minutes. It’ll change. I’m sure plenty of places use that line, although it may not get that much play in Hawaii, but the line holds universally true for so much more than the weather. Flowers bloom and die, children grow, illnesses wax and wane, feelings come and go, and our opinions shift with time and information. Change is inevitable.
I don’t really like change. Transitions unnerve me, largely because I don’t know what to expect next. As a moderately anxious and still somewhat controlling person by temperament, I tend to assume changes will be too uncomfortable, too difficult, and altogether undesirable. Viva the status quo has long been a battle cry when confronted with change. I spent a good portion of my marriage fighting change, which did me and my marriage absolutely no good. In general, as stress increased, my resistance to change increased. Batten down the hatches, maintain my position, and fight for all to stay the same.
Except that doesn’t work. All that resistance is exhausting and, frankly, futile. Change keeps happening.
I’ve blogged plenty about the changes I’ve encountered over the past few years, writing directly to the challenges of change itself on a few occasions. When I look back to a post in May about the changes in family life we’ve encountered this year, I can see I’m growing. And while I don’t seek big changes out (they keep coming my way all on their own, thank you), I’m approaching them with more equanimity. In other words, I’m not battening down the hatches as quickly at the first sign of storms.
Not all change feels bad, of course. A more centered person might see that all change is, in fact, rather neutral. It just is, like the weather. Sure, we call the thunderstorm that rips through our Saturday picnic plans bad, but it really just is. Disappointing? Sure, especially since we tend to be attached to our plans, full of expectation and desires. But bad? Probably not.
Now, I’m not belittling the serious changes people face: life-threatening illness, death, loss of job or home, natural disasters, and violence. I’m far from delighting in news that threatens to shake the world as I want it to be. My first instinct is still to hunker down and demand a return to the status quo. However, I’m starting to breathe a bit when faced with change. I can more often take the mental time to step back and look at the situation with a bit more objective eye, seeing that (first of all) it’s not all about me. Not the storm, not the family shifts, not the moods of the boys, not the myriad of alterations to plans that happen in my life. During those breaths, sometimes (more often than before), I can see that change is the way of the universe. It may be unexpected, uncomfortable, and downright scary, but it’s how the world has always worked and will be how it continues to work. Fighting that is, well, pointless and futile.
I’ve come to even count on change. When I find myself angry at a person/vehicle/situation/myself, the inevitability of change works in my favor. I have a choice to recognize the feeling and know with certainty it will pass. Joy, sadness, worry, ecstasy, grief, and even anger pass. Oh, sure, I can nurture that kernel of anger. I can work a situation over and over in my mind, polishing my fury, heaping more upon it, justifying it all the way along. And it responds by growing. Given how strong anger can be, cultivating this emotion is unwise. I’m gradually learning how to treat that kernel more wisely by acknowledging the feeling, examining the underlying thoughts of the feeling, and letting it pass. It’s not easy, and I’m far from perfect at it, but when I manage to take this approach, the anger passes. My mood changes. Acknowledged, but not indulged, my anger wanes.
Change works for opinions, too. According to my sources, I’m a fairly opinionated and vocal woman. And that’s okay. As I mature (read: age, gain wrinkles, grow grey hair, and develop a bit of wisdom), I can look at my opinions in a more longitudinal way. For example, when pregnant with my older son, 14 years ago, a friend handed me a copy of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, published by La Leche League International. She rolled her eyes over the section on the family bed, and I nodded in agreement. I wanted clear boundaries between my child and I: sleeping with my child would violate that, I opined to myself. My oldest was a so-called easy baby who happened to sleep for long stretches at night from about 10 weeks on, falling asleep in his crib, without tears or nursing to slumber (Luck. Or perhaps the calm before the storm.). While I recognized that some of his sleeping bliss was temperament and dumb luck, I attributed some of his good nighttime habits to our unwillingness to share a bed with him.
Four years later, my younger son enters the scene. And what a change he brought. Unhappy with life outside the womb for his first year, he almost never slept when not attached to my body. The transition was just too much for him (guess who still doesn’t do change well). For five months, I nursed and rocked him for hours, praying for sleep for him and for me. Separate sleep. Desperate for rest and increasingly understanding that my baby’s relationship to the world was not a passing phase, I brought him to our bed. And I slept. My then-husband, however did not, so my baby and I moved our nest to the floor of his room, leaving the crib for a mattress on the floor. Sharing sleep became my savior, allowing both of us rest and greater peace.
What happened? My opinion changed. Okay, so it took five years. But it changed. Opinions do. Even deeply held convictions can change. Not all do, and, I’d maintain, not all should. My opinion and belief that all human beings deserve respect and dignity (there’s that first principle again) is unlikely to change, and it would probably would not be for the better if it did. In fact, my opinion has changed about broccoli (yes), the divinity of Jesus (no), nursing a toddler/preschooler (yes), homeschooling (yes), and the best hair length for me (long). And, long life permitting, many more opinions will change in the decades down the road.
Change fills our lives and, in fact, defines our lives. From our cellular level to the vast universe we inhabit, we exist in a maelstrom of change. And I’m beginning to understand how embracing change deepens my comfort in the world and improves my relationships with the planet and those in it. As for the weather in Michigan, if you’re not liking it, wait a few hours. It’s bound to change.
How do you approach changes in life? How does your approach to big changes inform the way you view opinions and feelings?