We've all heard the expression "change is the one constant in life." Every day we experience change in some way. After all, life evolves daily, even moment to moment. But for many, change is unsettling, bringing with it feelings of insecurity, instability and disharmony.
The New Year often brings with it the whiff of change. Perhaps you've recently reacted to, or resisted, calls for change in your life, be it at work, at home, in your relationships or even in the habits and patterns you're accustomed to in your play and recreation. Yet it's important to understand that these uncomfortable feelings don't stem from the experience of change itself, but from our efforts to try to hold onto the past and to familiar ways of thinking and doing.
Underneath our reactivity to change is some type of fear: fear of the unknown, fear of new ways of doing things or thinking about things, fear about having to learn something new, fear of letting go, fear of being different, fear of "who I might become" and the like. But this fear also represents a tremendous opportunity for personal and professional growth.
When you next experience fear around change, ask yourself "what am I afraid of?" This exploration allows you to understand what lies beneath your fear and gives you an opportunity to see what fear is telling you. But it's important to do this out of real curiosity rather than self-judgement – feeling "bad" or "wrong" about your discomfort around change won't help you to learn to be at peace with your fear. So just watch it, observe it as it moves through you. But you don't have to become it. You can just be with it and see what it wants to teach you about yourself.
The first step towards being OK with change is acceptance - ¬ acceptance not of the change, but acceptance of yourself, of your fears around the change. Acceptance that it's OK to feel your feelings. The next step is to go inside and explore what's underneath your fears. That's not the same as "thinking" your fear away (an art form in Western culture).
Once you accept yourself as you face change, you become more clear about the causes of your fear and resistance. You develop the capacity to be more open to allow change. Exploring your fear from this place will lead you to "right knowing," "right understanding" and "right action" with respect to the change.
Tension leads to growth
The beauty of this fear and the tension around it is that without tension, growth is not possible. A seed cannot grow without tension. Some seeds need cold, some need warmth. When seeds begin to grow, they meet the resistance of their shell. Then they need to push through the soil, push against gravity and stand up to the wind. Yet none of these resistance elements inhibits the seed from growing. Rather, they enable it to grow into a mature and strong plant. This is why fear is an opportunity for growth.
That's also why change is an opportunity for growth. We can't grow while resisting change and holding on to the status quo - hanging on for dear life. Change is not a threat to growth but an integral part of it.
Resisting change and the illusion of "comfort"
Many people describe their resistance to change in terms of remaining "comfortable". The trouble is that the comfort they are clinging to is wrapped in fear. It's a quiet or not-so-quiet state of vigilance or subtle agitation masquerading as "comfort". What they really want is harmony. But what they experience is inertia and numbness.
Real harmony can only be found when you are at peace with your life and your environment, when you are open to change and adaptation,¬ not resistant to it. Hanging on for dear life in the hope of finding comfort does not result in a dear life. It leads only to tension, stress, anxiety, resistance and resentment.
After all, life is change. Life is choices. Whether you embrace change or come to it kicking and screaming is your choice. We cannot grow and thrive without change, conflict and tension. Avoiding change, denying change, resisting change keeps us feeling like a victim, always wanting to blame someone or something for the way we feel.
When we choose to explore our resistance and fear around change, we learn more about ourselves, become stronger, more courageous, more autonomous, more willful, and more engaged in living life.
Change is an opportunity for us to navigate our world with our eyes "wide open," not "wide shut". Change allows us to grow our minds, stretch beyond our mental limits and emotional boundaries. Change allows us to move through life with a greater degree of trust, freedom and harmony.
Moving beyond your fear
Finally, an exercise to support you to move beyond your fear:
- Acknowledge and really feel your fear without judging and criticizing yourself.
- Ask your fear what it's there to tell you. Be alert for inner messages that will bring you greater understanding of your situation. Listen with your heart, your inner self, not your "logical-ego mind".
- Be fully present. Relax into your body. Breathe deeply and continuously into you belly.
- Ask your higher knowing: "What can I do to improve my situation? What do I need to know and understand?"
- Taking action on what you discover helps get your energy moving. (Action absorbs anxiety; paralysis doesn't.)
"We cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life's morning; for what in the morning was true will in evening become a lie." ¬Carl Jung