According to M. J. Ryan, author of How to Survive Change… you didn’t ask for, there are seven “truths” about change. Reverend Tom Capo has adapted them into a responsive reading.
Change is the one thing I can count on.
Everything in life is impermanent. Accepting this truth diminishes our suffering because we are in alignment with the way life is.
Change is not personal.
The world is transforming at a breakneck speed and each one of us must adapt to those changes. No one is exempt.
In the midst of change my thinking is not always my friend.
The brain is hardwired to scan for the bad, and when it inevitably finds negative things, they get stored immediately for rapid recall. Due to the complexity of change, this recall may be too simplistic and negative to help us adapt to change.
Change isn’t the enemy, fear of change is.
Fear shrinks our world and limits our choices. Practicing innovative thinking reduces our fear response when change happens. We can learn to manage any fear that does arise.
There is a predictable emotional cycle to change.
Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance are the emotional cycle. There are endings with any change, a death of some sort; grief is a part of change.
I am more resilient than I may think.
We are survivors of our own lives. We have dealt with changes that we have not anticipated or wanted. We have made it so far and that is pretty good evidence that we will continue to do so.
My future is built on bedrock that is unchanging.
We have a purpose and values that provide stability and continuity during change. Understanding this truth helps us see the difference between who we are as a person and our behavior. Behavior may need to change, your essence remains the same.
What is it about change that freaks some people out? I mean life is all about change. We go from childhood to adolescence to adulthood to old age. If we decide to get into a relationship with another person there is potential to move from being a friend to a significant other. And if we are in a relationship, we could go from a committed couple to having children to raising children to children leaving home (hopefully). Most of us experience changes in our jobs, in our beliefs, in our income, in our homes/cities where we live. Changes can be as small as someone canceling a meeting or a date, to as large as deciding on a new career in mid-life. Change has always been a part of human existence, and yet we experience powerful emotions anticipating, coping with, and looking back on change.
One day in late summer, an old farmer was working in his field with his old sick horse. The farmer felt compassion for the horse and desired to lift its burden. So he let his horse loose to go the mountains and live out the rest of its life.
Soon after, neighbors from the nearby village visited, offering their condolences and said, "What a shame. Now your only horse is gone. How unfortunate you are! You must be very sad. How will you live, work the land, and prosper?" The farmer replied: "Who knows? We shall see".
Two days later the old horse came back now rejuvenated after meandering in the mountainsides while eating the wild grasses. He came back with twelve new younger and healthy horses which followed the old horse into the corral.
Word got out in the village of the old farmer's good fortune and it wasn't long before people stopped by to congratulate the farmer on his good luck. "How fortunate you are!" they exclaimed. You must be very happy!" Again, the farmer softly said, "Who knows? We shall see."
At daybreak on the next morning, the farmer's only son set off to attempt to train the new wild horses, but the farmer's son was thrown to the ground and broke his leg. One by one villagers arrived during the day to bemoan the farmer's latest misfortune. "Oh, what a tragedy! Your son won't be able to help you farm with a broken leg. You'll have to do all the work yourself, How will you survive? You must be very sad". they said. Calmly going about his usual business the farmer answered, "Who knows? We shall see"
Several days later a war broke out. The Emperor's men arrived in the village demanding that young men come with them to be conscripted into the Emperor's army. As it happened the farmer's son was deemed unfit because of his broken leg. "What very good fortune you have!!" the villagers exclaimed as their own young sons were marched away. "You must be very happy." "Who knows? We shall see!", replied the old farmer as he headed off to work his field alone.
As time went on the broken leg healed but the son was left with a slight limp. Again the neighbors came to pay their condolences. "Oh what bad luck. Too bad for you"! But the old farmer simply replied; "Who knows? We shall see."
As it turned out the other young village boys had died in the war and the old farmer and his son were the only able bodied men capable of working the village lands. The old farmer became wealthy and was very generous to the villagers. They said: "Oh how fortunate we are, you must be very happy", to which the old farmer replied, "Who knows? We shall see!"
What do you think about this story? Do you see yourself as the farmer or the neighbors?
My son younger son Jacob is a very bright person. Martha and I always thought he was gifted and talented in many ways. In 8th grade, his grades plummeted and his moods seemed to swing from anger to disinterest to exhaustion. We felt frustrated and helpless; I felt like everything was awful. Jacob’s teacher described him as being in a fog. He’d forget to bring written work into the classroom, and when he was sent to his locker to retrieve it, he’d forget why he was at his locker by the time he got there. Being a psychotherapist, I thought our hope might lie in getting Jacob into therapy. After a few sessions, the therapist talked to us about putting Jacob on daily medication, but we decided to get some bloodwork done with his pediatrician before taking what seemed to us to be such a big step. By now it was spring break. Martha took Jacob to see Dr. Lee, and 30 minutes after they got home, Dr. Lee called to say that Jacob’s blood sugar was dangerously high. She sure he was diabetic and we went straight to Texas Children’s Hospital. They took one look at him and confirmed that he was a type I diabetic. All his symptoms, trouble concentrating, mood swings, exhaustion, were a result of the diabetes. We were relieved. At least we had an answer. Then the doctors went on to tell us that Jacob would have to manage his diabetes for the rest of this life, and that diabetes could cause problems with his cardiovascular system, his vision, and so many other things, including shortening his expected life span. We were scared to death. But, the doctors went on, if Jacob managed his diabetes well and took care of his health, he could live a normal active life. We were relieved. And then scared again. Then a bit relieved. Then relieved and scared at the same time. And that’s kind of where we’ve been with Jake’s diabetes for the past 12 years or so. I don’t remember during this time ever saying to myself as these events transpired, “Well, who knows what the future will bring; let’s just wait and see what happens.” My moods were swinging back and forth, and my thoughts raced around trying to figure out how to fix this situation.
Organizational Consultant, William Bridges (Transitions) writes, “It isn’t the changes that do you in; it’s the transitions. Change is not the same as transition. Change is situational…Transition is the psychological process people go through to come to terms with the new situation. Change is external, transition is internal.” Changes can be difficult; transitions are crucial, and both external change and internal transition must be addressed mindfully if we are to learn how to cope with, make meaning of, understand, and grow from the chaos that seems to be all around us and within us when change happens.
I invite you to think of a change that recently happened in your life. (pause) I invite you to hold that change in your mind and heart, replay it. Notice what you thought and felt before the change, during the change, and after the change. (pause) What do you notice? Do you feel a variety of feelings, some at the same time? Are your thoughts racing or do they seem diametrically at odds? This internal process of thoughts and feelings is the transition you will have to find a path through. Sometimes, in situations that don’t have major consequences, minimizing your reaction to change by waiting to see what happens may work. But this way of facing the change, while it may seem a fairly calming, also limits the potential for more creative adaptation of our behavior and internal transformation of our thinking.
Jacob’s life changed when he became an insulin-dependent diabetic, and so did our lives as his parents. I can guarantee you we were not thinking at the time, “Yay! What an great opportunity for creative adaptation and internal transformation! Thanks Life!” But, looking back, that’s exactly what happened. We chose to realize that we were afraid, and used the energy from the fear to motivate us to learn about diabetes, and more importantly to help Jacob learn about and take ownership of his diabetes. He was the one who would have to learn to live with this disease and we could not make him eat right, sleep 8 hours a night, take his insulin, and exercise. We knew our son was capable of managing his disease if we got him the resources and education he needed. We could not take the burden of diabetes from him, though believe me, we would have done that in half a heartbeat if we could have. We grieved that Jacob would have to fight this disease his whole life, but we ultimately had to accept this was his fight. We could give him access to the tools he needed, but he had to be the one to use them.
In the midst of this awful change, it could easily have been possible to believe that I couldn’t cope; that this was too much; or that I or Martha or Jacob wouldn’t be able to adapt. But we did make it; all of us made it. I know that I feel much more capable of dealing with changes that come up because I mindfully, intentionally recognized that I did adapt to that change and I did make it. And I saw my family do the same. This gave me hope that we could face other changes, individually and together. And I learned that we could find new ways of behaving if we needed to. Jacob is probably one of the most physically healthy persons that I know. He eats well, not too much. His weight is stable, not overweight like his dad. He works out regularly. And he manages to keep his A1C low; this is the measure of his blood sugar over time. And none of us have changed at our core. We are still the same people we were before Jacob was diagnosed with diabetes. Jacob is the same bright, somewhat compulsive, person who walks to the beat of his own drummer as he always was. Martha and I are the same people we were before we learned our baby boy had a life-threatening disease. And we are all doing well despite knowing that Jacob has a life threatening illness, although every once in a while we do try to sneak a quick glance at his feet without him noticing. Diabetics lose feeling in their extremities due to nerve damage, and Jacob doesn’t always notice when there’s something wrong with his feet because he can’t always feel the pain signals. It makes him crazy when he catches us at it, but for us it’s the compromise we came to instead of over-parenting him. We just love to be sneaky about it.
Wendel Berry wrote: “The world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our feet, and learn to be home.” This is how it feels to me, each time I face a change and transition. I learn that the journey I face is not one of miles, but of one inch, a very arduous, sometimes awful-feeling, frequently scary, often humbling, and even at times joyful inch, and I learn to arrive at the place where I am and find myself back within my own skin, the same person I was.