The only constant in life is change. This wisdom can be found across traditions. Ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, illuminated the world with his scientific and philosophical understanding that “life is flux.” Within Buddhism we are reminded of the impermanence of all things. Taoist philosopher, Lao Tzu suggests that we take things as they come because “all things pass”.
However, our human nature is to seek safety and stability, especially when faced with transition. Often, we brace against change. We may feel out of control, groundless, and vulnerable. How can we stand in the middle of change? How can we learn to find balance, equanimity, in the midst of the flux of life?
“Equanimity is sometimes inaccurately thought of as an attitude cultivated only by distance and detachment. However, we will never learn to surf the waves of change by watching them from the shore. To live fully requires that we get wet, stand in our uncomfortable edges, fall, maybe even fail, be willing to try again…and sometimes catch a wave.” -Dr. Arielle Schwartz
Like it or Not…Change Happens
If you find yourself resisting change you’re not alone. Often we simply assume, “This is who I will always be.” It turns out that most people have difficulty imagining themselves changing. Harvard psychologist, Dan Gilbert, studied personal transformation in a research project referred to as “the end of history illusion.”
Try this for yourself. Think back on yourself as a teenager. If you are like most people you might feel a mixture of embarrassment and amusement at this past version of you. Gilbert found that no matter the age of his participants, people consistently reported that they had changed from who they were ten years ago. However, most people cannot imagine a future version of themselves as any different than who they are today. Gilbert’s research counsels us to remember that just because we cannot see or imagine ourselves changing, that indeed, we always are.
Creatures of Habit
It is human nature to seek safety and stability. We are creatures of habit. Think about your morning routine, what you eat for breakfast, how you brush your teeth. Habits simplify our lives and conserve energy. I do not need to think about how to drive my car, therefore I can reflect upon an upcoming presentation while heading into work.
Habits help us manage stress simply because there is comfort in what is known. Novel situations require more awareness of our surroundings. Familiar, repeated routines reduce stress but sometimes lead to unwanted consequences such as stagnancy or a false sense of security. Unhealthy habits contribute to greater challenges such as obesity, procrastination, self-sabotage, or addictions. This is where having strategies to embrace change become important.
Habits of Change
Here are some of the signs that you are stuck in a habit that is not serving you:
- You feel that something isn’t working
- You are increasingly apathetic and pessimistic
- You are spinning your wheels
Twyla Tharp, author of the book The Creative Habit, suggests that the first way out of stagnancy is to admit honestly to yourself when you are in a rut. Then experiment with challenging your assumptions, ask for honest feedback from people you trust, and be willing scrap what isn’t working.
We can also cultivate habits that help us embrace change. Behaviors that help to get us out of our comfort zones include: trying something new, challenging self-limiting beliefs, setting goals, and partnering with people who help hold us accountable to our goals. These are just some of the tools of transformation. Read more here about how to free yourself from unwanted habits.
Standing in the Middle
Getting creative and stepping out of our comfort zone requires engaging the risk of failure. Rather than avoiding this inevitability, Mike Maddock (Forbes.com) urges leaders to “fail forward”, recognizing that the greatest inventors and innovative thinkers took great risks and as result also had great successes. Celebrate our risk-taking endeavors is the invitation. But what do we do when we actually fall? How do we handle the costs of failure, be they financial or emotional?
Learning how to be in the discomfort of embarrassment, shame, discouragement, frustration, anger, and grief is learning equanimity. Going into the intensity of big emotions requires a ground of support and safety. From the Insight Meditation tradition, equanimity is defined as the capacity to develop “patience through seeing the bigger picture” and the ability to “stand in the middle of all this.”
Renowned international group leadership trainer and developer of MatrixWorks, Mukara Meredith, is a practicing Buddhist, therapist, and expert in personal and corporate level change. Mattel, General Mills, The Mayo Clnic, Procter & Gamble are just a few of the companies who have employed her wisdom to facilitate collaborative team environments. Her approach to change incorporates cutting-edge neuroscience and the wisdom of somatic (body-centered) practices to facilitate change. She knows well the vulnerabilities associated with risk. She writes,
“i am not failing…rather, maybe,
falling into parts and pieces…
missing the holding by a mind bigger than mine
i soften and lengthen my spine
surprised i taste a thread outside of time.”
Standing in the middle of change is hard. What gives you the courage to step into your emotions, to feel yourself as chaotic, raw, fearful, playful, sad, and ecstatic? Personally, I turn towards mindfulness, breath, and body, as predictable ways to access a feeling of safety and support. Try this practice for equanimity when you feel groundless or out of control:
Sit comfortably and focus your awareness on your breath as it flows gently in and out. Place your hand on your heart, feeling the warmth of the touch of your hand on your heart. Focus on a sense of safety and ease. Gently breathe care and kindness into your heart. Notice the feelings and sensations that arise. Return your attention to a sense of safety. Breathe into your heart noticing your mind and body. If you notice a feeling of steadiness begin to extend this feeling of ease and safety towards broader aspects of your life. Perhaps reflect upon any changes that are unfolding in your life and say to yourself, “I trust in my capacity to handle what comes my way.” Once again come back to the sensation of your hand upon your heart and the awareness of your breath as it flows gently in and out.
We will never learn to surf the waves of change by watching them from the shore. To live fully requires that we get wet, stand in our uncomfortable edges, fall, maybe even fail, be willing to try again…and sometimes catch a wave. Return to shore to catch your breath, connect to your heart, and know that you can wade into the water again when you are ready for more.
- Shadow Work Unlocks Creativity
- 7 Steps to Embrace your Shadow
- Raise your EQ (Emotional Intelligence)
- Letting Go and Living in the Present
About Dr. Arielle Schwartz
Dr. Arielle Schwartz is a licensed clinical psychologist, wife, and mother in Boulder, CO. She offers trainings for therapists, maintains a private practice, and has passions for the outdoors, yoga, and writing. Dr. Schwartz is the author of The Complex PTSD Workbook: A Mind-Body Approach to Regaining Emotional Control and Becoming Whole (Fall, 2016). She is the developer of Resilience-Informed Therapy which applies research on trauma recovery to form a strength-based, trauma treatment model that includes Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), somatic (body-centered) psychology and time-tested relational psychotherapy. Like Dr. Arielle Schwartz on Facebook, follow her on Linkedin and sign up for email updates to stay up to date with all her posts.