Have you ever noticed that human beings are ridiculously awful at dealing with change? It’s ironic, because change is the only inevitable thing in life. That classic Benjamin Franklin quote about death and taxes should be revised to include change too. Death, taxes, and change are certain; sorry Ben, revision for the modern world. Even if a person resolutely vows to never change, if he or she resists personal growth, the world around will still change.
Loved ones move, or die; friends get married or divorced (or likely married and then divorced); people start having children; companies downsize; our neighborhoods grow or shrink; even our bodies change as we age – like it or not! It’s ironic that we have such a difficult time with change, when the world around us and even our own bodies are in a state of constant change. Change, whether we like it or not, isn’t always bad. Change can be very good in fact. I live in a neighborhood that is a thriving, growing arts district full of people young and old who genuinely love the neighborhood. When I bought my house, there was a farmer’s market at the end of the street, now that space is a barbeque and beer joint which is unfortunate for me since I don’t eat meat or drink beer. Even as much as I love my neighborhood and wouldn’t dream of living anywhere else in my city, I have moments where I question the change/progress. I love the addition of a woman-owned french patisserie, I can walk up the street and have a freshly made french macaron whenever I want, but I have moments of doubt about a boutique hotel proposed to take over a green space often used for community events like a pop-up dog park.
Like it or not, the world will change and our lives will change. Resisting it doesn’t stop it. We like to think that we have some sort of control over the world, but really we only have control over ourselves. Like the tall, sturdy tree that Bruce Lee talks about, if we don’t bend, if we don’t learn to sway in the wind then we will break. Change will come whether we accept it or not. If we want to make our lives more difficult, we can try to stop it. Who wants to make their life more difficult though? Surrendering to change is frightening, even for the best of us. Letting go of the illusion of control can be outright terrifying. Resisting the inevitable can only result in pain for us. Change will happen whether or not we accept it, so it has to be better to spend our energy in accepting change – to focus on acceptance of the change and give in to the beautiful chaos that is being alive. The alternative is not being alive and change is certainly better than death! Everyone, save perhaps the true bodhisattva, is going to have a moment where change is so uncomfortable that we want to rebel against it. While change is an essential part of the world, fear is an essential part of the human being. Fear lets us know that something is happening, that it needs a response. We tend to label certain emotions as “bad” and fear is often one that we think that we shouldn’t experience. Experiencing emotions is particularly scary and extreme for those with emotional sensitivity/borderline personality disorder, but the entire spectrum of emotions exist because we are supposed to experience them. Every emotion, every feeling, serves a purpose. Fearing emotion is as useless as fearing change; we are going to experience emotions both “good” and “bad,” wanted and unwanted.
In other words: Don’t be afraid to be afraid.
Swim in that fear, let it caress your soul. Invite it in for tea. Say, “Welcome, fear. Come in and sit with me.” Appreciate fear as you would appreciate joy. Feelings are a part of being alive and they’re going to come whether we want them or not, whether we are ready or not. So you can dance with your fear just as you would your joy, or you can fight your fear like an attacker but that will not make the fear go away. The only thing that makes your fear recede is to face it. Change is going to come – meet it at the door, and open it. Don’t bolt it tightly, pulling heavy dressers in front of it and piling bricks on top of that. Change will just come through the window. Perhaps the biggest challenge of life, whether you have an emotional sensitivity or not, is surrendering to it. There’s a saying in al anon, “let go or get dragged.” Surrender is not a passive state, it’s an active one. Surrender means acknowledging our fears, recognizing they exist for a purpose, and letting them sit until they have served their purpose. Surrender means seeing that change is coming and allowing it to effect our lives; be afraid of change – that’s ok. Accepting doesn’t mean liking, surrendering doesn’t mean enjoying; it means that we know that change is inevitable and we accept that we are not perfect, fearless individuals and that it’s perfectly ok to be afraid of it. We don’t let that fear rule us however, we don’t let that fear make us fight change. We let it roll through our spirit like a river, washing away whatever it wants to take with it, leaving us smoother, more polished, like a stone.