Why Change Feels Like Torture and Acts Like Paradox

How often do we pray for change?

“Dear God, I’ll do anything, just get me out of here.”
“What am I supposed to do now?”
“Why does my hair always do this same weird thing?”
“I just can’t do this anymore.”

We think, “any change at all!” How great if our new job doubles our take-home, a boyfriend who understands how to take care of us (it’s so simple, after all!), for our mother to stop asking when she’ll be a grandmother (or for her to actually be a grandmother!)

We’d bury chicken bones in the back yard upside down for a new wardrobe. Or a new waistline.

And then all of a sudden, everything changes.

And our whole lives turn upside down – suddenly we’re desperately wishing for everything to go back to “normal.” We’ve wrestled our routine from the zombies we had become, and now we’re just praying for a moment to breathe.

In the moments when it feels like everything is changing so fast — it feels a little like you’re stuck in front of a freight train barreling down the track. Your toes barely scrape the ground and you have no choice but to move forward.

It’s exhausting. The tightening of every muscle, the bracing for impact. Your mind does somersaults to adjust for all the options – planning for each possible outcome, every one more dire than the last.

We imagine that every freedom we have enjoyed will be lost, that every opportunity gained will be squandered. That everything we thought we had is now on the chopping block —

This is the problem.

Our idea of change is always different from how things change.

We begin by assuming that things are different from how they are. We get lulled into a state of quiet compliance, allowing anything that didn’t affect us to fade into non-existence (nothingness). And suddenly we don’t see everything, and our life is like a hazy dream.

And then things change and we have to wake up. When our routines are blown, our expectations shattered, we have no choice but to pay attention. And sometimes paying attention is painful.

It is our rigidity that causes pain. Our needing things to go exactly the way we think they should go — this is the cause of suffering. Being unadaptable.

Good news: adapting is what we do, as humans.

And we do it well.  Our bodies and our nervous systems are built for change. In fact, this is one of the definitions of a living thing: it grows and changes.

So for our community, our society, our culture to live, it must grow and change. For us to truly live, we must grow and change.

This is one of the greatest paradoxes of being human. Because we all resist – even dread – change. We resist things being other than the way we want them to be. We fight against a shift in routine, a change of color, or the font in our favorite app. We struggle against anything that undermines our ideas of the way things are.


“Trying to Name What Doesn’t Change”
By Naomi Shihab Nye

Roselva says the only thing that doesn’t change
is train tracks. She’s sure of it.
The train changes, or the weeds that grow up spidery
by the side, but not the tracks.
I’ve watched one for three years, she says,
and it doesn’t curve, doesn’t break, doesn’t grow.

Peter isn’t sure. He saw an abandoned track
near Sabinas, Mexico, and says a track without a train
is a changed track. The metal wasn’t shiny anymore.
The wood was split and some of the ties were gone.

Every Tuesday on Morales Street
butchers crack the necks of a hundred hens.
The widow in the tilted house
spices her soup with cinnamon.
Ask her what doesn’t change.

Stars explode.
The rose curls up as if there is fire in the petals.
The cat who knew me is buried under the bush.

The train whistle still wails its ancient sound
but when it goes away, shrinking back
from the walls of the brain,
it takes something different with it every time.


What do you notice?

First, what are we focused on? Do we only focus on the things that hurt? Are we only able to see the things we disagree with? Are we only able to see what we think should be different?

Are we able to see the things that are beautiful? Are we able to find places where we agree, and support those? Are we able to things that are great that could continue to get better? Can we begin to say “Yes, and…” instead of always countering with “No!?”

What if things are changing for the better? Is it possible that what’s happening today will lead to a more beautiful tomorrow? Is a complete shuffle of expectations necessary for us to see what’s really here?

Is it possible to focus things that are going well with as much fervor as the things we think are going badly?

[side note: tradition]

Some things that don’t change are tradition. We repeat them over and over again, and each time we get a new depth, perspective, or sensitivity. Every wedding I officiate reminds me of every wedding I’ve ever done — and each couple I bring together is celebrating with every other couple. And while individual love is unique, as personal as each person, the experience of marrying is universal.

This is what makes a ritual. Being able to feel the richness in repetition. The blessing — even in the boredom of another repeated mantra, prayer, hail mary full of grace.

Yoga taught me about change.

It taught me that building strength requires me to break things down. It taught me how I trade flexibility for injury. It taught me that usually the things I resist are the things I need the most. My tendency is to do things the way I always do them – and when I’m asked to do something differently, I balk.

I love to indulge in the idea that the way I do it is the right way. The way I see it is the ultimate way. Only I know what’s best.

Yoga reveals that no matter how many times I repeat the same sequence, there are always new things to see. The second I shut myself down to possibility was the moment I stopped learning.

It is harder to have an open mind that we pretend it to be. We think everyone else should have an open mind – but ours is just perfect, thank you very much.

Yoga taught me to notice the little things that change and to ride the waves of change, instead of hardening – or worse, struggling – against the current.

Change often feels like our favorite toy being wrestled from white-knuckled fingers. We get huffy, self-righteous, demanding, and our outrage might fill a swimming pool.

Things should stay the same because we liked them that way. Damnit.

 

The Ultimate Paradox

The ultimate paradox is that the train tracks are always changing and always staying the same. When they’re used, they stay the same, but when left alone they change.

We might fight the paradox, but they give our lives texture. We push back against things that aren’t easily understood. We ache for simplicity. And we believe everything should be simple.

We resist the things that force us to change. Change sputters and starts, forcing us into uncharted lands. We falter and misstep. In these moments we are most ourselves – and often at our ugliest. And suddenly, our selves change.


My passion is meeting change with grace. I work with other badass professional women to do the same. Sound interesting? Check this out.

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