This is a loaded post, I can already tell, and I’m only just starting to write it. As I was working on my outline I realized that change is difficult because deep down, we fear it.
At the risk of sounding like I’m on a quest to heal the inner child (which I kind of am), we are who we are because of our past. We make sense of the world through our experiences of it. We were influenced, shaped, and molded in ways that we are barely aware of — by the background we come from, the parents we had, and the opportunities that were available to us as we grew up.
From infancy to adulthood we were socialized, first by our parents/guardians and then by society, as they attempted to transform us into individuals who fit into expected roles and adapted to the environment we were raised in.
We are beings with personalities created by the intimate dance between genetics (or as I believe, the deal we signed up for when we came into this life) and the environment we were raised in. This complex dance is how our personality is formed. It is the source of both our strength and what holds us back.
WE FEAR WHAT WE DO NOT KNOW
In theory, we should not be ruffled by change, because humans are good adapters. But, let’s say we are walking down the street and see that there is construction ahead that has closed the sidewalk. No problem, we know where we are, we can find our way. But then we run into another roadblock and suddenly the trust in our knowledge of navigating our way turns to doubt. Where does this road lead? How long will it take to get back on track? Is it dangerous?
The same thing happens when we attempt to change habits or behaviours. While one part of our personality is trying to rewrite our story the way we want it to end, another part seems determined to make sure that the present ending turns out the same as the past ending.
What we don't know scares us. Change creates a lot of things we don't know about. We want to lose weight and know the way there is to eat better. And yet our unconscious irrationally tries to prevent change by making us crave the very things we are trying to avoid. How will we survive without food to numb our feelings?
WE FEAR JUDGEMENT
I went on a Soul Journey with EagleSpirit to break through barriers I had put up to success in December 2014. I spent the better part of the next year distancing myself from people from my past. You know what I mean… the people who knew you from before — family and friends may not believe the same things as you, or want you to change back? What I feared was that I would be judged for ‘coming out’ as someone who believes deeply in a source that is higher than me, something that is not religious, but that I feel a deep connection to.
It wasn't until my best friend called me out on the distance I’d created between us that I realized my fear of being judged was making me judge those closest to me. I could not believe she could possibly understand who I was now. My friend, who is very good at tough love, said to me, “As long as you’re still you, and not brainwashed by some cult, you can believe whatever you want. Do I need to get on a plane to make sure you understand that?”
WE FEAR WHAT WE WILL BE ASKED TO GIVE UP
Our unique capacity to love and hate the same person, to want to go while also wanting to stay, and to want to change and resist change are just a few examples of one of the most crazy-making states to be in — ambivalence. Ambivalence is the contradiction of feeling opposite feelings in the same moment. It’s bloody agonizing! It creates an internal struggle that is unrivalled by anything else we know. To want to change and to want to remain the same is the very essence of resistance.
You’ve likely had the experience of owning something, say a favourite pair of shoes that fit you like a glove. Your shoes may be filled with holes and no longer offer you the support you need, they may even make your feet smell, but they’re your go-to because they are broken in. I have sweaters like this.
My hubby may tell me to buy a new one, but despite my love of new clothes, something inside me rebels at the thought of parting with my schlepping sweater. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to buy a new sweater, by my schlepping sweater can still be found hanging on the hook on my bathroom door. I just don’t wear it outside the house (most times) anymore...
WE FEAR WHAT (AND WHOM) WE WILL BE ASKED TO LEAVE BEHIND
Here;s another field that's laden with landmines. When I first started on my quest to find peace within, I didn’t think I could do it within the confines of marriage. I had been single for 42 of my 50-odd years, so I thought I needed to be single to explore. It reminds me of that scene in When Harry Met Sally in which Meg Ryan is crying into Billy Crystal’s arms because her former boyfriend is getting married. She laments the loss of something she didn’t want, but also realizes that even they rationalized it, they never did go to Europe at the drop of a dime or make love on the kitchen table, all because they chose not to have kids.
For a while I felt what was holding me back was my hubby. It turns out, it was my fear of change. I was simply using him as an excuse not to change. In fact, he’s my biggest supporter and my homing beacon. All I needed to do was drop the excuses and accept that only I had the power to decide if I could change.
CHANGE MEANS LOOKING WITHIN
Here’s where it starts to get really painful... We can blame our parents and our circumstances for the crappy way we were treated when we couldn’t make choices for ourselves, but the reality is, once we hit adulthood, the way we react and interact with life is OUR CHOICE. I still struggle to accept the reality that while I may not have a choice in the situation, I ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS, have the choice as to how I react to any situation. Really.
Creating real change in our lives asks a lot. It asks us to look at our thoughts, our fears, our pain, and investigate them to see their true nature. It asks us to put aside our usual coping mechanisms of constant busy-ness and just be with the very things we’ve been running from.
WANT REAL CHANGE? EMBRACE FLUIDITY
I am in love with this gorgeous piece, Why We Struggle With Change, by Leo Babauta. Babauta, who writes Zen Habits, says the problem we have with change is that we persist in believing that there is such a thing as solidity.
“We are fluid, like water. Nonsolid, like wind.
And yet we want ourselves to be solid. We grasp for this solidity, despite our fluidity. We struggle with our improvements, because even if we perfectly plan our solid progress, we will never follow this perfectly solid plan. We drip through the form we created for ourselves, find the cracks and leak out of it.”
So then, how can we let go of frustrations and fears in our fluid selves?
“Start by embracing the fluidity... Understand that even if the difficulty you’re facing right now feels solid, it’s actually vapor, and will dissipate in moments. ...Whenever you’re struggling, notice how you are grasping for solidity. Notice how the thing you’re hoping will be solid is, in fact, vapor. Investigate it, with friendliness and curiosity.
And then smile, relax, and enjoy the mist.”
WRITE THROUGH THE FEAR
And then there is the writing… the best form of self-care I’ve ever done, quite frankly. The next time you find yourself wanting to eat an entire cake, drink that one glass of wine too many, or veg in front of the TV, try this: instead of picking up the fork, glass, or remote in an attempt to numb yourself — pick up the pen — and write.
Discovering who we really are is a complicated process of looking at influences that have had an impact on us without us realizing it. The process of reviewing our lives through writing is about getting to know our true selves. It will undoubtedly hold some startling surprises, as well as confrontation with some real contradictions that exist within our personality.
Ask yourself gentle questions and follow the pen where the answers lead you. You may find yourself in the uncharted territory of change.
The year I turned 50, I wrote 50 letters to 50 people who impacted my life in a big way — both good and bad. It was a year of self-discovery, tears, anger, and hurt, served with a huge dollop of self-forgiveness. I had always felt that I was a bad girl, but by the end of the year I realized that I was a good girl who was forced to conform and didn't like it. To me, there's a vast difference.
At the end of that year, I had laid a foundation for creating the life I am meant to live on this earth. As hard as it continues to be, regular reflection, introspection, and looking at my stories from different perspectives, gives me a measure of fluidity I’d never known before.
In the five years since I wrote those 50 letters, I believe that I have been hugely changed and these changes are real and permanent and fluid. Try as I may, I can’t put the genie back into the bottle. She’s here to stay; challenging me to keep digging for the truth about my Self.