Thoughts On Change

Tomorrow is a day of remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Fittingly, I recently came across an appropriate quote from Dr. King:

“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”

This appeared in the context of an article written by Bodhipaksa. a Buddhist practitioner, writer, and teacher who is also the founder of the website: His most recent book, Living as a River, was published by Sounds True in October, 2010.  Bodhipaksa taught Buddhist meditation in the Religious Studies department at the University of Montana and now teaches at Aryaloka Buddhist Center in Newmarket, New Hampshire.

In this article he talks about an experience he had as a novice rock climber.  He says about a third of the way through the climb he found himself:

“suspended half-way up a cliff, in a state of anxiety . . . holding on to a narrow ledge that ran horizontally across the rock face.  . . . As I looked up, and as far as I could see there was nothing but smooth rock all the way to the top. . . . above me was a featureless expanse of cliff, with no hand- or toe-holds. I was only about a third of the way up, and it didn’t seem as if there was any way forward.  . . . I looked around, and realized that the only way I could move was sideways. That wasn’t going to take me closer to the top, but at least it was movement. . . . once I moved and took another look at my situation, I could see a handhold above me that hadn’t been visible before.

He goes on to conclude that “Sometimes, even if the way isn’t clear, you simply have to change something — almost anything — in order to see things from a different perspective. . . . sometimes we just have to try something new. ”

At this time of New Year’s resolutions, many of us have a desire to make a commitment to change something in our lives.  The above quote and story demonstrates that some changes won’t happen by themselves.  They require a leap of faith and a willingness to believe that a new vista will emerge even if we don’t know what that looks like right now.  We are all victims of inertia; we want things to stay the way they are.  But change is the only real constant in this world.  And, as Albert Einstein said “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.   There is a certain security in the familiar.  Yet a paradox exists when there is something within that state of complacency that just isn’t serving us anymore.  Then a dissonance arises that can throw off all other aspects of our lives, including our relationships with others and the way we feel about ourselves.  The only way to restore harmony is to change.  But that prospect can be scary, especially when the outcome is not clear.

So getting back to that quote above, each change starts with one step.  And maybe we don’t know where that step will take us, but if we know we don’t want to (or can’t) stay where we are that first step is the only way to start the process.

As many of you know, I used to run marathons and ultramarathons.  People would ask me “How can you run 100 miles?”  The answer was that I didn’t; I ran one step at a time.  Then I ran from mile marker to mile marker or from water stop to water stop.  You can’t wrap your mind around the entire trip, but you can always take one step.

Years ago I read an article (unfortunately, I no longer have the attribution) by a reporter who travelled to the Sahara Desert to report on an ultramarathon held there annually called the Marathon des Sables.  It is a stage race (meaning that different distances are run each day) of approximately 150 miles held over a period of 6 days.  The reporter tagged along behind the runners curious to know what it was like to run such a race in the middle of the desert.  At one point he asked one of the runners “What do you think about over all those miles in the heat?”  The Zen-like answer was “ I think about the next step”.   That story stuck with me through all these years because it rings so true:  one doesn’t run 26 miles or 100 miles or even 1 mile.  We simply string together one step at a time.

So if you are planning some change in 2013 – or any other time for that matter – remember that the only way to get there is to take that first step.  Even if you’re afraid, you may find that first step is enough to give you a new perspective.  Maybe you’ll see that your footing really is OK in that new position and from there you will have the confidence to take the next step.

Hope to see you in a Pilates or Yoga class very soon!