Changing Fast and Slow

We know that everything is always changing.  Why is it then that some things seems to change too quickly while other things change way too slowly.  All it takes is a visit from friends or family members who don’t live near you.  It doesn’t matter how many Facebook posts you’ve seen through the years.  Seeing people in person always provides a jolt.  Children show enormous changes over what feels like a relatively short period of time.  Over the same time period the adults around them also change, but those changes seem more slowly paced.  The changes in young people appear dramatic to the observer while changes in adults might be less obvious, more subtle.  Yet we adults still know how much we are changing.  We may not notice it on a daily basis, but eventually change becomes evident.  You can try to stave it off with hair dye and physical fitness, but inevitably we move a bit slower.  Healing takes longer.  Certain actions require more effort or preparation.

Some of us choose to fight with change.  Huge industries have been built around masking change.  There is hair dye and make up and cosmetic surgery.  Once this was primarily the province of women, but increasingly cosmetic counters are appealing to men also.  Our culture values youth.  And not just in terms of years, but also the way we look and behave.  Every day we are presented with images representing ideals.  Although we have learned that those images are rarely real, we can still feel that somehow we have to live up to those standards.

Then there’s the flip side:  recognizing change can feel like a losing battle so we resign ourselves and give up.  We think, “I can’t do ___ anymore (fill in the blank with whatever activity you’ve written off) so I’m just going to stop trying”.  Of course, eliminating or altering certain activities as we age can be a necessity due to our changing bodies.  A wise person learns to back off when expectations of one’s abilities stops matching the reality.  But even then change doesn’t have to mean all or nothing.  Life is rarely that simple.  There are often tweaks and modifications that allow us to continue finding things we can do that still give us pleasure.

In another version of the same problem, a person might recognize and accept change in themselves but then feel frustrated when others around them can’t or won’t do the same.  That person might think, “I keep telling them how much better things would be if they made this or that change, but still they won’t do it.” Unfortunately, none of us has any control over anyone else’s behavior.  Even our children.  Just as we are each different from our parents, are children are also separate individuals.  Of course, we all learn from each other, but each of us has our own way of interpreting and internalizing the inputs we receive. None of us ever really knows what goes on in another person’s mind.  For example, I might be thinking one thing when I say something to you, but you might hear what I say in a completely different way from my intention.  This is why as a teacher I am always looking for different ways of giving the same instruction.  Some people will learn from one method while others need another way to understand.  In my most recent post I talked about perception and how it varies for each of us. This is an prime example.  It does make relationships complicated.  But it’s also a reminder that human behavior is not always easily labeled.

Sometimes what feels like stagnation is really just super slow change.  Things don’t always happen on a time line we would like.  Progress on any front may seem painfully slow.  But frustration with the pace or nature of change usually occurs when making comparisons.  That might mean comparing things to some ideal that may or may not be achievable or comparing the present to a past that no longer exists and is never coming back.  Alternatively, sometimes it can feel like things are moving so fast that your head spins trying to keep up with it all.  You feel like you just want to hold on to something familiar rather than face the uncertainty of change.

No matter what we want, though, change is going to happen in its own time with or without us.  Our lives are brief and finite.  For us as humans time just keeps moving forward.  How much better it would be to simply accept what is and work from there.  Whatever stage your physical body is in at the present moment, it will be different tomorrow.  Not good or bad, better or worse.  Just different.  You might not feel yourself changing in this moment, but you are.  Go with the flow.  Be who you are.  As the song says, ” we are stardust; we are golden”.  Wherever you are right now it is where you are.  Tomorrow may be different.  But today is what it is.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the spectacular reminder this week of how small we really are.  Of course, I am referring to the eclipse. Regardless of our petty concerns, the stars and planets just keep moving.  On my walk today I listened to a podcast from Radiolab about the Voyager probe which has now gone beyond the edge of our solar system and is still moving.  Several years back, before it’s camera was turned off, Carl Sagan convinced NASA to turn the camera around for one final look back at our solar system from it’s vantage point more than 4 billion miles from our earth.  In that photo the earth is a tiny, barely visible blue dot.  Kind of puts everything back into perspective.

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Judgment-Free Zone

With all the recent emphasis on the many ways in which we humans are different from each other, it seems like an appropriate time to remind ourselves of all the traits we share.  For example, we all have the capacity for joy and pain.  Few among us enjoy being miserable. Most of us want to be happy, comfortable and safe.  In general, we all want to survive and thrive.  We may have different ideas about what will make that happen, but the goal is still the same.  Survival is an instinct we share with every other living thing on the planet.

Yet each of us is also unique.  We come in different shapes and sizes.  No two humans are exactly alike, even identical twins.  Our ages might be similar, yet we can still be at different stages of our lives.  We come from different backgrounds experiencing varied ways of viewing the world.  We might even come from the same family and still have dissimilar viewpoints. How often have you recalled an incident from the past with a sibling or other family member and found that your memory of what happened is totally different from theirs? Both of you might have been present at the same time and place yet your perceptions of the event were different.  There’s a clue:  it’s all about perception.  As the saying goes, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.

Of course, there are ways in which perceptions can cross a dangerous line, especially when a focus or belief becomes so narrow and fixed that other ideas, no matter how rational, simply can’t penetrate.  But my point here is not to preach or point out all of the ways in which humans treat each other badly. I don’t think any of us needs any reminders of those things.  Instead I’d rather see us all at least try to focus on ways in which we are all similar.

Again, it’s all about perception.  Rather than viewing our differences with fear, envy, self-righteousness or self-deprecation, maybe we can try celebrating our individual uniqueness while still recognizing that we are all fallible human beings.  Of course, it would be ideal if everyone treated each other that way.  None of us has any real control over how anyone else views the world.  In fact, we often have little control over the circumstances in which find ourselves. But no matter where we’re at or what we’re facing, we can always change our perception.  It might not be easy, but it’s always possible.

The problems of the world may be overwhelming, but if we each make our own contribution to perception improvement there’s no telling what effect it might have.  My own small attempt at this is to provide a judgment-free zone in all of my classes.  No matter who you are, where you come from, what you look like, your choice in partners, your beliefs, your physical abilities or dis-abilities, you will always be welcome in any of my classes.  We’re all seeking the same thing – to be healthy and to feel good about ourselves – even if we look differently while we’re doing it.  No judging allowed. We can each move in whatever way works for us as individuals while still enjoying the fact that we are all moving together. Everyone does whatever they can do to the best of their ability.  And if you’re reading this but can’t come to one of my classes, seek out a judgment-free zone near you.  It might take a little effort, but I’ll bet there is one somewhere near you.  There’s nothing like moving your body to help remind you that good feelings are still possible in our troubled world.