Coping with Change

Changing of the seasons marks a time of transition.  Although the calendar tells us that Fall has arrived, we still experience remnants of the season just passed while not yet quite fully ensconced into the new season.  This uncertainty can create mixed emotions.  For example,  we might experience confusion (as in “How should I dress today?  Can I plan an outdoor activity?”) or sadness (e.g., “I love summer! I’m sorry to see it go.”) and maybe a bit of anxiety (“What will winter bring? Am I properly prepared? I don’t feel ready.”)  Or all of the above and more.

In addition to changes in the weather and the scenery, each new season marks the passage of time.  We get so involved in our daily lives that we rarely recognize that we are changing along with the seasons.  That is, until something happens to remind us of that.  It might be something dramatic like a fall or an accident, or something more subtle like last year’s winter clothes not quite fitting anymore.  Sometimes it’s an illness or other physical change that effects us in ways we’ve not previously experienced.  Whatever it is, even when it’s right in front of us, we can still manage to get lost in denial.  We want things to be like they were.  Yet change is all around us.  At this time of year all we have to do is look out the window to see its manifestations.  Yet still we can’t believe that change is occurring within as well as outside.

Actually it shouldn’t surprise us that it’s difficult to see and accept change in ourselves.  After all, we’ve never before been as old as we are now – whatever age that is.  Even though we’ve witnessed aging in people around us, we can rationalize that it happens to others but not to us.  It’s also easy to believe that what happens to others won’t happen to us because we’re different.  And – yes – it’s true!  Each of us IS different and we all age in different ways.  That’s why I get a kick out of every interview with a centenarian.  The interviewer asks “What is the secret of your longevity?” as if the answer will provide some magic path that everyone can follow to get to the same place.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  As I’ve often said, we are all an experiment of one.  That applies here, too.  Just because one person can drink whiskey and smoke cigars daily and still live to be 100 doesn’t mean everyone can.  Everyone wants a magic bullet and a one-size-fits-all solution to every problem.  Unfortunately, nothing seems to work that way.  It would be nice if our medical system would acknowledge that fact, but that’s another subject.

Since change is constant and inevitable, we each need to find our own individual way to cope with that change.  Those of us who are accustomed to regular activity often find this particularly difficult, but it’s difficult for anyone used to doing things a certain way.  Realizing that what used to be easy is now more difficult or even impossible can be a bitter pill to swallow.  But looking back at some mythical “better” time or wishing things hadn’t happened the way they did won’t change the way things are.  As difficult as it may seem, the best way to accommodate any new reality is to adapt.  This doesn’t mean giving up.  It simply means finding a way to accept the changes.  That’s not to say that this is easy.  But if you want to have any peace of mind, it is necessary.

So with the changing of the seasons, perhaps it’s a good time to take stock of how you’re handling the changes in your life.  And change is happening whether you realize it or not.  Further complicating matters, every change differs from any change that occurred before.  So perhaps an intervention that worked before no longer has the same effect.  You might have to try a different approach. This, too,  is reflected in the seasons. Fall comes every year, just like daylight comes every day.  Yet each Fall, like each day, is different from the one before.  And what you did last Fall or even yesterday might not work today, even when you’re addressing the same problem.  If you look back through the seasons of your life you will be hard pressed to find two seasons, or two days, that were exactly the same as the one before.  Think about it.  Memory is faulty but if you reflect honestly, you’ll see that’s true.

Ignoring change won’t make it stop and going back in time is not possible.  Moving forward with our lives from this point in time is the only option.  No matter how bleak things look, there is always something positive in this moment.  After all daylight came and you’re still breathing.  That’s something positive!  Maximize what’s positive right now and remember that change is constant.  Whatever you’re experiencing today will change tomorrow.

 

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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.