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.

Reflections on the Journey

While walking this morning I saw a friend that I used to see frequently on the trail but had not seen for some time.  We stopped to chat.  He told me he had recently had a heart attack.  As followers of this blog know I have had my own health issues to deal with over the last couple of years so we found ourselves comparing notes on setbacks and recovery.  He said, “I never thought I was a candidate for heart problems.  I have always exercised and, in fact, used to run marathons.”  Hmmm.  That sounded familiar.  I could certainly identify with his surprise. After all my years of yoga and Pilates it was equally mystifying to find myself with a back problem that required surgery.  Still more amazing to me, and still a source of bafflement, is the fact that I’ve had cancer twice and somehow I’m still here while others with what seems like similar conditions have not been so fortunate.  Stuff happens.  None of us know why.  The medical community can try to address these issues.  Sometimes they succeed, sometimes not.  At times it seems that as we continue to unravel the mysteries of the human body, questions continue to outnumber answers and every answer seems to uncover more questions.  What’s a person to do??

For me, it all comes back to the basics.  Take one step at a time and focus on the journey, not the outcome.  At this particular moment, I’m feeling better than I have for at least the last 3 years.  Maybe this will last, maybe it won’t, but that makes focusing on this moment right now all the more important.  It has become a practice requiring frequent reminders, but this time I’m determined to try to celebrate every moment of feeling good. During most of last year, while I was experiencing pretty constant pain, I frequently lamented the fact that I had once been pain-free but failed to appreciate it.  Now that I am reasonably pain-free again I have to remember how truly fortunate I am.  Not everyone can experience the results that I have and I can’t attribute these positive results to any particular talent, skill or even genetic trait of mine.  I don’t have any special abilities or powers.  It is tempting to try and find some rhyme or reason why I’m doing great while others aren’t, but there really is no definitive answer to that question.

So rather than spend time pondering the whys and wherefores, I would much prefer to just be grateful for right now and try to take as much pleasure from it as possible.  It’s so easy to get caught up in regrets about the past or concerns about the future.  Whatever was is done and gone.  It can’t be changed.  Whatever hasn’t happened yet is unknown.  Anyone who claims to be able to see into the future is fooling themselves and probably others.  They might luck out and get it right every now and then, but any prediction is still a guess. Sure, we can try and be prepared for circumstances that might arise and certainly we don’t want to throw all caution to the wind.  But it’s still best not to cling too hard to any particular outcome.  If things go the way we hope, that’s great.  But if not, that’s just the way life is.  It’s nothing personal. And we still have to deal with the reality of what is rather than wishing that things were different.

A recurring theme throughout this blog has been to focus on what you CAN do rather than being sorry for what you think you lack.  Years ago I used to read mysteries by the author Sue Grafton.  Her books often made reference to her daily 3-mile run.  In one of those books – unfortunately, I don’t remember which one – she mentioned her run and then said something like, “If I’d known what was about to happen, I would’ve enjoyed that run more.”  That probably isn’t the exact quote, but the sentiment somehow stayed with me.  I thought at the time that I never wanted to have that kind of regret.  Admittedly, however, the concept got away from me.  I forgot to enjoy the pain-free times while they were happening and instead took them for granted.  When things are going well it’s easy to develop the illusion that everything will always be like it is.  But nothing ever stays the same.  We can see evidence of this all around us.  It might seem like the solution would be to restore the past, but it’s never possible to do that.  Even attempting to make that happen always has unintended consequences.

Still there are times when illness or injury – yours or someone else’s – makes staying in this moment really challenging.  In times like these we are all stronger than we think we are.  As impossible as it may seem, it can be an important practice trying to find something positive to focus on.  I don’t mean to make that sound easy.  It’s not.  And even trying to implement a practice like that seems inherently doomed to fail.  But failure is temporary; there is always another opportunity to practice.  If it doesn’t work today, try again tomorrow.  After all, tomorrow will probably be different.  Everything that happens is an opportunity to learn something new – about ourselves or about life in general.  That in itself is something positive.  We may be handed lessons we wish we didn’t have to learn, but learning is part of the journey.