We had a year of incredible change. COVID-19 has turned our routines and expectations of what can and can not be done upside down. Because of these changes you, your friends, or family members might have gotten seriously ill. You might have lost loved ones, your job, your direction in life or sense of safety. Or, alternatively, last year brought you a sense of relief from too much pressure, insights into what really matters and a heightened sense of connectedness with others and the world. At the moment we are in transition again from lockdown. You might welcome this with open arms, or you feel uneasy and uncertain about what might happen next.
Change is like this. How we relate to change (as a desired blessing, or an unwanted curse) depends on what the change means to us, how it impacts on us and whether we feel we have any choice in the matter. We need change, because change is an inherent aspect of life. Without change there is no life.
Here are some reasons why we often do not like change very much. Change contains several aspects that we find hard to be with. One is loss. Every change, even the most wanted change contains an element of loss. The more attached we are to things to be just so, the harder it feels to adjust to them changing. The loss feels too painful. Because of this even the anticipation of change can make us feel upset. Think of times when something came to an end, that you did not want to end. Quite often we are distressed, even before the change takes place, because we anticipated what we will loose. Loss is an integral part of change. But we often do not know how to cope with losses.
Losses obviously can be of different severity and therefore easier, or not so easy to come to terms with. It is on the whole a very subjective experience. What one person finds hard to lose another has no difficulty letting go off, and yet another is glad to lose this very thing, person or attribute. Also, some people are much more able to allow change to happen and to let go than others. In my experience mindfulness can help a lot to mitigate the fear and pain of loss. The more awareness we can bring to what we are holding onto, and why, the more understanding we have. And understanding leads to compassion for our predicament.
The other thing that causes us to dislike change is, that we all believe that we are in control of our lives. Change, especially change that we have not instigated challenges this very assumption. We fear not being in control. Feeling that we are in control gives us a sense of certainty. Change forces us to see that this sense of certainty and control is a mirage. Having to face our sense of powerlessness over our destiny, our lack of control and the uncertainty that accompanies change, is not easy. It causes us to feel a lot of fear, anger, or impotence (depending on whether you are going into fight, flight or freeze mode).
The best way to take the sting out of these feelings is to be aware that they are there. The ‘simple’ acknowledgement that this is what we feel and being able to hold these feelings with acceptance, can make a huge difference to how we experience them. I have put simple in inverted commas, because even acknowledging what we feel might not be as simple as it sounds. Saying ‘yes’ to feeling our fear, anger or sense of impotence is a great act of courage. If we can accept the this is how we feel, we create a bit of spaciousness that then allows us to investigate where these feelings are coming from. If we can lean into these feelings with acceptance – at least temporarily – those feelings will begin to lessen.
Working with our relationship to change is a lifelong task. I think it is a most valuable pursuit, because if we can learn to keep our equilibrium with small changes, over time we will also be able to stay more open to any bigger changes that will come our way. If you think this is something you want to explore for yourself, I suggest you start with mindfully observing how small changes affect you. For example, notice how you respond to a sudden change in your normal route to work as a result of road works. Explore the feelings that accompany these small changes and hold them with compassion as much as you can. Investigate, what kind of assumptions and beliefs may be there that cause you to feel this way about the change. Can you create some spaciousness around them? Or even let them go?
I started of with the changes that a pandemic has forced on us. Ultimately the changes we fear most are old age, illness and death. Wouldn’t it be great if we could face these with grace and calm acceptance, rather than with fear, anger or denial? I think this is possible, but only if we keep practicing turning towards our discomfort around change in general and learn to feel at ease with that.
May you thrive in life!