2012 to many has been a year of awakenings and changes. Some of those awakenings have been painful, being forced upon us through loss, illness, or road blocks. Others have been easier and happier: unexpected recovery from long-term illness, old friends resurfacing, or relationships turning around. Either way, for many of us the changes have been noticeable this year and the question becomes: how do we deal with these changes in the coming year and years.
True change only happens when we go beyond the understanding and acceptance of things being different and start taking action that is different from what we did before. It’s one thing to really understand that what I do hurts the other person. It’s another thing to start behaving differently. That second step requires me to be different and for most that is a tall order.
We all have had moments when we claimed that “this is just who I am, it can’t be changed”. But is that really true? I don’t believe in the inevitability of being how we always have been. I have seen people of all ages change before my eyes and I know that there is no age limit to becoming a better self. If we accept that we all come into this world basically good and loving creatures, then change away from behaviours and beliefs that are harmful to others or ourselves becomes a way of returning home to that natural state of being; and that we can do at any time in our lives.
I think the biggest hurdle to taking action that would truly create change is our belief that change has to be big and noticeable, combined with our drive to do everything fast and with immediate results. True change is neither one big event nor an instant one. It is slow and steady and almost unnoticeable, like a child growing up before our eyes. Of course there are big moments in a journey of change — that first awakening to the truth that we need a change not being the least of them; but those moments are just that: moments, way stations on the path to change. The real change happens in the weeks and months after, when the new understanding begins to influence how we live and think.
Like a in a plant, the seed of new understanding needs time to take roots. It needs undisturbed space and proper care for growth. In life changing situations that may mean taking extra care to have some quiet moments or to expose ourselves gently to situations that may foster new behaviours. If we know that we need to open up to others, we may need to start by simply going out of the house more often, take a walk in a park, or do some window shopping to get us amongst people. If we have realized that we need to honour our bodies more, we may want to start with taking the time to actually become conscious of how they work, how muscles move when we walk or dance, how our breathing influences how our bodies feel.
Slow adjustments like that have a greater chance of succeeding and thus they are more likely to create lasting change. How many of us have had great intentions of hitting the gym twice a week, joining a club to socialize more, or eating no more junk food or chocolate for three months? And how many of us succeeded in those endeavours? If instead we decide to go for a walk whenever we can or even simply take the stairs at work or leave the bus a station earlier to walk home, we are more likely to succeed and to change a long-standing habit. After that, change becomes easier because the next habit to break — say collapsing on the couch after a days work — already has some new energy coming at it: we walked home. It becomes easier to maybe just extend that walk or to take another, more leisurely one, later; and before we know it we actually want to do something more because our bodies are ready for it and our minds have caught up with them.
Like plants, we can’t push growth and change, we can only guide and support it. We also can’t plan it exactly. If you plant a garden, you can put certain plants in certain areas but they will only thrive and bloom if you give them the right care and if they are indeed in the right place. It doesn’t matter how much you love waterlilies, you can’t have them if you don’t have a pond. The same is true for change in your life. You may have an idea of what would be good for you and what you’d like to do but if you insist on it being exactly that way, you most likely miss some wonderful opportunities to create something amazing in your life. If you are an extroverted person you may learn to get a bit quieter but you can’t expect to be happy and fulfilled as a monk living in isolation in the Himalayas and trying to do so may rob you of the perfect opportunity to fulfill your lives mission.
This may sound like a contradiction of my original statement that we all can change at any time. It isn’t. The change I am talking about is that of coming back to our own truths, our true selves. The real change in the example above would not be to try for that monk-hood in the mountains but to learn to accept yourself as and thrive as the extroverted person you are and to make that the tool to be of service, to find your place in the world, and to follow your passion and your path. True change starts with acceptance — and it isn’t necessarily the acceptance that something is wrong in your life. It may very well be the acceptance of what is truly right about who you are and how your life is.
So, as we are nearing the end of 2012 (and the much anticipated date of Dec. 21, 2012), look at your new year’s intentions through a different lens. Instead of looking at all that isn’t right in your life and your person and that you intent to fix this coming year, how about looking at all that is right and wonderful in you, even if it isn’t up to the standard and norm of everyone else, and holding the intention to make the best of that in the coming months? How about not creating elaborate plans and schedules to whip yourself into shape but rather relaxing into the reality of you and embracing the possibility of natural growth with patience? Remember, I am not asking you to resign yourself to pain and being stuck. I am asking you to patiently wait and look out for the seeds of your own life and being and then to support them to the best of your abilities. Who knows, before you know it there may be a beautiful life unfolding right in front of you…