How to navigate life changes

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February 6, 2011

NEW JERSEY, Feb. 6, 2011/ Troy Media/ – How do we know when something is over? When a love affair or a marriage ends, when it’s time to move on from a dead-end job, or a dream isn’t coming true? Harder still, when you’ve given all you have to someone or something, taken all that’s going to be offered, and there isn’t anymore?

What instinct tells us to stop fighting? What kind of courage does it take to face that truth?

The answer is that some mornings we wake up and just know. We can feel it in the pit of our stomachs, and before we can help it we’ve said, “I want a divorce,” when we meant to say, “Pass the butter.” Other mornings it’s the other way around. We’re the ones getting turfed, and life has just bit us in the you-know-what.

Initiating change can be frightening

Mahatma Ghandi said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Or you can fight it, and have change forced upon you. I’ve done both. Initiating change can be frightening; fighting it can be excruciating.

In a third scenario – change that comes through the death of a loved one – we must ultimately find our way to acceptance.

No matter how change comes to us, by choice or by chance, it can sweep through our lives like a tsunami, or feel like a stone heaved into a pond, causing countless ripples.

I’ve discovered that one of the agonies of having change forced on you is this: After you have experienced shame and expressed rage, you discover that subconsciously you were at least partly responsible for instigating the very change that brought you to your knees. It becomes clear that you were making choices all along that led to that very moment. 

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Writer and consultant Judith Huge has trained thousands of people to use communication in managing their work and lives. She is the author of A Middle Aged Woman and the Sea, a memoir of transition. She says she’s good friends with change, and offers this explanation: All change grows out of the realization that something that’s worked no longer does. The symptoms can often be physical – your body trying to call attention to emotions you’ve chosen to bury under busy-ness.

When Judith leads workshops on transition, she asks participants to complete the sentence, “A door in my life closed when . . .” She also asks them to complete the sentence, “A door in my life opened when . . .” Judith says it usually turns out to be the same door. “All change, whether we choose it or it chooses us, is like that door – both a cutting off and a passage into what lies beyond. While wedging one foot in that door may temporarily save us the pain of hearing the latch click shut, in the long run it’s likely to hold us back from establishing our footing on the path ahead.”

Albert Einstein favoured the same metaphor for the aftermath of change when he said, “We look so long and hard at the door that is closed, we do not see that which opened to us.”

Rife with uncertainty

Spiritual coach Amy Tang (www.lightsonbright.com) offers several steps to help us negotiate change. First, surrender the outcome and allow a new perspective to emerge. Then, reflect on the wisdom you are gaining. Change is rife with uncertainty, doubt and confusion, and you may yearn for the false sense of stability the old and familiar offered. Resist the temptation to go backwards. Take time to rest and nurture yourself, and don’t rush the process. Grief and regret may also be a part of change, as you mourn what is left behind, or feel shame about past behaviours. Instead of condemning past “mistakes,” forgive yourself and praise your willingness to transform.

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As I ride the waves of change in my own life, it helps me to remember that I am my potential, not my circumstances. I try to be kind to myself, reading for inspiration, and sharing my feelings with friends. Mostly I find myself repeating the words of theologian Reinhold Niebuhr:

“God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Resources for change: www.scottrozman.com; www.turnonyourlight.com; Books: Hope for the Flowers  by Trina Paulus; Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life  by Wayne Dyer.

To read more of Life’s Lessons, click here.

Heather Summerhayes Cariou, born in Ontario, is the author of SixtyFive Roses, a Sister’s Memoir . She is a founding member of the Galaxy Writers Workshop in New Jersey, where she lives with her husband, actor Len Cariou, and sits on the board of the International Women’s Writing Guild.