"You can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf." -- Jon Kabat-Zinn
Change is all around us. As we move into the spring season, the sun is starting to warm the earth, green shoots are emerging from the ground, and animals are waking up from their winter slumbers.
The world around us changes through the seasons, and we ourselves shift through different phases of our life journey. Like the earth, we go through periods of growth, productivity, flowering and thriving -- and then there are times where we need to rest, recharge, and conserve our energies so that we can create something new.
But change isn’t always easy to accept. Even the most positive changes can come with grief, uncertainty, and fear because we’re being called to let go of our old, familiar ways of being. Becoming more resilient to change is a lifelong journey, and it’s far from easy -- but it’s a skill that can greatly enhance our happiness and peace of mind.
Change and the Cycle of Life
Life is full of change -- and for some of us, it’s a near-constant. Our day-to-day lives shift as we change jobs, move to new cities, build new relationships, and develop new interests. We all evolve on a physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual level over the course of our lives.
Everything in life moves through a cycle of life, death, and rebirth. When we change, we go through a death-and-rebirth process -- an end to an old way of being and the beginning of a new one. That’s why change can be so scary: it literally triggers our survival instinct because it asks us to “die” and be reborn.
But change is a principle of life. And remember that every “death” we go through creates the opportunity for something new to take its place.
Going Through Transitions
Sometimes, we go through dramatic changes that can leave a permanent imprint on us. At some point in our lives, most of us will go through major transitions like starting a new job, getting married, moving to a new home, or having kids. And a lot of these transitions are wonderful changes -- dreams we’ve had for years that are finally being fulfilled.
Even so, we might be surprised to discover ourselves having a lot of mixed feelings about these changes. Therapist and blogger Sheryl Paul writes that it’s completely normal to feel emotions like sadness, confusion, anger, and fear while going through significant transitions in life.
Let’s say you’re about to marry the person of your dreams. On the one hand, you’re absolutely over-the-moon about the upcoming wedding and your life together. But at the same time, you could also be feeling some grief over the chapter of your life that’s coming to an end, or uncertainty about what the future will bring.
As Sheryl points out, going through a transition like marriage means losing a part of your identity. Your single identity is one you’ve (probably) had for most of your life, and while you’ll still be your own person once you’re married, your life will be forever changed.
In order to flow through life’s transitions, we need to let ourselves feel our emotions, grieve the change, and sit in the uncertainty of not knowing for certain what the future will be like. It can be uncomfortable and even painful at times, but moving through these feelings makes us stronger and more resilient.
How to Flow Gracefully Through Change
How can we become more accepting of change? Here are a few words of advice that have helped me through tough times, adapted from Sheryl’s teachings.
1. Instead of resisting change, see it as an opportunity.
We are dynamic beings living in an ever-shifting world. There is a lot that happens around us that is beyond our control. As mindfulness teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn says, “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”
We can’t control all of life’s changes any more than we can control the shifting tides of the ocean. But we can learn to ride the ups and downs so they don’t throw us off-course. With time and practice, we can learn to weather life’s storms and stay afloat even through the most turbulent of times.
Every change presents a chance for us to learn, grow, and become more adaptable. Looking at transitions this way can reframe them as positive opportunities rather than scary events we can’t control.
2. Learn to let go of the old.
According to Sheryl, the first stage of moving through a transition is letting go of the old. This step can be painful; we usually feel some attachment to the life we’ve known, even if we know it’s time to end that chapter and move onto a new one.
However, you won’t fully embrace the change until you’ve come to terms with that loss. Give yourself as much time as you need to process the transition so that you can let go and move forward into a new phase of your life.
3. Tend to your emotions.
Sheryl cautions against focusing too much on the externals of whatever change you’re going through. If you’re moving houses, it’s easy to get caught up in the logistics and the long list of things that need to be done. Still, even if you’re busy, it’s important to make time to process your feelings about the move.
As much as possible, give yourself space to feel all of your emotions. Know that fear, excitement, grief, joy, anger and worry (among many others) are all valid feelings to have as you’re going through this time. If you need to grieve the change, let yourself do it. Acknowledge the hopes and fears you have about the future. Owning and naming these feelings can be a powerful way to cope with transition.
4. Make self-care a priority.
We are always advocates of self-care, but it’s especially crucial to take good care of yourself during times of transition. In addition to nurturing your emotional self, remember to give your body, mind, and soul a little extra TLC to support and comfort you as you move through changes in your life.
Last month we talked about how to establish a self-care routine -- that article is a great place to start if you don’t have a self-care practice already and would like to begin one. And of course, if you need some healing touch and relaxation, you can always come visit us for a fabulous, nourishing massage.
5. Learn to tolerate uncertainty about the future.
Aside from letting go, one of the hardest parts about change is not knowing what the future holds. That uncertainty can be uncomfortable. But the more we can learn how to sit with that discomfort, the more at peace we’ll feel.
Life is inherently uncertain, and none of us knows what tomorrow will bring. But if you can be present with that uncertainty and adopt an attitude of curiosity about the future, you might find yourself worrying less about what will happen.
6. Embrace the blessings of a new beginning.
Once you’ve let go of the old, moved through your feelings and accepted the uncertainty of the future, you may feel ready to accept and embrace the change. Every change represents a new beginning and a fresh start -- and that’s something worth celebrating.
Thoughts in Closing
Changes and transitions happen to all of us, and sometimes we might struggle or feel off-balance as we’re working our way through them. There’s an art to embracing the constant flux of life, and it’s a challenging one to master. But if we can learn to accept and flow with change as it happens, we can find a greater sense of grace and ease in our daily lives.