“If you change the way you look at things,
The things you look at change.”
– Wayne Dyer
Yesterday I looked out my upstairs window and saw that enough leaves had fallen so the Ohio River is in clear view. It’s always there, but this river I love is only visible in the late fall and winter. As happy as I was to see the river, I wasn’t quite ready to embrace the change this signals, requiring boots, jackets and ice scrapers!
Did you know that change is stressful even when it’s positive? Getting married, having a baby, getting a new job, retiring…these are all things people look forward to, plan for, rejoice in. And the change can still be jarring. When the change is something we weren’t looking forward to, change is even more unsettling: a loved one dies, illness is diagnosed, you are laid off.
Change is disorienting. We get knocked out of our comfort zones. Things are unfamiliar, confusing and we sometimes don’t know what to expect. We go around asking ourselves, “Who am I now?” “How will I make it through this?” And whether the change is moving from fall to winter or getting used to a new reality, it takes awhile to find and get comfortable with the answers to those questions.
So how can we best cope?
I’m inspired by remembering how, as young adults, my parents managed an incredibly difficult change. The year was 1944. In the last draft out of Stockton, California, my dad was drafted into the Navy of WWII. My parents sold their dream ranch; my mother, brother and I moved in with my grandparents in another city. A few months later, my little brother was born. Two months after that, my aunt died in childbirth. My mother took care of that baby as well, moving in with my uncle, who became alcoholic. She was caring for 4 children under the age of 5, living with an alcoholic, and worrying about my dad, who was at war in the Pacific Ocean somewhere. How did they survive?
Moving through change often involves resistance, denial, and bargaining. Waiting for acceptance and hope, we are sometimes immobilized, sometimes reactionary. Still, we DO move through change.
There are many theories about the stages of change and how best to navigate them. The idea that resonates with me the most is that while we’re transitioning – we’re letting go of something – and becoming something new. Both processes go on at the same time. My mother said she managed that difficult time by focusing most of her attention on the 4 little charges who needed her strength and stability. My father taught the men under his command the benefits of a college education and how to use the GI Bill. (He was still receiving letters of thanks 60 years later.)
D.H. Lawrence used the metaphor of a snake sloughing its old skin to describe the change process. When Europeans first came to America, the goal was to slough the old European consciousness and grow a new skin underneath….a new pattern.
“The two processes go on, of course, simultaneously. The slow forming of the new skin underneath is the slow sloughing of the old skin. And sometimes this immortal serpent feels very happy, feeling a new golden glow of a strangely-patterned skin envelop him: and sometimes he feels very sick, as if his very entrails were being torn out of him, as he wrenches once more at his old skin, to get out of it.
Out! Out! He cries, in all kinds of euphemisms.
He’s got to have his new skin on him before ever he can get out.
And he’s got to get out before his new skin can ever be his own skin.”
And so, as we move through change, whether it’s seasonal, personal or political, we are always both sloughing our old skin and growing a new one. Can we let go of the old one? Be open to a new one? Be courageous enough to help the new pattern grow strong and beautiful?
Sometimes it requires only a presence of mind and a commitment to giving back. In my small community, for example, the leaves that allow me to see the river are collected from our curbs all fall. They are put in a huge pile in the YMCA parking lot and covered. In the spring, they are available as lush compost for anyone to take. A simple feeding forward. Growing the new skin out of what has been let go. Where else can we do that?
1. What changes are you experiencing right now?
2. How can you let go of the old reality and accept the new?
3. How can you help things go right in the new reality?
4. What can you contribute to strengthen what is good for the future?