It’s not always easy to embrace change. There are times in our lives when we feel sad that change is happening. We want to resist it, even if unbeknownst to us it is bringing future happiness into our life.
This is a very important point when learning to embrace change in your life that feels difficult, uncomfortable, and even undesirable. Realize that the full impact of what you are going through and how it will enrich your life may not be apparent in this moment. Understanding this can drastically influence your interpretation of what is happening and open you to discovering the full spectrum of what the situation has to offer you.
When Change Feels Difficult and Hurts
It’s easy to embrace the idea that experiencing change makes for a perfect life when the change is for the better, when it feels positive and comfortable. But what about when it’s not? When change feels difficult, when it hurts, how can we possibly embrace it as being part of a perfect life?
When my mother went from being a healthy, vibrant woman to an emaciated cancer victim filled with ever-increasing pain, how could that in any way be construed as positive? This is something I’ve thought about deeply in order to write this chapter. Even though I know that embracing constant change is part of the perfect life, I also know that reconciling the idea with real life can be challenging.
Watching someone I loved suffer and knowing she was leaving me a little more each day certainly didn’t instill a sense of perfection in me at the time — anger and frustration, perhaps, but to see anything even remotely positive in that situation would have required a perspective I had not yet developed.
Indeed, at the time of her death I lacked the vision to see the incredibly powerful lessons of love that were unfolding. At that point in my life I was overworked and exhausted from raising a young family. Because my mother never complained about her situation or the pain she was in, if I didn’t constantly remind myself of her circumstance, the reality of it all tended to fade into the background as I struggled just to meet my daily obligations.
The Gifts My Mother Gave
My mother never expressed any fear of moving through the final weeks and days of her life and leaving our physical presence. In fact, when I sat on her hospital bed right after she had been told that her cancer had returned, she looked at me and said, “Did you hear the news?” When I responded yes, she said, “Bummer, but it’s okay,” and she smiled as if to comfort me.
As time went on my mother remained fully engaged in a process that was inescapable. She was present. When you would sit and talk with her, she made full eye contact no matter how uncomfortable she was physically. She was always an amazing listener. If there is a way to leave this place with poise and dignity, she showed everyone how. Virtually everyone made that comment.
Even in the midst of the change that was eroding her body every day, she was expanding everyone else’s appreciation of what real courage is and the power of her love for those around her under the most difficult of circumstances. It was more important to her that those around her not suffer because of her situation, and she constantly worked at accomplishing that.
My mother, a quiet person by nature, had a way of working her magic simply by being who she was. She didn’t need to say much. People felt nurtured simply by being around her.
At the time I didn’t realize how much she had influenced the way I process life. It wasn’t until several years had passed and I would find myself reminiscing about my life with her and how she handled her experience of leaving this life that I began to fully comprehend how much I had gained from this most difficult change in my life.
I learned what quiet courage looks like. I mentioned that my mother never expressed any fear, but I don’t know that she never felt it. Her personality was so giving that I fully believe that whatever fear she felt she chose to face on her own rather than burden others with it.
The way she stayed fully engaged in her conversations profoundly influenced me, especially with my two daughters; I am reminded to be fully present when they are sharing something about their day with me. Thinking of others first was not only natural for my mom; it made her happy, and that taught me the joy of sharing myself and what I have learned with others, another valuable lesson.
Difficult Changes Require and Create Inner Strength
There’s a paradox here. Difficult changes require inner strength, but at the same time they create inner strength as we experience them. Even now, years later, my mother continues to inspire me every time I evoke her memory.
I have gained a lifetime of inspiration from what initially felt like a terrible and painful loss. All these virtues — being fully present when someone is talking to me, selflessness, courage, inner strength, the compassion for others who are going through a similar situation — I gained from a life change that I would never have chosen. I have so much more to offer the people around me now because of how she impacted me.
We Need Change For Growth and Learning
Change equals growth. That is why it is encoded in our DNA. Think about it. Would you want to be a first-grader your whole life? Would you want to repeat this day over and over again? Would you want to eat the same thing for lunch every day, always be with the same people, do the same task every day, year after year?
We need change to feel content, to feel inspired, to learn. In fact, every change we experience involves learning something, no matter how insignificant it may seem at the time. Change forces us to think, to remember, to evaluate, to be introspective. When we don’t experience change we become bored. A life without change would be unbearable.
Some kinds of change we seek out, such as a new skill or a new job. Others we do not, such as death, divorce, and so on. To be fully realized individuals we need the kind of growth that is drawn from both types of experiences. We could say that we seek out positive change and that we try our best to deal with the other type, but in fact both types are positive.
We learn powerful skills, such as all that I learned from my mother’s passing, only by experiencing such a difficult situation. Because of that experience I am now better at helping others who are going through a similar situation. Even though we tend to avoid such situations, they make us powerful if we pay attention and assess what we are going through.
No one wants to experience the pain of a failed romance, but going through that experience allows us to communicate more effectively with someone else who is going through the same thing for the first time. It gives us the power to comfort him or her in ways that would not be possible if we had not had such an experience ourselves.
Labeling Something "Difficult" or "Negative" Is An Internal Judgment
As I have become more fully engaged in my own life I can honestly say that I feel phrases like difficult situations or negative experiences stem from internal judgments. Those judgments are based on what is comfortable and what is uncomfortable.
When we are confronted by change, we need to stay oriented to our observer. Otherwise, we label the change based on our emotions, and we quickly become absorbed in those feelings. This robs us of the opportunity to see what the change has to offer us. When you keep up with a meditation practice, your increased awareness of your thoughts will make being observer-oriented a much more natural state for you.
I find that when I am fully engaged in the moment and not in the future, which has not yet happened, or in the past, which I have no control over, the opportunity to separate myself from the feeling of “this is comfortable” or “this is uncomfortable” presents itself.
In that separateness I can explore my interpretation of whatever change is occurring and why I am labeling it as this or that. I have found that the farther down the road I get in my evolution, the more it all just feels like learning.
We can stop interpreting the experience of change, of learning, as unpleasant. The trick is to be totally present, to be fully engaged in the process of the change. If we are judging the experience as this or that, we are not fully present because a portion of our consciousness is taken up in the judgment process. When I’m feeling a very strong polarity about a particular change in my life, it’s a tip-off that I am not in the present moment, not fully engaged in my experience.
The Opposite Of Change Is Stagnation
The perfect life is constant change because the opposite of change is stagnation, lack of growth. As we saw from the story of my mother’s passing, the skills we acquire from what we could easily interpret as difficult changes are some of the most powerful tools we acquire.
Like everyone, I face difficult situations regularly. But more and more I find that I am able to welcome circumstances that earlier in my life I would not have wanted to experience because I would have interpreted them as being uncomfortable. I didn’t see all that they were offering me — skills I needed to learn, skills that have given me strength in challenging situations and made me more effective at helping others.
I now see life’s changes not as “easy” or “difficult” but instead as opportunities to expand my ability to function peacefully in all kinds of circumstances.
©2016 by Thomas M. Sterner. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA.
www.newworldlibrary.com or 800-972-6657 ext. 52.
Fully Engaged: Using the Practicing Mind in Daily Life
by Thomas M. Sterner.
Being fully engaged results in less stress and more satisfaction in every aspect of life...
About the Author
Thomas M. Sterner is the founder and CEO of the Practicing Mind Institute. As a successful entrepreneur, he is considered an expert in Present Moment Functioning, or PMF™. He is a popular and in-demand speaker and coach who works with high-performance industry groups and individuals, including athletes, helping them to operate effectively in high-stress situations so that they can break through to new levels of mastery. Visit his website at thepracticingmind.com