Death, taxes, and change

It’s often said that nothing is certain in life other than death and taxes. And after paying taxes, all that is left are two kinds of change. The change we carry in our purse and the unstoppable transformation of everything we experience. As change occurs at a dizzying pace, we cling to straws in the hope of finding stability. But it is nowhere to be found. As soon as we find a small area of firm ground, it begins to crumble beneath our feet.

Nothing in life is certain other than this: everything we are experiencing will change. We ourselves are changing. It is only when we resist change that we find it a problem. Why do we behave like a gyroscope, trying to keep our equilibrium? Why do we try to hold on to the status quo? Why do we have to be dragged kicking and screaming before we adopt change? If an infant had a choice, would it volunteer to be born? After all, it’s nice and comfy in the womb, so why go through the stress and discomfort of being born? Why face the uncertainty of life?

After a struggle, we learn to adopt to our circumstances. And once we do, we are comfortable. Our comfort zone is like a womb that we resist leaving. But it is only by mustering the courage to break free that we can experience life. For life IS change. As the Chinese sage Lao-Tzu taught, “Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them — that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” To which Alan Watts adds, “The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”

“Change has a considerable psychological impact on the human mind. To the fearful it is threatening because it means that things may get worse. To the hopeful it is encouraging because things may get better. To the confident it is inspiring because the challenge exists to make things better.” (King Whitney, Jr.) It should be clear, then, the first thing we need to change is our attitude. We need to learn how to welcome change, for when we embrace change, we embrace life.

Life itself is synonymous with change. For example, during a seven-year period, every molecule in our body is replaced. Change is the power of the universe. Doesn’t energy change to matter and matter to energy? The history of the universe and life is the history of change. We won’t be through changing, until we’re through. To exist is to change; to change is to grow, and to grow is to endlessly unfold our potential. Change is not a threat, but an opportunity for growth. How can we become what we are capable of becoming if we remain unchanged? Isn’t it clear that change is necessary? Change is also how we experience life. It is only the dead who don’t experience change. (Come to think of it, even the dead may, for aren’t all the dead composers now decomposing?)

Coping with change

Understand the ebb and flow of life. Flow with the current. Maintain a balanced view. Socrates expressed it well, “Remember, no human condition is ever permanent. Then you will not be overjoyed in good fortune nor too scornful in misfortune.”

Change is great, but we have to pay for it. For example, you may decide to live in a foreign country for a few years. That’s fantastic; you’ll have an exciting adventure. However, the cost of your adventure is separation from home. You will experience the loss of your friends, favorite hangouts, and culture. However, as long as we understand and accept that loss is part of life we will be able to cope with change.

Autumn must give way to winter. We cannot have one without the loss of the other. We cannot hold on to anything, any more than a tree can hold on to its leaves. As long as we savor the moment we will leave behind happy memories. And as long as we make the most of this present moment, we will open ourselves to a promising future.

Perhaps the best way to cope with change is to help create it. That way we control change rather than having it control us. Since we spend a good portion of our lives working, consider your workplace. What can you change for the better? Can you accept all aspects of your job that you cannot change? If not, it may be time for a job change. But before moving on, make sure it is your job and not your attitude that needs to be changed.

Change is invariably linked to stress, so don’t add to it; relieve it. Exercise, eat balanced meals; spend time with friends and family; enjoy hikes in the woods, and curl up with a good book. You are a scientist in the laboratory of life. Experiment with it. Experience the joy of discovery. Those who fear change the most are most unhappy. The courageous cope with change and benefit twice: by the joy of growth and the joy of overcoming fear.

The successful are adaptable, for as Charles Darwin wrote, “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” So, if you can’t change the direction of the wind, change the direction of your sails. Learn to adapt. Grab on to the only thing you can hold on to, change, and let it take you to the future.

Can we change the world? Sure we can! We begin by changing ourselves. Little actions can lead to big results. Take the 2000 Summer Olympics Opening Ceremony, for example. After a little prodding by the International Olympic Committee, North and South Korean athletes entered Sydney’s Stadium Australia holding hands and marching under the banner of a single unity flag. This was the first time they marched together in the Olympics. A simple idea, launched by a few people, resulted in wild cheers of the 110,000 member audience, to say nothing of the cheers shared by the more than one billion (perhaps as much as three billion) TV and Internet viewers. Can we change the world? Sure we can; we begin by becoming the change we wish to see.