The Chinese proverb says, “May you live in interesting times.” I think we can all agree that indeed we are fulfilling that proverb. If you want to take the 3.0 advanced course in riding the turbulent waves of the movement of change, if you want to develop greater ChangeAbility as you hold on for the big ride, you don’t have to go any farther than your own backyard called the United States of America.
The results of the 2016 presidential election continue to surprise us with more twists and turns than an action thriller. We are a deeply divided country, and each of these twists brings cheers to some and dismay to others. We have never seen this kind of post-election upheaval, at least not in my lifetime. The voters are asking for change. We have change.
Change does not move in a straight line. You can often look back from any moment in time and trace the path of how you got here, but it is still rarely in a straight line. More often, change rocks back and forth. In politics we go from a Republican administration to a Democratic one, and back again, all in the name of being fed up with existing policy and wanting something new.
If you want to remain interested amidst this wild ride of an election but not burn your adrenal glands out from anger, fear, and grief, you need to improve your flexibility towards meeting change. I am not talking about “normalizing” what may be difficult to swallow, I am talking about recognizing the nature of how change itself moves. As the author of a book about navigating change, I have certainly been challenged to walk my talk. For me, the understanding that change always moves, always evolves, always rocks back and forth provides me with an essential overview perspective from which to navigate. I hope that embracing that understanding could be of help to you, as well. All change exists within a larger context, and the perspective that change rocks back and forth is its own context for meeting all the twists and turns of this election story, or your changing health story, or your changing relationship story—all the places in your life where you feel change affecting you most.
A context for change is the environment where your change is taking place, or where your change wants to take place. Contexts for change either expand or restrict your ability to change. The context provides you with the freedom and encouragement, or with the limitation and constriction on your own personal change. This is why people are so concerned with who is running the government, because our laws create the contexts for our personal freedoms and our abilities to work and thrive. That’s why people need contexts that nurture health and wellbeing when they are facing a health crisis or want to improve their health, or why people struggle in their relationships if the contexts of family or marriage are too tight and not flexible enough to allow for the personal changes of the individuals. Face it, some contexts are better than others for creating change, and all contexts will determine what is allowed and encouraged, or how hard one has to work to promote necessary change.
The emotions that accompany the rocking movement of change can also be their own expansive or restrictive context. The event of a change is one thing, how you feel about it is another, and how you respond based on that feeling is yet another, again. Anxiety or fear can cause you to constrict your movement, and to put up more resistance and build stronger barriers to what might threaten you. Those restrictions can limit the movement within the context in its attempt to guard against movement from outside the context. That’s the notion where people are willing to give up freedom in the name of safety, let’s say, during times of war. Joy and excitement can create a context of expansion where you might want to try new things and reach out into more hopeful risks. The best example of that is when you are in love. Passion can ignite you towards action, and anger can also ignite you towards action, but it can also consume you in its own fire and pull you off your intended course.
In animal response to perceived danger, our emotions are contexts that induce a response of fight or flight, or a response to get very still and hide as the biologically programed way to protect us, depending upon the kind of animal you are programed to be: a buck or a rabbit. Your particular response will depend upon the nature of the actual threat, the perceived threat, and your own habitual comfort levels with the movement of change. I speak of these emotional contexts and these responses in regards to politics because right now our government appears to be a volatile and changing context, and this rocking uncertainty gives some of us great fear while it gives others hope.
But these ideas about contexts and about emotional contexts also apply to a health situation where each day is different because healing does not move in a straight line. Those of you who have a daily or weekly exercise program know that each day does not feel the same; some days you are energized, and some days you are sore. Or when you are managing an illness, whether it’s cancer or a cold, there is progress and there are setback, and it’s best to accommodate each day as its own, because healing moves more like a spiral than it does like as straight line, and there are many aspects to wellbeing.
Relationships do not move in a straight line. The individuals within a partnership have moods, and preferences, and changing circumstances they bring in every day. Sometimes these individual changes are moving in the same direction at the same time, sometimes they are not. Each morning when you wake up, you need to be able to view your loved ones afresh, with curiosity, and if your commitment is strong, include the rocking and the shifting as part of the wave of being human.
When circumstances are shifting too much, when there is too much movement, especially unpredictable movement, we grow weary. We start to tune out. We want to go to bed and pull the covers up. If we perceive those shifts and changes as threatening, we fatigue from putting up so much resistance. Resistance is not only emotionally exhausting; it can also be physically exhausting. Imagine your body is a retaining wall pushing against a heavy mudslide that threatens to overtake your home. That’s a lot of effort. And if that mudslide keeps shifting its origin or front, your retaining wall needs to shift, too.
Developing skills to accommodate quick change requires that you have an overview that includes the back and forth as part of your expectation about the nature of life, whether it’s politics, or a changing health condition, or a relationship that moves and shifts. The book, ChangeAbility: How Artists, Activists and Awakeners presents Seven Principles for Change that are tools you can use to help you find more dexterity in meeting complex change. We need it now more than ever.
As we enter the holiday season, the season of Winter Solstice, of Christmas and Hanukah and Kwanza, it is the time of light in the darkest, longest night. The star in the sky in Bethlehem, the light of the lamp of the Maccabees, and the miracle of what light brings belongs to us all. After the December 21 solstice our planet moves again towards longer days and back into the light as we eventually cycle towards spring. My wish for you this holiday is that you find joy in rest. I hope that these holidays can be for you a pause between the breaths of action and effort where you can gather yourself, restore your energy and health, and be fed with food, family, and friends. Within every period of rocking back and forth there is a pause, if only for a moment, and I hope that you can find that pause and elongate it as much as you need. The gifts we can offer one another are the gifts of kindness and of deep listening. These times we live in promise to remain interesting for a long time to come. Rest so that you can meet them well. Find joy and celebration within your ChangeAbility.
Sharon Weil is the author of ChangeAbility, How Artists, Activists and Awakeners Navigate Change (Archer/Rare Bird Books 2016), a book designed to help readers navigate all the changes of their lives, drawing upon the collective wisdom of twenty-five change-innovators across many fields. She is the author of the novel, Donny and Ursula Save the World, “the funniest book about love, sex, and GMO seeds you’ll ever read.” (Passing 4 Normal Press 2013) She is also the host of Passing 4 Normal Podcast, conversations about change, available on iTunes. sharonweilauthor.com