Change Sneaks Up / by Michelle Cowan

Change arrives in nature when time has ripened. There are no jagged transitions or crude discontinuities. This accounts for the sureness with which one season succeeds another. It is as though they were moving forward in a rhythm set from within a continuum.

To change is one of the great dreams of every heart – to change the limitations, the sameness, the banality, or the pain. So often we look back on patterns of behavior, the kind of decisions we make repeatedly and that have failed to serve us well, and we aim for a new and more successful path or way of living. But change is difficult for us. So often we opt to continue the old pattern, rather than risking the danger of difference. We are also often surprised by change that seems to arrive out of nowhere. We find ourselves crossing some new threshold we had never anticipated. Like spring secretly at work within the heart of winter, below the surface of our lives huge changes are in fermentation. We never suspect a thing. Then when the grip of some long-enduring winter mentality beings to loosen, we find ourselves vulnerable to a flourish of possibility and we are suddenly negotiating the challenge of a threshold.

-John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us

Change is slow and fast at the same time. I search for change, long to be different, to be better, seemingly without any real results despite all my longing and striving. Then one day, I look up, and I’m called to do something I couldn’t have done five years ago, and somehow today, it is easy. The slow, slow progress comes to fruition in a single moment.

I’m bewildered by how different my reactions and inclinations have become in the last few years. Lately, I am faced with challenges that would have baffled me in the past, but on a daily basis, I now move easily through them. Something in me that I couldn’t see was changing, changing all the time.

Maybe I am more like nature than I think. In the natural world, vegetation naturally evolves from one state to the next. Every year, plants emerge, new and somehow ready for the brand new year ahead. They don’t know what the year will bring, but somehow, the vast majority of the landscape is completely ready for its challenges, better equipped than it would have been the year before. Nature feels the earth and moves with it. Something in me is dancing this dance, too.

My relationships with people have entirely changed, along with my orientation to work, music, spiritual practice, and family. Some changes are huge, and some are small. Most are indescribable with words. All I know is that when a challenging situation arises, I’m not sent into a frenzied state. I’m able to ask for help (more of the time). I know that everything will be okay.

Maybe that’s the miracle of time. The longer I live, the more chances I get to see things go wrong – and go right. And what do I learn from observing this? That the world keeps turning, people keep loving, lives keep moving. Life is okay. Things happen, and I deal with it. People deal with life, and we go on. Seeing our collective cycles of “dealing with it” adds a sense of calm to my life.

I’m not pretending that I don’t still freak out or have emotional upheavals. That’s simply my personality. But even my mood swings don’t perturb me the way they used to. I’m accustomed to the flow of life and of my emotions. The internal swings are less frightening and subside more quickly because I no longer increase their intensity with my extreme reactions and guilt.

I feel like I have been a child, learning all the basic things about simply living in a human body for so long. And now, I may not have learned all the lessons there are to learn, but I’ve learned quite a bit – enough that I’m ready for new challenges.  That’s a good feeling.

This stage of life is new to me – this feeling that I have truly learned something, without consciously learning it. So much of my education has been driven by concerted, organized effort, but this is something different. I will enjoy this feeling, even when life cycles back around to remind me that I am and will always be a beginner.

Some thresholds can only be crossed in one direction, and I’ve crossed something like that.

I think I can live better now. I think I can love better. And I am immensely grateful.