I planned to call this reflection ‘rolling with the punches’. Changing the word punches to waves might be a reflection of an emerging acceptance that my mental attitude towards the winds of change largely determines how I experience them. This piece is about making that choice. Stepping out of the twinned neuroses of control and expectations into a lighter place of surrender and curiosity.
Our entire nature is about transition. We grow rapidly from infant to toddler and then trundle ever more slowly towards middle and old age, renewing each cell in our physical body every seven years. We literally ‘are’ change and yet we fear change. Or we become change junkies, forever seeking the next fix and never being satisfied. How much gentler we might be to ourselves if we learned to surrender to the waves and rolled where the water takes us.
Really? Surely we haven’t been given free will for nothing. Surely we need to take charge of our lives, stand at the wheel of our own ship and steer it to a safe harbour of our own choosing?
And how’s that been working for you?
I am mildly spatially challenged; I don’t have a natural compass for east or west. After browsing around in a shop I can walk down a street the same way I came, marvelling at the fact that in this town they have two of everything. When a new location is added to my daily route it will take me three or four attempts before the route is driven in one go. People call this ‘getting lost’. And it is not seen as a good thing. But over time I have begun to enjoy my capacity for losing myself, at least in the physical realm. I walk or drive by things that I would otherwise never have seen. I meet people I would otherwise not have met. And as long as I give myself plenty of time to ‘lose myself’ I can stay in the moment and enjoy the ride. But – it still drives my inner controller nuts.
“Being lost is not ok,” she says, “chaos ensues and bad things happen.”
“Well my dearest controller, fifty years down the line, many unexpected and sometimes painful life events have happened, and they have been great teachers. Things happen. Good things happen, bad things happen, and it’s okay. We are okay.”
Some changes and transitions are, at least we like to think, inspired by our own choices and thus under our own control. And although we may feel butterflies in our tummies, we feel secure that we are doing the right thing. We have certain expectations of the outcome and look forward to seeing our plan unfold. When these choices turn out differently from what we expected; the new job is boring, the new country too hot, the (new) partner too distant, we may regret having initiated the change and the disappointment can throw up internal barriers to ever taking such a risk again. And if it all works out the way we expected, and sometimes it does, we might feel more inclined to take another risk, only to find our lesson now is to be surprised. One thing that I heard again and again as an international therapist was the lack of permission for recently arrived expats to say, “this is harder than I thought.” Instead the talk was always about having to lie in the beds we’ve made.
Then there are externally imposed changes and transitions. Your company has announced redundancies, your parents are increasingly unwell, or your house has to make way for a three-lane motorway. Some may find those harder, feeling like a victim of circumstance, and in others it awakens the survivor. Instantly our precious illusion of control is taken out of our hands. If we have a lot of time to anticipate the outcome we may fall into the trap of ruminating ourselves into an early grave.
The inner controller loves to create a false sense of control by imagining every possible scenario and dealing with it (in the abstract mind) before it has even happened. As soon as our status quo is threatened she jumps in. That’s not a bad thing, we need control in our lives, but the inner controller often has illusions of grandeur and a faulty belief that a conflict free life is a good life. Pandering to its unhealthy sense of power often stops us from getting in touch with a deeper and more profound energy; be it your life force, your ability to learn and survive, your memory of a secure base in childhood or the memory of the Source that we’ve incarnated from. When we connect with that deeper memory of being securely ‘held’ we can surrender and look at the events unfolding with a little more curiosity.
My sense of control over my world got the biggest knock when I suffered two miscarriages. The lesson I took away from that experience was to try to walk the tightrope between focussing on what I could control in any future pregnancy, and letting go of what I couldn’t. I realised that I had no control over becoming or staying pregnant, but I could make sure that I had the best medical care to support me through it. Making that ‘deal’ with my controller was a first step on the road to becoming disciplined whenever transitions and changes in life made me feel insecure. And yes, once you make up your mind to try to trust the process instead of trying to steer it, you will need a lot of internal discipline, and love, to master the wild horses of control. And no, it doesn’t make painful events hurt less. It’s not about transcending the shitti-ness that is sometimes part of being human, the fear in the pit of your stomach or the ache in your heart. But it’s about accepting and integrating those feelings, letting them rest in a softening curious energy, instead of a hard controlling disappointed place.
It is a choice. And it is yours to make.
So now my lovely inner controller watches as we practise being ‘existentially’ lost, as well as spatially, and occasionally needs a little side project to keep her hands occupied. Slowly but surely she has begun to accept that ultimately, the notion of control is a fallacy and that the neurotic (ab)use of control leads us down a dark stairwell to a self-imposed stifling trap.
Control and expectations march exhausted to the beat of their own drum, while surrender and curiosity skip along in the rhythm of life.
So when the storm clouds of change alight in our lives we can batten down the hatches and take a firm hold of the wheel, while at the same time watching with a profound sense of curiosity where these winds want to blow us. In hindsight we can often make sense of a direction our lives took. So use that insight to give up the need to ‘know’, to ‘understand’ in the middle of the storm. It will help you to surrender to the process. You may not like it, you may get seasick and throw up, that’s fine, let the controller make sure you have a bucket ready. You may even raise your fists to the heavens and shout “this is too hard!” But find the rhythm where you control what’s within your grasp, most often just your attitude, and let the events unfold that will take you to new and exciting shores.
Roll with the waves, let the winds of change breathe through your hair. Be curious and without expectations.
Embrace the creative chaos of change and enjoy the ride!