Archive for May, 2012

01 May 2012

A Change Can Do You Good by Karen Batka, LMFT

He’s been bending over in the river long enough that his bare back is now pink, like a piece of ham. Cooled by the shade of a nearby tree, I sit on a log at the river’s edge, watching him through the safety of my polarized lenses. Wearing only a large –brimmed, straw cowboy hat and a pair of baggy hiking shorts, he fishes the clear water of the St. Vrain until he pulls up a glistening oval boulder. Holding it horizontally, he places it on top of the larger, upright oblong body boulder and begins making micro-adjustments so slight I have to squint to notice the movement. I mark the passage of time by the sun’s descent in the sky and the number of people floating by on inner tubes, smiling at his rock-stacking prowess. In the moment he lets go of the oval head rock, my breathing stops until I realize this stone rebel of gravity is standing erect, without support from its creator. He takes a step backwards and stands up slowly – stiff from being hunched over for so long – and looks at me for approval. I give him “two thumbs up” as he makes his way back to the shore, beaming.

“Nice work,” I tell him as he joins me on the log to admire his creation. The moment after I take this photo, two young boys wielding large sticks behead our stone sentry; the trauma of movement causes the body to topple over as well, making a loud splash in the water. I rub my eyes, hoping it will re-wind the last five seconds. But it doesn’t. “Oh no! You worked so hard and for so long,” I say.

I look at the sunburned creator; he purses his lips and shrugs his shoulders. “Ah well,” he says, “nothing lasts forever. I’ll create another one tomorrow.”

How do you greet change? Are you someone who, like me, resists change and demands a re-wind button or are you willing to go with the flow in the ever- changing current of life? You might be wondering why it matters. For starters, we can become trapped in unhealthy relationships, stagnant careers or even a vague feeling of restlessness – frozen by fear, anxiety or inertia. The open field of life starts to become a narrow alley.

Some of us may be hardwired to embrace change more easily than others. A study at UCLA in 2011, identified an oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR), which is linked to optimism and a predisposition for depression. However, researchers emphasize that genes are only one factor that contribute to behavior; the ability to learn new coping skills is another.

So, if you want to change your relationship with change, begin by noticing where you go – how you feel and what you think– when you encounter change. First let me underscore the importance of attending to the emotional pain that arises when faced with a significant change due to loss; while tears, time and support from others might ease the heart’s ache, some losses will introduce us to a long and abiding relationship with bereavement. Yet even small losses can trigger feelings of doubt, anxiety, anger or confusion. We can reduce the stress of change by our willingness to sit with these feelings as they ebb and flow.

Next consider the idea of change – does it evoke a feeling of spaciousness and excitement or dis-ease and contraction? Taking three steps away can both help to unpack what a particular change means to you and reveal your attachments. Perhaps it’s a loss of safety, security, or familiarity – a belief that even an unsatisfying known is better than the unknown.

Now explore your reaction. Is there an inherent trust or mistrust in the unfolding of life? As you begin to develop a compassionate awareness to your habitual reaction to change, it may become easier to try on a different response. Some refer to this as re-framing. When given an extra project at work, I can focus on mourning the loss of free time or welcome the invitation to strengthen my leadership skills. Even micro-adjustments in thinking can alter our neural network over time.

Finally, it can be helpful to build up our resilience muscle – the ability to cope with adversity. The French philosopher Francois de la Rochefoucald said, “The only thing constant in life is change.” Perhaps like my rock-stacking friend who would return the next day to build a new creation, we can learn and choose to welcome, cultivate and befriend change.

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