I’m looking out at the back yard. The fox was here this morning, looking as though he’d spent the night. Five deer. Squirrels running around. 23 degrees. Birds combing the frozen mud. Winter has arrived, just in time for the new year. It feels different than I thought it would. I have plans for change, but they are different than years past. Makes me think of past eloquent posts defending the resistance to things resembling resolutions. Hmph.
The past month has been turbulent; I struggled to register all of the change and I haven’t wanted to move toward this new year yet. Somehow, I got through it, and though it’s felt hard, I somehow feel like I stayed with and moved through most of it, instead of bypassing it all. To be sure, there were some moments of bypass :). No perfection, but maybe good enough, it seems.
I’ve not sorted the past year, organized for the next, nor do I feel ready. I couldn’t, so I had to just take it day by day. It feels more real, now, somehow – having moved through to the other side with not even a huge amount of grace or purpose.
I feel a bit of relief from the perfectionism, as I notice I’ve still exercised on many of the days I’ve been off these last two weeks, and there was plenty of salad and real blocks of conscious eating mixed in with the emotional eating and days of nibbling sweets in response to all the holidays can evoke – anxiety, loneliness, sadness, depression, longing, and the highs and lows, family patterns. The change is all gradual, punctuated with ups and downs, but surprisingly ending with a net gain. I didn’t get lost. It didn’t have to all go to hell, even though it felt like hell a lot of the time.
No, not that sexy at all. But it’s very real and slow and solid gain. Undeniable differences from before.
I’m riding the energy of this recent new moon that is geared toward structure, boundaries, and planning that supports more ease in life. I ordinarily would buck anything resembling structure, but something must be shifting for me, as I can feel the faint pull of curiousity toward the idea of structure and starting to come into alignment with the truth, with the earth, with “what is” minus much of the usual resistance and disgust.
This really is how it is, I’m discovering. Real change shows up like this, as if something is happening organically, almost magically. But it isn’t magic. It’s just different than the ways many of us are conditioned, deeply socialized, to experience it (and I’m coming to understand more fully this enculturation as western, and white, as well). By and large we just accept that if someone is not doing something, it’s because they don’t want to, or they don’t want it badly enough. They must be lazy, have no work ethic, or are a moral failure in some way. Weak character, or some such.
We tend to treat change as something entirely up to us. We don’t much cotton to the idea that we aren’t in control of it all. And we certainly can’t tolerate watching someone else be in that state, either. Those good ole mirror neurons will instantly notify us of how it feels to be there, so we get rid of it.
We tell people to quit their whining if they’re not going to do something about it, and we tell them the same thing even if there’s nothing they can do about it. If they don’t stop, we’ll be mean to them or stop being in the same space with them. We are attracted to big changes that send a clear signal of progress, even though we can’t actually tolerate big changes like this, so we “relapse”. Our homeostatic body wisdom (read: autonomic nervous system) that keeps our systems and identities stable don’t really dig big changes.
And still we lust after, pant over, lunge toward, big changes.
My experience tells me that when change is fleeting or elusive even though we crave it, wish for it, dream of it, something is probably in the way. It may not be something we have conscious control over, and it could be we’re not even ready to be conscious of it.
What does”ready” look like? Well, having access to help and being able to ask for and accept help if we need it are a big part of it. This is something I’m learning to unlearn: the deeply rooted notion that
Everything is really hard and painful, and I have to do it all by myself
It’s taken years and persistence and a sincere desire to find truth, and many dollars and hours of support to work on shifting my nervous system, to free it from the blocks. I have heard of very few instances of quick shifts that last. Even plant medicines and the most significant spiritual shifts still require support post journey to integrate and stabilize the realizations.
Increasing nervous system capacity can also help make bigger and bigger changes more tolerable, but this is still felt as a disruption. If we can build to a place where change does not automatically equal danger for the nervous system, that really helps. Not judging ourselves for that automatic fear or anxiety response, and being able to stay present and observe it, are also really helpful.
We often know full well we need structures, habits, and supports (and help!), that bridge us to change, but can’t quite manage it. Here again is the detestable gradual approach. It is incredibly powerful, and incredibly unsexy. I think I’m starting to get the hang of this idea. At least, I hope I am. James Clear (from Columbus, Ohio!) writes a lot about this in his book Atomic Habits. I’d like to read it again to see how it seems to me now. I read it right when it came out, recommended it to others, thought it made a brilliant case, and put virtually none of it into practice. Readiness is all (but does not equal comfortable, mind).
We had a conversation in Meditation class this evening about the role of structure in bridging us to a future desired state or self. I used to detest even the word boundaries and any structure suggested or imposed. I now know how structure for me became confounded with rigidity, abuse of power, manipulation and control, and now I can see how it ultimately was connected to danger. People suggesting boundaries, or a lack of them, felt dangerous. I didn’t sense it that way. I couldn’t. I wasn’t ready to feel that fear, humiliation, anger, shame or anything else related to past violations of my boundaries.
Now, a testament to my healing,and a result to some degree of the structure of regular work supported by another human (I couldn’t heal relational trauma without a relationship, damm it!), driven partly by a desire to be less miserable, is this new orientation to structure, emerging as if by magic. For the first time, I notice genuine curiousity about structure, boundaries, and systems as a conscious path to change at a speed that my nervous system can tolerate. I thought my aversion was a stable part of my identity, but to my great surprise, I am starting to have the ability to sense structure as containment, support, continuity, glue; a necessary and helpful bridge to somewhere I want to go. A source of stability, security, safety. The foundation to support expansion, energy, change, and even some chaos, uncertainty and fear if needed. I can see now how I had to have help from outside as my structure at first, while I patiently, and not so patiently, built the internal structure needed to realize this shift.
I am conscious that I always start writing these posts to share something that feels meaningful, as pieces of the puzzle land and start to form a clearer picture, and then as I reach the end, I sense they sound like advertisements for something. That wasn’t the plan.
So be it. Enjoy the ride, if you can. If you can’t, know there’s help out there.