” . . . we can never know what will happen to us next. We can try to control the uncontrollable by looking for security and predictability, always hoping to be comfortable and safe. But the truth is that we can never avoid uncertainty. This not-knowing is part of the adventure. It’s also what makes us afraid.”
Pema Chödron, “Comfortable with Uncertainty”
The Tree of Life is a common symbol in many of the world’s religions, and it is present in spiritual teachings throughout Asia, North America and Australia. The tree often serves as a symbolic center of the universe, either the source of life on earth or a way of transferring divine knowledge to humans. We understand that there is a life cycle by watching the tree change through the seasons. In the Fall, the leaves change color and drop from the tree, symbolizing the end of that part of the cycle. In the Spring, new leaves appear on the tree, beginning a new cycle. In between is the Winter. It is during this phase of the cycle that nothing seems to be happening. It is a sort of limbo state and we may feel uncertain about the future. Will the tree “come back to life” in the Spring, or is it dead and gone?
As with the tree of life, we as humans go through cycles — both individually and as a community. We understand that change is inevitable. It’s the one constant, right? Knowing that intellectually is not very helpful when we are going through the throes of a major change, such as the one we seem to be experiencing now, both in our country and around the world. These periods of transition when we cannot know what will happen next, require of us a heightened level of resilience. We must have faith that all will somehow work itself out. No easy task.
A transition is the phase between an ending and a new beginning, and it can feel turbulent or chaotic. The more we can become resilient, the more easily and sanely we can move toward an uncertain future. Often we are asked to take risks that are uncomfortable. Yet we know we must do our best to move in the direction of what we believe is good without any proof of the result. We must act in the face of fear.
Think about a time in your past when there was a major transition. Perhaps it is linked in time with something anticipated, like a graduation, a marriage, the birth of a baby. Sometimes it occurs on its own. When I think back to a time when I felt lost and afraid, it was the Summer and Fall after I graduated from high school. Too many things changed at one time for me to absorb the impact easily. To begin with, I had just broken up with my boyfriend of 2½ years (his idea, not mine). Secondly, I got a job working in a restaurant and made friends with the cook on my shift, who later was arrested for embezzlement (loss of innocence). Third, my parents took long, separate vacations and put my older sister and her husband in charge of the three younger siblings. She was only 2½ years older than I. There was no way I was willing to have her tell me what to do! Fourth, I would start college in the Fall in New Mexico (out of state), and had no idea what to expect. I would be away from home for an extended time for the first time in my life, living in a dorm with people I didn’t know, finding my way on a large campus and learning a whole new way of being.
When have you felt plunged into a major change (willingly or unwillingly)? How were you able to cope?
During that Summer I tried to stay busy by working at two different jobs (one part-time and one full-time). I started dating again, but didn’t pick boys who were very respectful of me. Once I got to the University of New Mexico in the Fall, I immediately started marking off days on the calendar leading up to Thanksgiving, looking forward to going home and possibly reconciling with my long-time boyfriend from high school. Sometimes I wandered alone on campus sobbing uncontrollably, because I was so homesick. I was scared, felt insecure and had low self-esteem.
After the Holidays, when I returned to college at the end of January, I began to see that things weren’t as bad as I had thought. I met new people, started dating and focused on my studies. The time went by more quickly and the world seemed less intimidating. I had finally reached that “new beginning”, that marked the end of the transition period.
We learn from our past experiences, but every change is different. Because the turbulence of our current times is so widespread, we can easily feel helpless and afraid. What can we do? How can we cope? How can we strengthen our resilience?
Resilience is the act of staying healthy and whole, so that we can bounce back from chaos and turbulence. Here are 4 ways that we can build our resilience.
- Stay connected to reality – Wwhile it’s difficult to face what’s happening, we can’t just go to bed and pull the covers over our head for very long. We must acknowledge what’s going on.
- Find meaning in the change that is happening – We can identify stories that we are telling ourselves and question their validity. We can use spiritual reflection to answer the big questions that come up, disengaging from the egoic part of our mind that strives to keep us stuck in the past.
- Create something new by using something that’s already at hand – We can take a look at what strengths we already have, and take steps from where we are and what we CAN do in the present moment.
- Connect to other people in solidarity – Difficult times are not the times to isolate ourselves. We need to connect with other people within the communities we already belong to, and seek out new communities of like-minded people.
There are spiritual practices that can help us be more resilient. Here are a few for consideration:
- time in nature
- practice the arts
- social justice work
There is a meditation that I have prepared – “The Peace Process” – which helps to decrease the intensity of feelings. Here is a link to it:
Please share here any thoughts or ideas you might have. Tell us about a time when you had to find within youself the strength to deal with difficult change. What worked for you?