I have written “life changes” in the subject line of about 20 emails in the last week. It is a statement and a description. It is what happens, if we are lucky and brave enough to face it. The end of a relationship, a change in career, a child, a marriage, a death, political upheaval, natural disasters…everything. Change is the very essence of life. Yet there is resistance. Each step we take is met by a hesitation and perhaps even a half step back.
My relationship of seven years is now over. I am not angry. Some part of me is grateful for this opportunity. I am in some pain, but that will pass. What fills me now more than anything is fear. I am groundless and struggling to regain my footing. With each passing moment I fear that I will trip. It is this fear that could prevent me from taking a big enough step forward.
During such periods, and even during times of relative stasis, there is a tendency to cling to familiar things, fearing some inevitable change. I must have this kind of food and drive that kind of car. I will take 2 ½ sugars in my coffee thank you very much, and not a grain more. I only watch serious dramas on television and resent anyone who does not share my political opinion. This is not me. It is all of us. We fear the unknown.
How do I…how do we…accept that life presents us with challenges, and that we are indeed strong enough to embrace them?
The other night I spoke with an old friend. We had not talked in over seven years – the length of my relationship. We had written emails here and there and of course connected, however imperfectly, over everyone’s favorite and most hated social networking site, but we had not talked. Voice to voice. Person to person. Heart to heart. When we did, it opened up something in the very base of my being. It gave me courage. We are two people who have moved through very different lives, reconnecting and bringing our strengths and our weaknesses to a moment of deep trust and sharing. We did not talk about television or the latest political battles. We talked about change.
The stimulation and excitement that can come from change is a large part of why I travel. When I am away, whether it is Kenya, Paris or upstate New York, I find myself in a different state of mind than when I am home. I am more open, more flexible, more capable of dealing with unexpected events, with change in general. I can more easily let go of that tendency to have expectations at all. I want that feeling in my daily life. Curse the anxiety and the neurosis. I want to be fearless.
When my students express their frustration with the uncertainties of science, with the ever-changing nature of discovery and falsifiability, I tell them, that’s part of the fun. It’s true. I believe that. It is the beauty of how much we have yet to discover that makes science compelling. It is why I have pursued it as an anthropologist, asking questions that are never truly answerable. Yes, it is challenging. Yes, it is often frustrating. But there is always something new and wonderful to explore. When we discover that thing, the one that throws our old ideas of how things work out of balance, we must adjust. And we do, but it takes time.
Change happens. From an objective point of view, facing change in our personal lives should not be more complicated than facing it in science or when traveling or when we fail to find our favorite food on the menu at a restaurant. Yet we push and we pull and we struggle to maintain the status quo. Our emotions reign supreme and we often take that half step back. Perhaps I can only speak for myself, but I have a goal. With each new day I will take a tiny step forward. It might be 15 minutes of meditation, taking a yoga class or calling old friends. The thing I do is less important than the significance it holds in terms of moving in a new direction. Somehow I will find that fearlessness. For those who know me personally, I hope that you will remind me of this if I start to step back.