Dealing with Drastic Change


Whether you’re in a natural disaster or facing a crisis of the personal kind, drastic change is tough.  Even changes we choose to make for ourselves bring discomfort.  But extreme and sudden changes win the prize for throwing us into shock.  We find ourselves in the midst of the Big Unknown, and feel disoriented, uncertain and insecure.  Our survival mechanisms flick on.  What’s happening?  What am I going to do?  How will I get through this?

Zen Philosopher Alan Watts says, “The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”

“The dance!” you might say.  “Are you out of your mind?  This is no dance!  It’s a crisis, a disaster!.”

Yup.  That’s what it is alright.  The shock and fear and rage you feel is just the thunder of the drums as the dance begins.   And here’s the magic of it.  You get to choose its rhythms and its moods, its tempo  and all the steps and melodies.

First Steps

Life will, after all, go on.  Even when you can’t begin to fathom how.  And the only way to find out how it will go is to keep moving forward, one step at a time.

Let your first step be recognizing and respecting that you’re in crisis mode.  Our normal response to emotions is to generate stories or recall memories around them.   When you’re in shock and overwhelmed with strong emotion, it’s important to make stories that center around your values and strengths instead of painting the situation as an unrecoverable loss.  Yes, it may be a loss of huge, important parts.  But while the loss itself may be unrecoverable, you are capable of creating a new and positive version of your life as you go forward.

The old saying that every change has within it the seeds of opportunity is true.  Decide that you will adapt and overcome.  Consider the idea that you might not only overcome, but make something incredibly strong and beautiful from this experience in your life.

Instead of being overcome with sadness, let the heaviness of your grieving take the form of deeper, more grateful thought.  Experiment with looking at things from a different perspective.  Imagine you’re that guy over there, looking at you.  What would you want him to see?  Imagine looking back on this in time and feeling proud of how well you handled it.  Play with this as being a dramatic section of your life dance, or as an adventure or a grand exploration.  See what you find interesting about your current status.  Be curious about it and about what you might make of it.

American poet and educator Nikki Giovanni gives us this insight about change:

A lot of people resist transition and therefore never allow themselves to enjoy who they are.  Embrace the change no matter what it is; once you do, you can learn about the new world you’re in and take advantage of it

Isn’t that an extraordinary idea?  You can allow yourself to enjoy who are even in the midst of stepping from a familiar world into a brand new one.   It’s like stepping onto a new stage in this dance of your life and writing its music any way you want.  You decide.  What kind of soundtrack is playing?  How do you want to shape it from here?

It’s up to you.  Isn’t that wondrous?

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You may also find these articles helpful:

How to Be Resilient When Crisis Strikes
When the Future Dies: Making a New Start After Tragedy and Disaster   When Happiness Goes Dark: How to Deal with Life’s Traumas 
When Things Go Wrong: 7 Steps to Regaining Balance


When Sadness Strikes

When Sadness Strikes

One of the most helpful things I’ve learned from my studies in positive psychology is how to deal with sadness.  And this week, with its non-stop pictures of the devastation that Hurricane Harvey caused , has certainly provided me with an immense opportunity to practice.

The number one thing I know about dealing with sadness is not to fight it.  That holds true with a lot of painful emotions, by the way.  You let yourself tune right into the feeling, to be as fully aware of it as you can.  Where do you feel it in your body?  What’s it weight?  Does it have a shape?  A color?  Just feel it and accept its validity.  Ask it what it has to say to you, then listen for an answer.

My sadness was heavy and dark, a cloud-like thing wrapping around my heart.  It went beyond sadness, I realized.  It was sorrow, and grief, and anger that such suffering could befall so many.  It held a sense of helplessness because there was little I could to alleviate such a vast problem.

But as I sat with it, accepting it, listening to it, I realized it also contained compassion and love.  And as the week went on, the stories of the countless heroes who stepped out to rescue and serve the affected began to emerge.  And my cloud of emotion took on a wave of soaring pride in my fellow humans, who came from everywhere to do whatever they could do.  And then there was hope, as people started saying that every sense of division disappeared.  In the face of disaster, everyone was simply a human being.

It was mid-week before my attention broadened to encompass an awareness of the horrendous fires sweeping the western states.  And then I learned that another hurricane, even larger and more powerful, is threatening to sweep the east coast next week.

I thought about something Dr. Jordan Peterson said:  “Life is suffering.  The best you can do is pick it up and carry it with as much dignity as you can muster.”   To me that means staying present and attending to the work at hand, doing that work to the best of my ability—whatever the situation.

And then there’s Tara Brach’s admonition:  “This is suffering.  Everybody suffers.  May I be kind.”  Amen to that.  May we all be kind.

Listen, every September I inform my dear subscribers that it’s National Preparedness Month and I nag about taking time to ensure that you have adequate food and water on hand to get you by for a week, at the very least.  Have batteries on hand, and medications you and your family members may need.  Have a battery-powered or wind-up emergency radio.  Do that!  Especially if you live anywhere on the east coast.  Make yourself a little go-bag of things to take with you in case you suddenly have to evacuate.  Don’t let the gas tank in your car fall below half-full.  And here’s a good tip I read this week:  Take photos of important papers, like birth certificates, insurance information, deeds, important family contact information and such and put them on a thumb drive in your purse, go-bag, or wallet.

Consider yourself advised.  Consider attending to preparation today—because, really, you never know when tomorrow may be too late.

Meanwhile, cover those impacted by life’s tragedies with your compassionate thoughts and prayers.  Be kind—to yourself and to others.  Be present.   Then attend to the work at hand, with all the dignity and grace you can muster.


Share the Light

Share the Light

The grocery store was crowded when I ran in for a few items yesterday, but I managed to find one fairly short checkout line.  In front of me, an older man sat in a motorized cart with a small pile of canned goods in its basket.  It looked to me like it would be an uncomfortable reach for him to lift his items onto the counter, so I walked to the side of his cart and stooped enough to be at face level with him.

“May I put your items on the belt for you?  Would that be a help?”

His lined face brightened into a smile.  “Oh, thank you!  Yes, that would be wonderful.  You’re an angel.”

As I transferred his items to the counter, he told me he had just been released from the hospital.  I saw that one arm had gauze taped to it and he still wore a hospital ID bracelet on his wrist.  “They said my heart was good.  They couldn’t tell me why I’m so tired,” he said.  When he got home, he intended to take a nap.

He told me that he’d lost his wife a year ago to cancer.  They had been together 43 years.  I told him I had lost a son in an auto accident, and I knew what grief was like.  “A man said something helpful to me while I was grieving,” I told him.  “He said that the pain never really goes away, but it finds a special place in your heart to dwell.”   He smiled and nodded.

He put out his hand, told me his name and asked mine.  Then, when I put my hand in his, he covered it with his other hand and said a quiet prayer of blessing for me, asking that I might be blessed with health and well-being and prosper in all my ways.

The glow of that encounter still flows through my heart and serves as a poignant reminder of the power of a moment of kindness.

As I write this, Hurricane Harvey is tearing up homes and towns and lives in Texas.  From the looks of things, the damage will be catastrophic and widespread.  And like most of you reading this, I wish I could offer more than a donation to relief funds.  I’m so tired of witnessing all the suffering in the world.

But my encounter at the grocery store reminded me that even small kindnesses can touch lives in meaningful ways.  And I think nothing is more needed right now than offerings of kindness, every day, at every opportunity.   What if we all looked for those opportunities?  What if we focused on that, instead of bristling with a willingness to take offense?

Who knows what a touch, a smile can do?  Hold a door.  Say hello.  Help carry a burden.  Take a neighbor a cookie or flower.  Say the magic words:  Please, and Thank You.  Tell the people that you care about that you love them.

We might not change the world.  But we can at least tip it a little more toward the light, hey?  I say we all put on our kindness hats and get out there and give it all we’ve got.



Savoring the Good Times

Puzzle Pieces

A friend of mine called last week sounding a bit frantic.  Last April, she said, when was doing her spring cleaning, she decided to throw out an old Barbie Doll House that her grandchildren had enjoyed.  They were older now and lived abroad, and it seemed unlikely that they would still find it interesting.  But a month ago, her daughter said they were going to be able to come for a visit late this summer and the younger granddaughter said she was looking forward to playing with the doll house.  They didn’t have anything like it where she lived.

After a bit of a search, my friend found an identical one on eBay, a bit of a wonder since it was over 30 years old, and it had just arrived at her house.  She had spent hours trying to assemble it, with no luck.  Could I come over and help?

I arrived to discover a pile of plastic pieces on her dining room table.  There were no instructions, of course, but my friend pulled up a photo of the assembled one online.  We carried the pieces to her basement TV room where the children usually played and laid all the pieces on the floor.

Two hours later, after much laughter and trial and error, we stood arm in Finished Doll Houearm admiring the towering construction.  “We did it!” we laughed in delight.  We toasted each other with glasses of ginger ale.

That experience was one of the highlights of my week, a week filled with the stress of world events and news from friends with unexpected health challenges.  The memory of it flashed through my thoughts from time to time, unfailingly bringing me a smile.

It’s important to savor your accomplishments, however small.  That’s one of the reasons I keep a daily gratitude journal where I record three moments I enjoyed during the day.  It helps me keep my balance.  It reminds me that it’s the little things that make life worthwhile.  I can’t do anything about the insanity that seems to be enveloping our planet these days—the anger, the division, the violence, the threats.  But gosh, it sure was fun to put that doll house together.  And I loved the video of my granddaughter’s skating performance.  And wasn’t it great to get that chimney repair done at last!

Savoring the golden moments makes the rest of them worth enduring.  Whether you’re looking back on a warm moment from the past, celebrating a current accomplishment, or anticipating an upcoming event, savoring adds depth and flavor to your life.  It lets you sink into a kind of relaxed pleasure and to remember that life contains much that is good.

Whether or not you make a written note of good things that your day held, take time to do a little mental review of them each night.  Try to recall at least three experiences that you enjoyed and to let yourself taste them again.  It’s good conditioning; it makes you more aware of the delicious parts of your life as they occur and keeps your mind on the outlook for them.  “What we focus on, expands,” the adage goes.  And it’s true.  Savor the good times, and watch as more and more of them unfold for you.


Winning Against the Wolf

Winning Against the Wolf

So this wolf comes knocking at my door.  He’s all earnest as he starts his spiel, but I see a sly glint in his eyes.  He says he’s there to warn me that a fellah down the road a piece is up to no good, and he has a big bundle of sticks and a bulging bag of rocks he wants to sell me.  I might need ‘em for protection, or I might want to join with my other neighbors to do the bad guy in before he makes more trouble.

If I buy his wares right now, he says, he’ll even throw in this super-duper sling shot at no extra charge.  He opens his trench coat to show it to me.

I tell him I’m not a fighter.  I have something better up my sleeve.  He selects a heavy stick from the bundle and kind of caresses it with his front paw.  “Better than this?” he asks.

“Yes,” I tell him smiling.  “But thanks anyway for your concern.”

He takes a round, heavy rock from his bag, slides the sling shot from under his coat, loads it up and fires the rock at one of my trees, hitting it.

“Hey!” I protest.  “That’s my tree!”

“Yeah, and look at the patch of bark I knocked off,” he growls.  “Listen, this fellah we’re talking about is a bad dude.  Evil through and through.  And he’s got a tribe of mean cronies, too.  But at least with this, you’d have a chance against ‘em.”

I walk over to my tree and pat it where the rock hit, telling it I’m sorry.  Then I tell the wolf I’m really not interested in his wares.

“Well then, tell me, Missy, just how you plan on dealing with this problem?”  He sneers at me.

“C’mon in,” I say to him.  “I’ll show you.”  I lead him into the kitchen, where the scent of chocolate chip cookies is wafting from the oven, and tell him to have a seat.   I pour him a big glass of cold milk, pull the cookies from the oven and place a few on a pretty plate in front of him.

“Here,” I say.  “Have some cookies and milk.  And tell me how you got into this line of work.”

He’s a little taken aback, but he slurps the milk and starts nibbling cookies and unfolds his story.  I ask about his family and where he’s from, and I tell him a couple stories of my own, and before long, we’re laughing and chatting like old friends.   As he finishes his sixth cookie, he pushes back the plate and says he’d better be getting on his way.  I thank him for stopping by and give him a bag with more cookies to take with him.

He’s two steps from the door when he turns back.  “Wait,” he says.  “You never showed me your secret weapon.”

“You’re holding it in your hand,” I smile, pointing to the bag of cookies.  He gets a sheepish look on his face—which is something for a wolf.  Then he turns, and with his tail between his legs, walks slowly down my driveway.

“I better think about getting into a new line of work,” he mumbles.  And off he goes, scratching his head, then reaching in the bag for a cookie.  And just as he turned the corner, I thought I heard him laugh.

The moral of the story is don’t buy the sticks and stones that the sly old wolves are selling.  We all have something far more powerful than conflict to offer.