Change

At the beginning of yoga on Monday, the teacher announced that she wanted the day’s class to be about Change. She shared a little bit about the difficult relationship she has with change and encouraged us to think about what we do when we are confronted with it – do we resist it or do we allow it to move through us?

I didn’t and don’t need much time to contemplate my answer to that question— I’m 100% not good with change. I like plans. I like knowing what’s coming. And if something is going to change, I like to know in as far advance as possible so by the time it happens, it doesn’t really feel like change anymore, but rather “part of the plan”.

So of course when this year began with a large part of my social life being upended in one night, I handled it with grace and aplomb— except for I didn’t. I still am not. The simple use of the word “aplomb” in that sentence should have been a dead giveaway. Full disclosure: I’m wrestling with how much to share here because while on the one hand I want to be vulnerable, on the other hand I think it’s important to protect one’s own confidentiality. I’m also very aware of how easy it would be for this to turn into an indulgent, melodramatic transcript of my life, which nobody wants, so I’ll try to avoid that. But here we go.

Okay so yeah, the start of the year brought with it a lot of change, and it wasn’t great. I ended up losing my life group and what felt like several important relationships to me in one fell swoop. I felt powerless— I feel powerless—and this whole year has been a clumsy and sometimes painful dance of reorientation. Often I find myself wanting to go “back”, wishing it was last August, or wishing it was last summer—some time before all the shit hit the fan. Which makes sense right? When the present is hard and the future is inscrutable, of course we desire to go back. To revert to the way things were before whatever change we perceive to have ruined everything transpired (“#MakeAmericaGreatAgain”).

But the first important thing to understand about life and change is that there is no going back. Whatever happened has happened and the past is gone (are you listening, Donald Trump?) Even if you were able to recreate it somehow in the present, it is literally impossible to make it the same. Forward is the only way through anything and there is still progression in “regression”. When you’re dealing with a difficult or painful change, that can be a really harsh reality. But its harshness makes it no less real.

Second thing I’m learning about Change is that it is extremely humbling. A reminder that Life is not under your control, maybe you don’t actually know what’s best for yourself or anyone else, and you are very much in over your head. But in letting change happen rather than resisting it, we can experience freedom alongside that humility. Recognizing our limitations and constraints gives us permission to relax and, for lack of a better phrase, let it ride. Every day as I walk into work, I pass by a car with a bumper sticker that says “Love more, fear less. Float more, steer less”, and every day I am convicted. Being “good with change” requires a tremendous capacity to trust in the present and relinquish control of the future, both of which I am naturally terrible at. But it sounds nice right? Allowing ourselves to be swayed, flexible, and open. Allowing change to move through us like a river through a valley, taking some old things with it, leaving some new things behind. You’d think because I came up with such a peaceful metaphor I’d be better at handling the real thing. Nah.

Of course there are those people who seem to naturally bode with change— feathers consistently unruffled, always wearing shirts that say shit like “chill vibes” or have peace signs on them or something. For the rest of us, being good with change is like everything else: a practice. And it’s hard. I think when we do learn to accept change, it makes us better people. We become softer, less reactive, more contemplative, less presumptuous, less self-important. But the road there can get pretty rough, at least I know I’ve had a rough fucking year. And I don’t know when it’s going to be less rough. Adapting is a skill that takes real concerted effort. If you’re in the middle of a comprehensive change process right now too, I mean, the best I can offer is encouragement. Or condolences. Either way man, you’re doing it and you should go get a drink and cheers to yourself.

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It Is Well With My Soul

This past Sunday at Flood we concluded a series called “Happy Hunting”, about learning what it means to live a Joy-Filled Life. Please don’t stop reading— I know how it sounds. It sounds like a bunch of hysterical, perennially “happy” Christians trying to teach you how to never frown again. “This is how to keep a smile plastered on your face 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the rest of your life!” I swear that’s not what I’m talking about.

Honestly the phrase “joy-filled life” usually reflexively evokes an eye-roll from me. I have seen too many books and heard too many sermons by that title, most of them proving to be extremely trivializing and reductive. As if even though your heart is broken, or you can’t pay your bills, or you have an incurable disease, you’re just supposed to be happy. Just BE happy, what’s the problem?

But I believe we need to reconstruct the definition of “joy”, because I don’t think this manically cheerful, borderline insanity is what joy actually is. Like I said in my post about grief and loss, if we’re to understand spirituality, or just living, we have to first acknowledge and embrace reality. Reality, as some of you may already know, is often times an actual piece of shit. Just the worst. From like, shitty upbringings, to shitty jobs, to shitty relationships… Life is really hard and sometimes really shitty. But the joy we aspire to goes deeper than that. It’s deeper than happiness and deeper than the sometimes-shittiness of reality. I think of it more like a deep well of steadiness, restfulness, and rootedness. Real, actual joy is grounding and stable.

In yoga, the teachers regularly talk about how part of the practice is learning to maintain an even state of being, or contentment, regardless of the circumstances. Regardless of the uncomfortable position your body has been twisted into, or how long you’ve been asked to hold yourself up. We use our breath to return to equilibrium, to become healthily detached from the present. That is not to say that we ignore negative emotions as they surface—again the first step is facing the reality of our situations. But it helps in gaining perspective, and I think the peace, stillness, and contentment that comes from that practice in yoga is the same as the joy I talked about earlier. Living a joy-filled life isn’t a “Christian” thing, it’s a human thing. And you can call it whatever you want: peace, contentment, steadiness, satisfaction. I am on a personal journey to reclaim the word “joy” but please feel free to use whatever nomenclature feels good to you.

I can personally appreciate and attest to the fact that achieving joy is hard, and achieving joy in the midst of a difficult circumstance sometimes feels impossible. But I also believe that joy and unhappiness can exist in the same space, at the same time. We are big enough to hold both. Can’t tell you how yet, still figuring that one out for myself, but I’m sure it’s possible. I’m also sure that if we ever learn to live lives marked by joy, it will have taken our entire lives to get there, so I hope no one’s in a hurry. Just add it to the list of lifelong processes to work through, and be kind to yourself as you learn.

Cinco de Mayooooo!

Since it’s Cinco de Mayo, I thought it would be a good time to share a short, yet somehow always necessary, reminder to not be a dickhole and avoid participating in cultural appropriation this year. For those of you who may be lost, that means if you are not Mexican, please for the love of all that is decent, do not don a sombrero, fake mustache, Mariachi uniform (unless you are in an ACTUAL Mariachi band), paint yourself “tan”, use the phrase “Cinco de Drinko” or any other bastardization of the Spanish language, dress up as a piñata, dress up “as a Mexican”, say anything Speedy Gonzalez would say, or any other dumbass shit that we’ve all done before but hopefully have grown past. And I’m not just talking to white people—no one has any reason to wear someone else’s culture as a costume. Just because you yourself may be marginalized does not mean you get to participate in the marginalization of someone else. This isn’t “Be A Mexican For A Day!” Of course there’s nothing wrong with having a taco or drinking a margarita tonight, have as many tacos and margaritas as your little heart desires! Just don’t be an asshole while you do it 🙂

Make sense? And if you’re still a little fuzzy on the boundaries (no shame), you can literally Google “Cinco de Mayo cultural appropriation” and you’ll get a whole plethora of ideas for how to participate in the holiday in a way that’s helpful, not harmful.

Happy Cinco de Mayo everyone! Have fun out there!