Change and challenge are real constants in our lives. Everything changes, and is subject to flux. Sometimes the changes we experience are exciting, perhaps even exhilarating. Maybe a new home, or newfound love. At other times, change is unwanted and disconcerting, such as the loss of someone dear to us or an unexpected redundancy from work. Even though we know that nothing lasts forever, and that comings and goings are just two sides of the same coin, we still cling to what we want and like, and reject that which we wish to avoid.
Like so many things, how we think about change and how we connect with whatever challenge is before us, influences how we experience it. I love the saying;
Experience is not what happens to you,
but what you do with what happens to you.
What we learn from any situation, depends on how we see it first of all, because this attitude affects how we work with the circumstances we find ourselves in. Our thoughts then dictate the story we tell about the situation. They determine what we say to others and tell ourselves about our lives. It stands to reason that if we can work on how we think about things, and consider how we see them, there is a good chance we may transform how we feel and behave.
The first lesson to learn, is that change or challenge is something we have to be open towards. It is like being available to new ideas, opportunities and growth. Change always clears the path for something new to emerge. This is by it's very nature challenging, because the change threatens to disrupt the status quo. We can choose to fear the unknown, in which case we will always live in the past or become stale as we stagnate in how we have always been. Or, we can resolve to step into the future with a sense of reassurance. After all, if we accept that we have survived all the changes until now, why should we feel we can't manage the changes ahead?
Change and challenge are endemic. Even the body we have is replenishing it's cells every passing day - so much so, that it takes 7 years for the whole body to renew itself. That means that by 50years of age, we have already changed our body completely, 7 times over! If arguably the only thing we come into this world with is repeatedly transforming itself, surely we have the resources to deal with changes on the outside!
When it comes to difficult change, I always consider the work of nature. Seed is harvested from the earth, and then replanted. It has to dissolve and mingle with the dirt, before it can take root again, grow and subsequently flower. And then, having served its purpose, it returns to the earth to begin the journey again! Take water on the surface of the sea - first it evaporates into a steam-like substance, then takes the shape of a cloud, before becoming rain, streams and rivers. If it clung onto its prior form, water would never complete its journey of becoming and returning to the sea.
Just so, there is an enduring circle to life - the planets revolve around the sun, just as surely as air currents circumnavigate the world and blood pumps around every part of the human body before circling back through the heart. If these cyclical changes stopped, nothing could be - all would crumble into dust! Even our ideas and beliefs change - if we held the same viewpoint now as we did when we were younger, how could we ever learn new skills or adapt to new challenges? Human civilisation would be eternally confined to the dark ages!
Change therefore does, and must take place. Whether we accept it or not, determines how content or miserable we will feel. The solution to all the anxiety is found in being flexible, and as the title to this article suggests, "moving with the flow". Rigidity will just keep us stuck, and unhappy. As the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu puts it;
Men and born soft and supple; dead they are stiff and hard.
Plants are born tender and pliant; dead they are brittle and dry.
Whoever is stiff and inflexible consorts with death;
Whoever is soft and yielding consorts with life.
The hard and stiff are broken; The soft and supple prevail.
And since we are in the Far East, let us consider the philosophy of legendary martial arts practitioner, Bruce Lee, who says;
Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless like water.If you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup. You put it in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot!...Be like water, my friend.
Truly, water always finds a way. No matter how big or solid the obstruction, it will move over it, under it, around it and in the passage of time, even through it! Nothing stands in its flow, within which is both it's softness and its strength. Life is a lot like this - between the poles of birth and death there is a journey before us. There is much to experience, many places to reach and enjoy. Change and challenge are an essential part of the journey. If we can move with the flow, whether the waters are smooth or stormy, we fulfil our purpose. I do not purport to tell you what your purpose is, but as sure as the journey of water on its way back to source, you have something important to achieve in this lifetime. Clinging to the shore will only hold you back - stepping forwards with courage, is the only way to go.
Singer, Songwriter and Author Karen Drucker puts it like this;
Let go of the shore, and let the water carry you.
Let go of the shore, float into the mystery...
You have all you need, it’s all inside of you.
Close your eyes and breathe, and know that you are safe.
No need to make a plan, your heart will be your compass.
Just lift your sails in faith, and trust that you will arrive!
And put even more simply by Andre Gide;
Man cannot discover new oceans,
until he has the courage to lose sight of the shore
I invite you to work on yourself, and grow larger than the challenges that seem to stand in the way of what you wish to be, and how you wish to feel. There are always options, in even the most seemingly stuck circumstances. Whether it is through psychotherapy, spirituality or self-help, know that nothing can keep you down and happiness is something you deserve and can realise. The resources can be found within you, or gathered from experiences around you. Don't settle with stuckness and rather...step into the flow!
Dr Bobby Sura BSc Hons, PG Dip, DClinPsy, CPsychol
Consultant Clinical Psychologist and Psychotherapist
This article is based on a guided meditation Dr Bobby Sura led in recent weeks, to help build resilience in the face of change and adversity. Bobby is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist specialising within the field of lifespan and family based mental health needs. He has over 20yrs NHS experience and 15yrs in the private sector, being the founder of Clinical Psychology Direct and Director for Solihull Well Being Clinic. Bobby is Chartered with the British Psychological Society (BPS), Division of Clinical Psychology (DCP), Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) with eligibility for registration with the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) and Association of Family Therapy (AFT).