Originally Published on FutureHealthMy guest today is Elizabeth Lesser, who co-founded the Omega Institute thirty years ago. This personal growth retreat center pioneered many approaches that have since become a part of modern life.
Resisting change is by no means a Western phenomenon. Rather, it is a universal, cross-cultural phenomenon that has dogged human beings since our ancestors first became aware of their own mortality. You can find stories, songs, poems, novels, parables, fairy tales, and myths from every culture and every era that address our discomfort with loss, change, and death.
It is human to hold on to what we know and to fear the unknown. Knowing that we share that tendency with all of our human brothers and sisters is comforting: We're not alone in our fears; it's hardwired into the human organism. There are people who have overcome their resistance to change whose lives can serve as an example of hope. Their wise council can help us release some of our own resistance and even gain a spirit of adventure toward the changing nature of life.
Why is fear of change so intertwined with our fear of death and dying? What exactly does one have to do with the other? Why can't we just be resisting change because it's so much easier and less scary to stay the same?
When we were kids, we actually looked forward to the passage of time. Remember? I remember longing for my birthday each year. I wanted to be a year older, in the next grade, one step closer to being grown up. I liked the way time kept moving, pulling me along, showing me new things, expanding my world. Sometime during college, instead of enjoying the passage of time, I began to drag my feet. I think we all do that. We don't want to leave our twenties. Thirty sounds old. Forty ancient. Fifty? Sixty? Forget about it! Why is this? Why do we begin to resist the passage of time? Why do we begin to fear things changing even if we're stuck in a rut?
I venture to say it is because as we mature, we become aware of our mortality. That awareness--dim as it may be--breeds an inner panic about the passing of time and the inevitability of change. Even if we push the notion of death to the background of our consciousness, it is there, humming a little anxious tune. Carl Jung said that he never met a patient over forty whose unhappiness did not have its roots in the fear of death. I agree with Jung, but I would broaden his age-range and say that I have never met anyone, of any age, whose unhappiness did not have its roots in the fear of endings, partings, and the dark unknown of death.
This is why I suggest people contemplate their own death. This may not sound like a jolly curriculum, but in a round-about way, it is. By making friends with mortality, we begin to wake up to the preciousness of each moment. We don't want to waste one minute of this life. Risk-taking becomes less fear-inducing because we realize that life wants us to participate fully in it and that joy requires letting go, moving on, changing. Because life is always changing; we are always changing. We live in a river of change, and a river of change lives within us. Every day we're given a choice: We can relax and float in the direction that the water flows, or we can swim hard against it. If we go with the river, the energy of a thousand mountain streams will be with us, filling our hearts with courage and enthusiasm. If we resist the river, we will feel rankled and tired as we tread water, stuck in the same place.
If we had the patience and a high-powered microscope, we could sit and stare at our hands and watch the river of change flowing through our own bodies right now. We could watch our cells changing and dying and being replaced, over and over and over. From year to year every one of our cells is replaced. Literally, who we were yesterday is not who we are today. Our skin is new every month, our liver every six weeks. So it is counter-life to try to slow things down or to stall them altogether.
Let's pause here. When we return, Elizabeth has a lot more to say on the subject of personal growth and transformation. I hope you'll join us.
Get Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow from Powell's City of Books, Portland, Oregon's independent bookseller