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Riding the Winds of Change

All seasons bring change in some way. We tend to speak a lot about change as a quality primarily associated with fall. Aside from the beauty that comes with the shifting pigment of the leaves though, we can sometimes get caught up in the sadness of what is passing or the dread of cold dark times ahead. And for this reason, for many people, fall is a time of discomfort and anxiety.

A yellow tree seen on a walk I took last fall in Chicago, IL.

Inversely, we tend to talk mostly about growth rather than change when spring is upon us. For this reason, many people associate spring with feelings of hope and relief; normally. Perhaps not this spring though, as we traverse the unknown seas of emotions brought on in the midst of a pandemic, social distancing, and separation from our loved ones. So this spring, let's look at growth as change.

What is the difference between growth and change? Growth is generally defined as an increase or development and is frequently spoken about with a positive connotation. Whereas change is defined as to make or become different, implying that choice is involved in making it happen and is used equally with a positive and negative connotation. In my experience, this is how I've seen each used for the purposes of discussion regarding spirituality and introspection.

With conversations around change, often comes some discussion of impermanence as well. Impermanence is a concept that we grapple with in times of loss. However, we don't frequently think of it in times of celebration. There is a saying that most of us know: "this too shall pass". Again, used mostly in times of hardship or difficulty when in reality, it is relevant in all situations. I've seen it referenced with countless applications and recently as a meme that read: "This too shall pass. It may pass like a kidney stone, but it will pass." Unfortunately there is much truth in that. Yet it is within our control to prepare our minds and bodies to best handle difficult situations as well as to react with awareness when they do arise.

Mud pool in Orakei Korako Geothermal Park near Taupo, New Zealand.

We can learn so much from nature about the power, necessity, and benefits of growth, impermanence, and change. The image of mud bubbles above was taken on a trip I took to New Zealand; a location known for geothermal activity and actively changing landscapes. I was mesmerized by this hot, bubbling pit of mud and watched it for a long time. I think it is fascinating and beautiful. It can also be quite dangerous if you get too close.

Continuously changing environments in nature can be alluring and spark curiosity in us. We may shy away from them though, on an emotional level, because we are trained (often through our own experiences) to believe that change and heated emotions are ripe environments for pain. It is absolutely true that there could be danger if we get to close or immersed in said hot environments, but we can also observe them, finding purpose and wisdom in many cases as well. Often best with a bit of physical distance... sound familiar?

Change is often associated with heat. Emotions have a temperature and anger is known to be hot. We tend to label anger as bad, but anger has a function for us just as much as love does. Somewhere around the intersection of anger and love is where you find passion. Passion is one of those tricky emotions which walks the line between what we often label as either good or bad.

I'm not suggesting that you sit around in the face of danger, analyzing someone's anger toward you, or that you go out searching for danger to go head to head with. However, I do believe that there is benefit in observing when and how our own emotions are triggered, and exploring what we can learn from them. All of them.

An emotion may spark feelings of discomfort in our bodies or pair up with other emotions like fear or worry in our minds. This may trigger our sympathetic nervous system into believing we are in physical danger and responding in the natural responses of fight, flight, or freeze. We can learn about our selves and our reactions from all of these responses. Our intuition knows how to react and what to do, yet unless we make an effort to stay tuned in, we may not know how to read what our intuition is telling us.

Ice built up on the trees and rock wall along the shore of Lake Michigan in Evanston, IL. Photo credit to EMathis.

We've all heard of the fight or flight response. Do you need to protect yourself immediately? Does that mean bracing yourself for a blow, getting as big and loud as possible, or running for your life? These are responses that we are mostly familiar with. But what about freeze? What does freeze do for us?

We live in a time and in a society that values movement over stillness. If you are still, what could you possibly be accomplishing? Connection. Breath. Life. Peace.

Ice can appear and feel heavy and dense. It is much harder to move on and impossible to move through, in comparison to water. Yet sometimes we need a reminder to be still. Your body knows this. Burnout: you're familiar with this term. It means that you've been going too hard for too long and have used up all of your energy and will to engage in a particular area. Chronic burnout means that you've not only used up your available resources in that area, but have begun to regularly tap into the source of where those resources originate; your mind, body, and spirit/energy.

So what happens when we freeze? We have an opportunity to reconnect with our mind. Am I thinking clearly? We reconnect with our bodies. Am I physically OK? What is my body telling me? We reconnect with our energy source and with our spirit or connection to what is beyond our consciousness; our intuition. What is it that I really need? Now you are ready to take your next step.

In all 3 of these instances (fight, flight, or freeze), your intuition is taking the reins. It feels like your mind takes over when you fight, or your body takes over in flight, but all 3 come from the same place. Your intuition. You turn on autopilot and listen to your internal guidance because you have no choice. All functionality and decision making as you know it regularly is interrupted, and the necessary functionality and heightened senses that are necessary for survival kick into high gear.

Photo taken on a walk in Chicago, IL last spring as the flowers were starting to bloom.

The first stages of growth for new flowers in the spring happen in the dark of the soil from which they emerge. They begin this process often while the ground above is still frozen and covered in snow and ice. Slowly, they begin to sprout their roots and stretch their stems to peak up above the surface. As the buds grow and unfurl into the vibrant blooms that bring with them the colors and scents of spring, they reach the apex of their purpose. The bees come drink their nectar and the winds help to spread their pollen, creating new life again as the seasons continue to cycle.

And throughout all of this, the wind continues to blow. Just as our bodies breathe. In and out. The oceans tides flow, and the moon waxes and wanes. Storms come and go and new life grows despite whatever destruction and chaos ensues. Sometimes it takes a while, but sometimes it's already happening somewhere deep below the surface where you can't see it yet. Yes, there is change that comes with the storm, but the growth that is happening is also change.

In times of transition and change, I find it extremely helpful to stay in tune with my breath. This is how I ride the winds of change today. I didn't always have the practice or awareness that I do now. So for anyone who could benefit from a tangible practice use when you find yourself overwhelmed with all that is happening around and to you, or for anyone who may need a gentle reminder of the tools that they have access to but forgot for a moment, read my blog post on Tangible Tips for Managing Anxiety.

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