How To Cope With Change

Editor’s Note: the original version of this article was first posted on the C2C in 2010.

“...[O]n the average, every seven years all the atoms in your body have come and gone, replaced by others from outside of us. This in itself is interesting to think about. What am I if little of the substance of my body is the same in any decade of my life?

John Kabat-Zinn

If we look at change from a biological standpoint, we are literally a different person every seven years of our life! Our organism as a whole is renewed.

This thought is as freeing as it is slightly upsetting.

On one hand, it is freeing because it tells me that I can be the ever-changing me. On the other hand, it causes me to face the fact that I am at all times the ever-changing me. I am change. I am a process, never a product. So there is never a “me” that I can ever become, because “me” is not a destination, it is a constantly evolving process.

My History With Change

I remember after being a teenager thinking that I would never experience a fundamental change as big as puberty, and then being surprised to find that college had its own life-altering, fundamental self-reassessments. Then again, at the end of college, I believed:  “Well, I finally know who I am, and I get life. Phew!”  I was wrong.  Again.

I’m not sure if you can ever be “you,” or that you can ever “get” life. Because there is no “you” to be, that is, if you define “you” as being a permanent, non-changing organism. There is also no “getting” of life, if you define “life” as also being a permanent non-changing organism. You and life are always changing, so you cannot possibly arrive at any real, concrete understanding of life and you. Other than that both You and Life will continue to change.

Change As A Source of Conflict and Division

I wonder if the idea that change is always happening within us and around us can’t be taught to people at a very young age as a fundamental part of our education.

Because it is change that seems to be the number one factor that causes conflicts in relationships: friendships, romantic relationships, family relationships and community relationships.  How often have you heard that the reason someone broke up was because “he changed” or “she changed” or “he wasn’t the man I married, etc.” How often have you felt that someone in your family did not understand you because they saw you as the child you were when you were growing up, or the rebellious teenager you used to be? Not as the adult you are now?  How often have you seen a community rebel against a fundamental change in society because of fear it might destroy tradition? They are all working on the idea that there is some part of life that does not change, and they would be wrong about this assumption.

When people do not respect that you are always changing, and are not ever going to be a finished product, they tend to limit you, cause you to stagnate, frustrate you, and this in turn causes conflict. They want you to stay the same, but it’s impossible for you to do so. So you either leave them, or the relationship remains strained, or you lead them to understand the truth:  you have changed, you are changing, and you will always be changing.

Accepting Change In Others And In Ourselves

It is also unfair for us to expect others to remain the same. If as individuals we understand we are constantly changing from one year to the next, then we cannot expect others to stay the same way we want them to be. If you are experiencing conflict in a relationship, ask yourself:  “Am I allowing this person I love to change? Or am I trying to force them to be a certain way that they used to be, for my comfort?” If it’s the latter then you definitely should try to give this other person the space they need to be their ever-changing self, and hopefully the conflict will be resolved.

Sometimes we are the most resistant to the changes happening inside of ourselves. We don’t want our friends or family to realize that we are not the same person we once were. People often look for consistency and see it as a virtue, or as a point of comfort, but a person can hardly be consistent if their whole molecular structure is in constant flux! It is important that we respect the process of life and allow ourselves to transform when the time has come.

Buddhists will often say that it is helpful to see oneself as a wave in a big ocean, interconnected, and constantly changing. You are asked to accept change as the only thing that is certain, and resistant to change is often cited as the main reason for human suffering. A way in which Buddhists suggest we alleviate suffering is working with the change that is happening within and around us. We must adapt, negotiate, compromise, and in some cases surrender or bow down to the changes in our surroundings (or the changes inside of us) in order to go forward with the least of emotional damage to ourselves and others.

How to Cope With Change

A very wise person recommended that one should live life like a willow tree. A willow tree bends and bows down when the storm comes, but when the storm leaves, it stands upright again. Other trees, unlike the willow, will stay rigid in the storm, and they will often snap and be broken by the time the storm passes.

I think the lesson to be taken from all of this is that we must allow ourselves to be an ever-changing being in an ever-changing world. Resisting this change is really denying the true nature of who we are, and the nature of life itself. It isn’t easy, but it’s better that we try to work with the change instead of remaining rigid and risk breaking.

much love,

Ollin

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6 comments on “How To Cope With Change

  1. Christina says:

    I’m actually encouraged by our atoms renewing themselves every seven years!

    In a way it’s hopeful, because if you’re in a tough spot or having problems with yourself or others or just life in such a difficult time, at least you know that since change is constant, things might very well improve.

    Love the willow metaphor ’cause it’s my favorite tree!

  2. Nancy Sima says:

    Thank you for the inspiring read Ollin. John Kabat Zinn is a favoriate of mine too!

  3. iarkitect says:

    I very much agree. (I’m fairly new in college and I definitely understand what you’re saying) especially with the points about relationships. Also we aren’t the same person, which sort of brings me to my point that the whole approach to life about answering the question “who am I?” I think is a for naught goal, because there’s really no definite answer to that question, we always change and that means the outcomes (answers) are always different. Keep posting. I love what you talk about.🙂

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