Charles Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” These days, that means constantly adjusting to ever-changing conditions.
I don’t know about you but I feel like I’m perpetually adjusting and they aren’t just little adjustments either. Some feel pretty substantial. We did our first live workshop in over two years a couple of weeks ago and while it was so wonderful to see people and feel their energy, it was quite challenging to sit in bumper to bumper traffic to get there and back, get physically set up, and to deal with technical issues. I was very out of practice, so it felt stressful. The whole 32 mile, two-hour drive home, I was questioning whether or not I could really adjust to being back out in public again.
And then the Covid numbers began to spike here and mandatory indoor masks are back on the table. Monkeypox is also on the rise here and they’re starting to make vaccines available. That probably postpones anymore live events in the near future, but after planning to move back out in the world, I’m readjusting to remaining virtual again. Already.
I went to the Hollywood Bowl with friends for 2 concerts over the past few weeks. It was quite an adjustment to having only been with up to perhaps 4 people at a time for two years to 18,000 people all together. I thought I adjusted pretty well, but it took conscious effort. I was supposed to return again last weekend, but one of the performers caught Covid, so after purchasing shuttle tickets, planning dinner and packing up my cooler, I had to adjust to the fact that the whole affair had been cancelled.
I’m traveling to a podcast convention in August in Dallas. First flight in several years, first hotel, first car service, first time flying with the understanding that I have a good chance of having the flight cancelled or losing my luggage. More adjustments.
I’ve adjusted to paying almost $7 a gallon for gasoline, to a never-ending list of unavailable products, to a country I barely recognize and to the fact that the only certainty is uncertainty. I’ve adjusted to my mobility issues and I’m still adjusting to my partner retiring. Adjustments galore.
I recognize that I am very blessed in that I have a strong capacity for adaptation and that there are a lot of people not perpetually adjusting, but constantly suffering. I still periodically yearn for things to just stop, to just stay the same long enough for me to feel like I can catch my breath, and in those moments, I think about people that struggle with adjusting to change or new situations. The massive changes in the workplace alone are causing a lot of duress for employees and employers right now, in addition to the broader landscape we all live in.
Since this seems to be the new way of the world, I invite you to check in to see how you feel about adjusting, adapting, being flexible, going with the flow. If it causes anxiety, mindfulness can help strengthen these abilities.
We can of course adjust cognitively, thinking through potential scenarios and making decisions based on our thoughts, but I don’t think constant change is dealt with effectively through thoughts alone. Change triggers emotions and that’s where we need to focus. How are we feeling emotionally, how well are we self-regulating, how’s our state of mind?
Increasing our self-awareness so that we recognize that we’re having an emotional response to something is the key. It’s very common to try to tamp down or control unpleasant feelings like fear and anxiety, but we need to do the opposite to lessen the discomfort. If your employer has decided you have to return to the office now, notice what feelings come up. Be gentle with yourself and observe the feelings. If it’s helpful, label them, like fear or frustration. Once you have the image of fear in your mind, you can examine it more closely, pulling in your cognitive skills combined with your emotional intelligence. What does the fear feel like? What does it look like? What aspects of the situation are fearful and which ones are neutral?
You receive notice that your rent is increasing. Where do you feel it in your body? What kind of thoughts are running through your mind? Anger, resentment, or again, fear? Remind yourself that you’re physically fine. You’re safe. Take some time to examine the feelings, note that whatever thoughts you’re having pass and are replaced with different ones. You don’t need to hang on to them. You don’t need a solution in this moment. You simply need to calm your system down so that you can make a decision later, if needed.
Consider the picture in your head. You know, the one that we all create about how life or work or a relationship “should” be. Try to open your mind. What if there are no shoulds? Instead of comparing how what is happening right now does not match your picture, how things are not as they should be, and consider instead how things could be. There’s every possibility that what could be is even better than what you think it should be.
Try broadening your perspective. Those “shoulds” that we all have on at least some topics really constrict our perspective. Anything that doesn’t match the picture can begin to make life feel overwhelming. There should be an end to the pandemic by now. There shouldn’t be out of control inflation. There should be enough airport and airline workers so that we can travel normally again. There shouldn’t be a shortage of semiconductor chips or popcorn or feminine products or electric cars. Our perspective shifts from one of expansion and abundance to one of deprivation and scarcity. That leads to anxiety and feelings of overwhelm.
When I get lost in overwhelm or feel resistance to adjusting to one more change, a change in perspective provides immediate relief. Staring at the sky works. If you live near an ocean, it’s an excellent perspective adjuster. The images coming from the James Webb Space Telescope recently did it for me. Stunningly beautiful and completely surreal, the reminder that there are millions of other galaxies with planets and stars and moons was an excellent perspective shift. I am but a tiny speck within an unfathomably enormous system. My problems are miniscule, and it is only my mind that blows them up into something bigger.
I actually have a hard time adjusting to the idea that we’re looking back through time. It kind of blows my mind. But again, when I consider the scale in time or space, I am insignificant, so therefore my problems are, too. I don’t mean that in a self-deprecating way. But looking at the big picture and considering how short my lifespan is within the context of all of time and considering universal galaxies all operating in space through the eons, is my concern about stiff joints, high gas prices or not being able to find chives really important? No, it’s really not.
And even more serious challenges, like major health issues or being out of work, or having the rent raised, are all manageable if we can learn to adjust, to adapt. Mindfulness means we focus on the present moment. What in this moment do you really need that you don’t have or can’t find a solution to? If there is something, focus only on that, not the cascade of problems that our minds go to when something goes awry or changes. Everything is not terrible. Some things are not great and some things are different. The answer is to adjust.
Whatever changes you’re facing in your life, you probably can’t stop most of them. Everything changes all of the time and we can decide to accept that fact or resist it. Resistance simply increases the discomfort, it doesn’t prevent the change from happening. Accepting change doesn’t mean you have to like it but wouldn’t it be more pleasant if we could reframe the situation to consider positive outcomes?
While I feel like my own private adjustment bureau and while I wish I could take a break from change, instead I take deep breaths, I meditate, I take a walk. All that matters is that I am aware of my place in the universe, that I am present to the experiences before me, and that I remember that my time is precious. Adjusting to whatever happens is the best thing I can do in order to remain mentally healthy and physically well. Isn’t that really true for all of us? What might you do to better navigate change and adjust as you go? One option to consider might be going with the flow.
Believed to have first been penned by Roman Emperor Marcus Arelius in his writing, The Meditations, he referred to the flow of happiness and thoughts and surmised that most things flow naturally. Much later, the hippies of the 1960’s promoted a philosophy of taking life easy, not struggling or fighting, but instead using the analogy from the way they kayaked and rafted on white water to the way life should be lived, by going with the flow. Whether white rapids or calm waters, we can mindfully accept that whatever has happened has happened and simply go with the flow instead of paddling against it. The question is, are you ready to set aside the oars?