Fall Inspiration for Navigating Change

It’s mid-afternoon. It’s cool, in spite of the sunny, cloudless sky overhead. A breeze is softly rustling the leaves. The gentle “tee-yer” of little goldfinches (can’t bring myself to call me “lesser”) float from the apple tree that’s lending me shade. A Rufous Hummingbird chases a Pygmy Nuthatch in crazy twists and turns from tree to tree and through the branches.

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Photo Credit: creative commons via Pixaby

It won’t be official until September 22nd, but fall is definitely in the air.

For me, fall is the epitome of change.

Fruits ripened and ready for harvest. Leaves, shades of green through spring and summer, are shifting to yellows. Soon they’ll be orange, red, dried-brown and drop away all together.

Even in places that don’t reflect the change of seasons with falling leaves or drifts of snow, nature offers a steady flow of change, transition, impermanence.

Like most humans, my instinctive response to change is complicated. When all is well – I’d love for life to stay just as is. When there is pain, grief, discomfort – – – well, bring on that change!! And the sooner the better!

So the reflex can be to try to manage, control, organize, prepare and plan to try to create the best possible outcomes. I’ve written before about the value of getting clear about what matters most. And yet the holding on, managing, planning – when not held lightly – can create an awful lot of unnecessary pain.

The fact is, that holding on is an inherent part of physical existence. Tara Brach, Psychotherapist and mediation teacher described it well in a recent talk when she said that the vary nature of physical form requires a certain kind of cohesion. Rather than seeing it as bad, it’s worth remembering that holding on is a basic characteristic of being alive. “Life has to hold on to life.”

So how to respect our inclination to hold on to life without creating the unnecessary pain?

As I sit here, beneath the apple tree, I’m reminded that most change is benevolent or beneficial; that it so very often, serves a vital purpose. Even the changes that include loss or pain can be gateways to deeper growth and connection.

The challenge is that changes, and our reaction to them, can feel stressful, painful, frightening. But research and experience shows us that developing skills to respond differently to change can bring greater ease, peace and well-being.

Kelly McGonigal, Health Psychologist, in her 2013 TedTalk emphasizes that it’s how we think about stress that matters. Based on scientific research she concludes that it’s not stress itself that creates health risk, but rather how we respond to stress. Studies demonstrate that people who have learned to view the stress response as helpful experience less anxiety and feel more confident. These participants also experienced an improved physiological response, creating physical symptoms similar to moments of joy and courage. The stress response includes the release of hormones that encourage us to make connections with other people, to seek support and comfort. The same hormone helps heart cells regenerate and heal.

“The harmful effects of stress on your health are not inevitable. How you think and how you act can transform your experience of stress. When you choose to view your stress response as helpful, you create the biology of courage. When you choose to connect with others under stress, you create resilience.”  ~ Kelly McGonigal

Isn’t it amazing – the way the intricacies of this body/mind/spirit are always trying to move us to healing and wellness?

The next time you walk into a job interview and the reflex is to experience stress, how might you respond differently if you remember that your increased heart beat is helping you rise to the challenge? Or when we get bad news, maybe instead of being fiercely independent, we could give in to our biological response to reach out to trusted friends for support.

Life is never static. Every day, changes present themselves. And when they elicit a stress response, may we all remember that our body is supporting us, helping us, guiding us toward wise action.

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