Change is inevitable and yet I often hear people say, “I don’t like change.” What is it about change we don’t like? And what opportunities does it present?
Our lives flow against a backdrop of continual change. There is nothing that remains constant or static. A few of these changes are instant; with others the speed of change is so slow that we can convince ourselves that all is as it has always been.
Some of us embrace and seek out change. Drawn by the delusional comfort of change’s new clothes; we may harbour the belief that changing something externally will change us internally. At other times we seek stability and familiarity, avoiding precipitous decisions. Our instinct knows that change will come and that the waves will sweep us where they may, but whilst possible we seek safe ground.
Perhaps we climb so high, to avoid the rising tide of change, that we are left clinging to an uncomfortable pinnacle. We know that we cannot hold on forever, but letting go is beyond our habit. Inevitably, we fall or are swept away by the change that now has risen beyond avoidance.
We are aware that there are distinct stages of life, yet often we find the adjustment necessary to live harmoniously through each stage beyond our choice. Instead of embracing or adjusting to the challenges within each stage we canter through the early stages, with one eye the next. Then, beset by early indications of our mortality, we cling to the middle stages, unwilling to let life slip, refusing to accept the inevitable. Finally, an ignominious descent through the final stages leaves us unprepared for the terminal change.
What force impels us? What is it that blinds us to reality? Even though our instinct may tease at this wall of familiarity. The answer is both simple and complex. It is our mind’s habitual thinking. That is the simple bit: knowing what it is. Responding differently to change, rather than reacting in our characteristic manner is the complex bit. That is where the opportunity and the practice is.
The last 12 months of my life, seen from the outside, could appear to be a catalogue of major changes. Acute health attacks, operations, diagnosis of diabetes, marriage dissolving, house up for sale, work changes and still it thunders on. I prefer not label this last year as one of great change, because I do believe that change is a constant, it’s just that the speed of change appears to have increased; a lot.
The difference this time round is that I am making every effort to pay attention; to what is happening, to how I am feeling and how I could respond: rather than remaining entrenched in old patterns of behaviour, repeating the same mistakes and reacting habitually.
This approach is an ongoing practice. You might call it mindfulness, perhaps it is clearer to call it paying attention. It is a lifetime commitment and one which, whilst I have been a meditator for five or more years, I have only recently begun to completely understand, commit and engage with.
Late last Spring I started to blog about how I was feeling, how I was trying to understand what was happening in my world and how I was using photography to support me. During this shift I redesigned my online business, Photential, let lots of other commitments go, because I was not well enough to fulfil them, and began to connect more closely with my friends and my family abroad.
The more I shared my vulnerabilities and uncertainties, the more friends and family shared theirs. Friendships deepened, new opportunities presented themselves and the more I began to remember to pay attention to what I was sensing, thinking, feeling and experiencing.
Since I split with my wife at the beginning of the year change has continued. The house is up for sale, the kids are still adjusting to changing circumstances and I know that I will be living somewhere else soon. One of the recent decisions I have taken alongside of this feels like a metaphor for my outlook.
Photential, my online photography business, was not working. I was not selling any courses and the website was riven with technical problems. I decided to let it all go in that format and embrace this attentive, authentic approach, consolidating all my photographic activity and mindful approach to life in one online place, this new website. This may not appear to be that much of a shift. But for me it feels like a fundamental one, an online echo. I have stopped hiding behind an online persona and I am practicing what I preach!
I am not quite sure how this will develop. I am currently writing a book about paying attention: its working title is, ‘Not another Mindfulness Book’ and it details the behaviours, attitudes and life events that led to my chronic health challenges. These tales are balanced with explanations of how I am finding my way back to myself and learning to pay attention through photography.
Whilst I can be sure of some changes in the near future, there are certain to be unanticipated others. Of course I have no idea how much of it will develop but I know that this mindful approach to life, paying attention to the sensations experienced, the thoughts and feelings that arise and embracing the happenings, is the way forward.