Control Amid Chaos
“Change is the only constant in life.” -Heraclitus
It affects us from the moment of our conception to the very last breath we take on this earth. At the root of all growth, of all wisdom, we find change. Sometimes these changes can be a source of extraordinary joy. At other times change can provoke feelings of discomfort, fear, and even pain.
Though many changes are unavoidable, we should not believe that we’re subject to the whims of unpredictability. It’s easy to picture ourselves like leaves, blowing frantically in a storm. But we shouldn’t feel that everything is out of our control because we can control how we respond to a changing world. It’s our response to changing circumstances that shape the nature of our experiences. When we no longer resist change, no matter how chaotic or heart-breaking or uncomfortable it may be, when we regard it as an opportunity to grow, we find that we are far from helpless in the face of it. Our ability as humans to adapt, to accept, to be graceful, to be strong, gives us control in the chaos. Maybe the storm is clearing away old growth to make way for something wild and new.
This year change, for millions, comes in not being able to comfortably step outside one’s door. The separation from community at a time of year when we’re used to being around family and friends can be unnerving and bring up feelings of profound isolation and disconnect. A once comfortable and cozy home may begin to feel claustrophobic. But in the midst of the change, we can all begin to grow in ways we never foresaw. We have been given the time to learn to cook, to meditate, to reflect on how this year has completely changed the shape of the people we are. Time to re-evaluate the things we really need and create a beautiful life with what is already there, rather than constantly pursuing more.
I recently had a conversation with a three-year-old and when I asked her what she was good at doing she said promptly, “I’m good at being myself’s friend when I’m alone.” Such a simplistic yet profound thought from a new human. And her statement made me think, “Am I good at being myself’s friend?”
How do we even do this?
We write love notes to ourselves and hide them around the house until they’re forgotten and then discovered again. We play our favorite songs as loud as we can and dance as crazily as we want to. We learn to not seek constant stimulation, to stop the flow of “junk information” we allow to constantly enter our brains. We learn to sit still and just be, to meditate, to breathe. We eat a chocolate cookie without doing anything else, just to taste every little bit of sugar, each piece of chocolate. No other stimulation but that moment’s pleasure. We learn to pay attention to the things our bodies enjoy.
Once, many years ago, I was sitting at a coffeeshop with my mother and feeling a bit despondent about life in general. “Leah,” she told me, “Happiness is a fireworks display. It’s a collection of short moments that bring you sudden and explosive joy. Look for the smaller things in life that bring you contentment; it’s those little things that happen more often, but they can be so easy to miss if you aren’t paying attention.” She reached across the table and took my hand and said, “Right now, pay attention to what is happening around you and tell me, does it make you content?” I looked at her, my beautiful mama, at the two mugs of coffee and the giant oatmeal cookie we were sharing for breakfast. I looked at the way the morning summer sun streamed in through the windows, and I smiled and told her, “Yes, I am content.”
That can be a hard word for many of us to accept. We feel that being content is not enough. We feel that we must be happy. But happiness is an emotion and most emotions aren’t sustainable. Are we angry all the time? Are we sad all the time? No. And therefore we can’t expect to be happy all the time. But think of the contentedness of a purring cat sprawled in sunshine. Surely to be content like that is enough. The things that can create a life of contentment are small and numerous yet so easy to miss if we aren’t paying attention.
Maybe the change we learn to accept is living a life of less. Of less socialization. Of less stimulation. Of less of an expectation for the fireworks of happiness. And the change we bring about ourselves is learning to be content in “myself’s” company, blissfully purring away in a patch of sunshine.
Maybe it’s learning that “less” can provide us with the space to grow into more.
When we finally step outside our doors again to embrace a world wounded but healing, how will we each have changed? What will we need less of? What more will we have to offer?