I don’t think I am the only person in the world that finds it hard to change, to implement new projects, to venture into unchartered territories of creation and come back into a better version of myself. Some people say that I am quite driven and motivated… I must say that I am not immune to the difficulties of life. I aim to engage with these difficulties, to explore them, to feel them, to let them carry me and eventually by consciously staying in the mud of my psyche, I can reach the shores of clarity. Frankly speaking, for the most part, it can be unpleasant. Yes, self-development requires us to delve into the unwanted, the avoided, the bits that we fear and the bits we hate. That is why I sincerely feel enraged at quick fixes, change your life in seven days and the like. We are human and personal shifts take time and effort. Just like the flowers above, we have our seasons of bloom that need to be planned for…
But there is also another thread to the story of change. In many myths, there is a motif of a helper or magical force that nudges us to overcome the tough stuff. Luke Skywalker had his uncanny lightsaber, while Frodo fought with his reliable Sting. Cinderella’s carriage was made out of a pumpkin and Snow White enjoyed the dedicated support of forest animals. If fairy tales teach us something about the composition of our human psyche, the motif of a helpful figure or object symbolises our capacity to soften the blow of change so that adaptation becomes easier. There are some properties of the human mind that help us change, that support us in difficulty and enable us to stay resilient and engaged.
One of the invaluable features of the human mind is the ability to let go. In one of my posts, I mentioned that when jazz players improvise, the part of their prefrontal cortex (the rational brain) responsible for being self-conscious, just turns off. Of course, we cannot deduce that in order to be creative and solve our problems, we just need to let go and everything will be hunky-dory. However, this links very nicely with the Taoist idea of WU-WEI. This means action through non-action. One of my favourite psychologists, Arny Mindell, talks about WU-WEI in terms of inner work. He compares this to cooking. A good cook feels the essence of a chicken, knows how to cut the meat without chopping it mindlessly. A good cook changes his or her knife once a year. A bad cook will chop and whack the chicken without paying attention to the way the meat ‘wants’ to be chopped. Do you ever experience the following: it’s a sleepy Sunday afternoon, you’re relaxing at home and you realise that inevitably you might have to cook something. You find some left-overs, you combine a few random ingredients together and suddenly, you rustle up a meal that is just yum. If you do not like cooking, perhaps you had an experience at work or you organised something and things just worked out… and it happened naturally, because you didn’t force it. You were aware and you made the right moves. You felt the essence of the situation! And somehow this essence moved you towards the right action. Moreover, this does not require striving, you allowed things to happen. So try and experiment with letting go. See what invites you to action, see what insists on happening. Become curious about the subtle impulses, deepen this experience and allow the intuitive to guide you.
This is the moment when I like to introduce some Science. The benefits curiosity and mindfulness are not just fancy ideas. Judson Brewer, a psychiatrist, shows how by becoming curious about the experience of smoking, we can reduce our cravings… The whole point of change through mindfulness is about developing curiosity towards the present moment. You do not have to change things, you are not trying to achieve a special state. You cannot get it right, you cannot get it wrong. Have a look at the talk…
This leads me simply to embrace yet another paradox of change.
The more you embrace your current situation, the greater your inner freedom and the greater your capacity for change.