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“I adjust to everything in life. I can pretty much move and change and adapt to anything life throws my way.” – Mr. Marty (my dad)
I took an unknown path this morning. Cold, bundled-up, and at a brisk clip, about a mile into my walk, I stopped, looked two different ways, and then whisked myself off in a direction I’d never been.
“You’re going to get behind,” my head rationalized.
“But I’ve never seen this before,” my heart responded.
I’ve lived in this area since 2010 and twelve years later I am still experiencing new things. A phenomenon that happens when we make even the tiniest of changes. Forget the massive ones: losing twenty pounds, changing careers, stopping global warming. Turning left instead of right can be enough to invite change too.
One of my earliest yoga teachers was fond of saying, “If you want change, change.” Out of curiosity, I began to pick a different street to park on each time I attended class. I walked farther, took in new sights, and discovered time to settle and relax before entering the studio—an early experience of consciously pausing between activities to increase my awareness.
Change anything. If you tend to talk over others in conversation, responding hastily, try listening instead—don’t offer answers. Perhaps you eat yogurt and berries every morning for breakfast. Try oatmeal or skipping a meal in solidarity with those facing hunger. Offer your change to something you care about: peace in a war-torn country, animal conservancy, a friend undergoing chemotherapy.
Most of us have the tendency to want BIG results FAST. It becomes automatic to attempt a whole lot in a compressed period to obtain our goals. But how often does this work? Extreme measures require large reserves of energy and extended over long periods they are rarely sustainable. It’s why the moral of The Tortoise and the Hare fable is “slow and steady wins the race.”
Small, thoughtful, changes serve multiple purposes. They expand awareness. We’re exposed to new things, triggering new insights, and sometimes revealing creative solutions to problems. Today I discovered an answer to a gardening question I’d been noodling over for a while simply by observing plants in yards on a path unknown. As a bonus, I encountered two large hills that boosted my heart strengthening, cardio quotient for the day!
Second, micro-shifts break up egoic rigidity. The ego loves being right. It loves having answers through expected outcomes, hence repetitive and often unconscious behaviors so it can pat itself on the back when it gets a familiar response or result. Expected outcomes, good or bad, reward the ego’s story of itself.
If we’re the type that follows rules to get somewhere or something, it can be healthy to remind ourselves that if we wake up at 8:00 a.m. instead 5:00 a.m. the entire world will not fall apart. Conversely, if you like to hide from life’s responsibilities by staying in bed as long as you can every day, what back-burner project or hobby could you undertake by waking one hour earlier a couple of days each week?
The big stuff, like collectively fixing our environmental crises, or personally quitting a harmful substance, or becoming a bodhisattva (an enlightened being in Buddhism) all benefit from bite-sized changes too. Examples:
- Collect glass food storage containers from thrift stores or Buy Nothing Project sites and give up plastic bags.
- Get sober a few days each week if you imbibe wine or use weed nightly. Too hard? Then begin to observe how you change between the time you are “sober” and when you are under the influence.
- Talk back to your ego, even when its goal is to “be a good person.” Help meet a need of someone in your life who frustrates you. (Clue: Wherever we’re frustrated, there is medicine for us too!)
Choosing a different route, interrupting a pattern, and trying new things consciously with dedicated observance prepares us incrementally for facing truly challenging change. It also helps us break free from the feelings of crippling hopelessness that can accompany the meta changes needed, such as restoring our functioning democracy or planetary health for all living beings.
Change requires change. Practice little changes each day and begin to feel a bit more certain dancing with uncertainty. We cannot change an entire world if we aren’t adept with our own capacity to change.
Though it might seem no big deal to ask yourself “Is hot yoga five times a week really what my body needs to be well?”, or to experiment with a less-favorite form of yoga, such as meditation, it is. In order to see a different world, the sure-fire bet is to enact the differences we want to see. If we want a world that truly cares for us, then we must become people who truly care for others—step by step.
The crafty, fast, and cunning ways of the rabbit often masquerade as success in an instant. But foolish trickery can never lead to long-term gains of good. Be a turtle and approach change with small perseverant efforts. You will make your aim! You will also learn a lot about yourself and see some cool new vistas along the way.
Image credit: Vinicius “amnx” Amano