Personal Growth - WON'T YOU JOIN THE DANCE?
Look abroad thro' nature's range
Nature's mighty law is change.
Behold the dancing Nataraj as he swirls through eternity, in perfect tandem with time. Left leg strafing the air, tresses winging behind him, his thundering tandav forges the endless cycle of birth and death. And yet there is a way out, his hands tell us, pointing to his right foot placed upon the demon of ignorance. Enlightenment will release you from the cycle. Simultaneously creating change and transcending it, the Lord is the perfect symbol of life's mastery.
Oh, for that poise and grace, that effortless attunement with life, above all, that smiling serenity!
There never was a time when we needed the Lord's dancing skills more than now. As the Nataraj's tempo quickens, change sweeps us off our feet. Product obsolescence, VRS, job loss, bankruptcy, divorce, family breakups, depression, flashfire fashions and fads, raging consumerism they have all generated an atmosphere of almost neurotic instability. Why has change accelerated so much? How come everything is getting compressed in shorter frameworks so that fortunes are made and lost within a few months, as those involved with the dotcom bubble can testify; and spouses are wooed, won and done with in less than that time?
Dayal Mirchandani, a Mumbai-based psychiatrist, says: "This has to do with the capital formation of markets. Profit being the sole motive means that products with inbuilt obsolescence are created. The media and advertising also play their part in creating new desires, needs and fads."
Krishna Gopinath, a consultant on change, says: "Want drives change. The less wants we have, the less change we have to cope with. Today, our increasing wants quicken the tempo of change."
Liberalization has opened up a Pandora's box of problems. How do we cope with job insecurity, recession, the consumerist culture? How do we cope with the demands of a workplace that leaves no time for relationships or leisure? How can we retain our balance in these frenetic times? Moreover, how can we make this frenzy work for us? Can we create within ourselves an attitude so attuned to change, and be so creative in our response, that change becomes not just painless but positively joyful, brimming with possibilities?
Change has always been a constant, though. Every moment pulsates with newness. As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, you can never step into the same river twice. Even you are never the same person twice. Every cell in your body replaces itself in seven years; every moment rephrases your thoughts, beliefs and attitudes.
In nature, seasons melt into seasons and years into eras. As we move from childhood to adolescence, adulthood and old age, we also go from joy to sorrow to joy again. Wealth to poverty, poverty to wealth. Times of growth and expansion. Stagnancy and despair. Phases of wellness and illness. Within these cycles, tinier ripples still. The challenge of a new colleague at work, a new dish for breakfast, the lift breaking down. Every heartbeat rings in a change. As Dr Spencer Johnson says in his best-selling booklet, Who Moved My Cheese about two humans and two mice chasing cheese (an allegory for goals in life): "Change happens. They keep moving the cheese."
These universal truths have been the framework of Buddhism and Hinduism, driving both to seek out the permanent and the eternal. Both philosophies affirm that the reality of our senses is not the ultimate one. The higher reality, permanent and deathless, causes the changing universe. By identifying with that which is also within us, we can develop the strength and equanimity to master the whirlwind of change, to become 'the still point of a turning world'.
The purpose of change, then, is to help us transit towards that which is permanent, upon which our inner Nataraj can position itself. A space of understanding, love and faith capable of withstanding the severest storms without any disturbance, leave alone damage. A place devoid of the fears, anxieties, negativities and conditioning that stop us from coping with change.
In other words, the route is inward. To handle change we must change. If we have lost a job, it is necessary to look for a new one, but equally necessary to take stock and see if a change of direction is called for, or whether we need to refurbish our skills or attitudes. Marital discord, painful though it is, can be harnessed to yield valuable insights into our behavior patterns, value systems, or to make a new beginning.
Change is nature's wake-up call to get in sync with life. It teaches us to be alert of the shifting tides of our lives. Says DR Johnson: "Smell the cheese often so you know when it is getting old." If we refuse to engage creatively with change, its powerful transformative powers remain unused. It severs us further from the changeless within. While each of us has a varying capacity to handle change, some changes can be so sudden or threatening that the movement towards using their beneficent powers becomes long and painful. The journey is nothing less than the Hero's journey that mythologist Joseph Campbell speaks about, for it calls us to harness our deepest veins of courage, endurance and faith.
THE FIRST STEP
"I was devastated when my first girlfriend committed suicide," recalls Babychen Mathew, general manager of Fast Cursor, who has been through two relationship ruptures. "I actually had to go to somebody to help me cry."
Bilol Bose, a corporate executive, says: "I have faced many major changes including serious illness, change of jobs and lifestyle as well as marital estrangement within the last three years. Each time, there was anxiety followed by a sense of loss and helplessness. I would curse my fate and blame those connected with me. Sadness and anger were my constant emotional companions."
"My husband and I had lunch together on January 7, 1997, after which he went to work. Half an hour later his office called me. I went there to find him dead. I couldn't sleep for the next six months," says Mumbai-based Roxanne Marker.
When change appears, we all cringe. Says Dayal Mirchandani: "Our tribal inheritance has not prepared us for change. This is why most people find it stressful." Adds psychotherapist Nita Mohan: "Insecurity throws up fears that lead to resistance to change."
Mary Carroll Moore, author of How to Master Change in Your Life (New Age Books), says: "Change is frightening because it takes us into the unfamiliar. Change asks us to take a leap of faith, often when we have no idea of what's ahead. Our self-confidence is sorely tested." Our instinct is to blank it out, to deny the issue or to seek out distractions.
In Who Moved My Cheese, DR Johnson talks about the anger with which the two protagonists, Hem and Haw, react when they see that there is no more cheese. He observes: "The more important cheese is to you, the more you want to hold on to it."
As human beings, we favor the known to the unknown, the pleasant to the unpleasant. Limited by our many expectations and beliefs, we recoil from the challenge of change towards security and predictability.
There is wisdom in this, for we need some time to absorb the change. At this stage, we must give ourselves the space to feel what we feel. When helplessness and despair overpower, we need to give ourselves the permission to grieve. All loss needs time to come to terms with. By not allowing ourselves the right to be unhappy, we prolong the sorrow and skid into depression.
This too is not easy, for it bespeaks a certain level of self-esteem. How do you develop it? Through the awareness that you do not have it, and the acceptance of that knowledge. These tools constantly expand inner space, allowing us time to be who we are.
If you find yourself wildly rebelling against the unhappy feelings change has wrought in you, enlist the process of self-awareness and acceptance. Allow your thoughts to surface and dissipate. If you cannot do so, accept that you cannot. If you cannot accept your resistance, accept your resistance to your resistance. All you have to do is begin wherever you are and in time, emotions will unspool. The very process of awareness and acceptance is proactive, giving you control over the situation, which will only get stronger.
FACE THE CHANGE
If you have allowed yourself time to grieve, you will find it possible to look more closely at the change and the web of feelings it arouses. "When I first came to know that I had breast cancer, I was a little shaken," recalls Rashmi Thakur, currently undergoing chemotherapy. "Then my sister pointed out that the tumor was not large or likely to spread. I have now come to terms with the situation."
Bilol Bose also turns to others for perspective. "I get in touch with a close friend who helps me take responsibility for the problem. I cannot change the world around me and therefore I have to change my understanding and responses to my universe. The first step (also the most difficult) is to experience the depression and know its true nature. I emerge revitalized and ready to move on from this exercise."
Says Mary Carroll Moore: "Fear is often our constant companion. But courage can be constant too. It comes when we begin to use our creative resources to face and make changes."
She sees change as a process with four stages. The first begins with facing it. We try to find the answer to two questions. What happened and why?
To do that, we need to go beyond fear. In Who Moved My Cheese? Hem was so afraid of what might confront him in the maze (life) that he stayed in the no-cheese situation until he asked himself what would he do if he were not afraid. You could pose yourself that same question or you can engage in the exercise below. EXERCISE
The Fear Room
Close your eyes and imagine looking through a window into a small room. It's dark inside and filled with dense fog.
Behind you is a large truck from which a machine is unloaded and wheeled to a hole in the outside wall of the room. To the machine is attached a vacuum-cleaner hose. A switch is flicked and you watch all the fog being sucked out of the room. Then the machine is loaded back in the truck and driven away.
Walk into the room and look around. The fog is completely gone. There's a pleasant fragrance and a soft, melodious sound.
Go to each of the five large windows in the room and open them, allowing sunshine to flood in. Look around. What is left?
Do this exercise as often as you need to make your fear manageable.
If your emotions are entangled, here is another exercise:
In the center of a clean sheet of paper, write the word or phrase central to your change. This is the seed idea.
Begin to free-associate, writing new words or phrases around that seed word or phrase, drawing strands from the center to link the new words you write.
Expand the first ring of words or phrases into a second or third, by drawing strands to connect them.
The exercise brings forth the details simmering in your mind. When the fear of making a mistake paralyses you and you can't see which way to go, this exercise can help you break free. If there is one idea arising out of this exercise that you wish to explore further, do a Turning Point exercise on that.
Above all, work on understanding and coming to terms with your inner landscape. Fear has such a hold over us because of our inability to cope with loneliness, failure and pain, which directly derive from our conditioning and belief systems.
Through awareness and acceptance, we slowly begin to shine a light on the inner self, and see how an overprotected childhood has made us unsure, or parental indifference has wrought a fear of abandonment. As awareness and acceptance grow, so do our self-confidence, insight, focus, concentration, and detachment. Says Dayal Mirchandani: "An understanding of oneself, a feeling that one has a place in the world and that there's meaning in life can equip us to cope better with difficulties."
Kiran Murlidharan, a Mumbai-based beautician, endured a marriage with her gambler husband for many years before she faced the need to leave him. "One must have an aim in life, which in my case was the well-being of my children. And I realized that I could depend on no one but myself. I have now become tougher, stronger. I'm married again, but I remain my own person."
Sandeep Waslekar, director of Peace Initiatives that facilitates peaceful change among nations, also believes that it is values that give balance in turbulent situations. India's inability to cope with the post-liberalization phase is due to our poor value base, he affirms.
If meaning can anchor us, so can faith and a sense of the divine. Says Mary Carroll Moore: "Working in partnership with the ebb and flow of life from the spiritual viewpoint, we can see the hidden blessings in all changes. We can see the warnings of impending change and prepare for it. We can flow with our turning points rather than struggle against them. Each change is designed to show us how to be more aware of who and what we really are."
Mithu Basu, a Mumbai-based PR consultant, says: "Invariably, difficulties have positive fall-outs. The biggest things in all our lives are unplanned. The blueprint of our life has already been made and we must do justice to what comes our way. We are not the planners of our lives, only executors. I have discovered myself only through crises. My career in PR, which is perfect for me, arose because I did not want to go back to my old job after my marriage failed."
ACCEPT THE CHANGE
Once we come to an understanding of the change, it is time to move into the next stage, which is to accept the change. The acceptance of the situation frees us to do something about it. Acceptance means that the mourning period has ended. We are moving to the possibilities of the situation. According to Mary Moore: "It's a monumental shift from victim consciousness to being a student of change."
Eckhart Tolle says in The Power of Now: "Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it. Make it your friend and ally, not your enemy. This will miraculously transform your life."
To come to terms with her husband's death, Roxanne Marker visited the samadhi (sacred burial place) of Meher Baba in Ahmednagar. "The place was spartan. The bed was bare boards. There were mosquitoes. Yet for three days, I did nothing but sleep. I came back refreshed, and my healing began."
Personal growth trainer Indu Kohli's facility with handling change has enabled her to experiment with expanding work experiences, such as moving from grooming classes to becoming a consultant on personal growth, to being Director, Training, Asia Pacific, with Habitat for Humanity International, an international NGO. She explains: "I have got over the fear of failure. To experiment and grow one must not be afraid to look like an ass."
Acceptance happens when we realize that the change, no matter how devastating, is not the end of the world. Many factors cooperate to create this state-of-mind. First is the healing power of time. Secondly, our inner work helps us discover new aspects of ourselves. Consequently, acceptance of that which has had so many positive effects on us is much easier to handle. Detachment also helps acceptance.
Being able to laugh at oneself is one of the fastest ways of getting perspective on an issue. In Who Moved My Cheese, Hem was only able to move down the maze when he could look at his paralyzed state and laugh at it.
SEE THE BIG PICTURE AND TAKE ACTION
With acceptance, we are now free to act. This is the time to draw up an action plan to make the change work for us.
Says Babychen Mathew: "After my first girlfriend died, I had another. Within a year, that relationship cracked up. This hit me very hard, but on both occasions I started struggling to my feet within three months. I do anything, make new friends, see movies, learn something new, weep on friends' shoulders, whatever I need to climb out of my sadness. It is not possible for me to sit there and watch things slide." What helps Mathew get back on his feet, he says, is an inner resource that refuses to allow him to destroy himself.
Changes are not new for Mathew. As a small-town Kerala boy, moving to Mumbai was a major shift. Breaking from under the patronage of a friend was another. What motivates him to seek changes, he says, is the need to realize his potential. "I was deeply impressed by the Biblical story of talents, where the master gave each of his servants a talent and asked them to multiply it. Those who did were rewarded but the one who did not was heavily punished and his talent taken away from him."
When writer and former PR executive, Luis S.R.Vas took his VRS in August 2001, his transition was relatively painless. "It was a long time in the coming so I was prepared for it." As a published author of books on personal growth, it was easy for him to become a full-time author and he has churned out two books within the space of a few months, including a quickie on the Osama bin Laden.
Neither the loss of the status or the security of the job is an issue for Vas. "I didn't derive my identity from position," he says. Besides, he is too occupied in looking ahead and exploring options. "Apart from completing a book on holistic health, I'm looking at the potential of the Internet," he says.
This ability to look ahead and see fresh prospects is a key factor in coping with change. Sandeep Waslekar says: "Envisioning and looking ahead is essential to come out of the past."
DR Johnson has a series of helpful suggestions. One is finding a new way of doing things, such as looking for a new career rather than a job, changing one's habitual approach to relationships or health. "Movement in a new direction helps find new cheese," he observes.
He also urges us to shed old beliefs and assumptions. Indu Kohli cites her extended family tradition of exchanging Christmas gifts. "There are now 45 of us so the practice is too unwieldy to keep up. I am proposing that we drop the idea but the others are going to flay me for it."
Many draw their inspiration from nature. Mary Carroll Moore recommends being in flow with the rhythm of life. Often, changes are here to tell us we need to align with the natural rhythm of life. She herself was a characteristically fast worker until her hand began to cramp up. Looking at what it was trying to teach, she understood the need to slow down to the level of life.
Says Indu Kohli: "Nature has so much inherent wisdom. Sometimes I look at these birds outside my window. They are so fragile, yet they survive. Why should we, who are equipped with so many more skills, have difficulty living life?"
"Deal with the change in small doses," advises Nita Mohan. "For instance, if you need to move to another town, make a reconnoitering trip first, get to know the place a little and you will feel better about the change."
Moore talks of using strategies that have stood us in good stead in earlier situations. Says she: "Whenever I am going through a change, I lean heavily on my resources. I interview friends who have gone through something similar. I read books, take classes, listen to audiocassettes. I brainstorm in my journal about who could offer guidance. I've found that there are many people in my life who can help me with each major or minor change, I just need to ask."
Moore particularly recommends using dreams to understand changes, as well as telling us what to do about them. Her book is full of amazing stories about people who used dreams as guideposts. One lady, for instance, was undecided about getting out of an unsatisfactory marriage until she had a dream where she had to negotiate a steeply curving mountain road. Each time she made a turn she was required to say her surname. Whenever she used her maiden name she made it, whenever she uttered her husband's name, she did not.
To work on dreams, it is necessary to record them. The more we write them down, the clearer their message will become. Even those who swear they do not dream can be made to recall their dreams by this process.
Decoding your dreams
Write down your dream in as much detail as possible. It's helpful not to censor anything and to write as quickly as possible.
List your feelings about the dream. You may have woken up feeling angry, peaceful, excited, optimistic. What strong emotion did the dream provoke in you?
List the names of those who appeared in the dream.
Give your dream a title.
Go back to the written dream and underline any key symbols that pop up at you.
Formulate one question you'd like answered about the dream. Write it down in your journal.
Moore's other techniques include maintaining a journal in which we write down all our thoughts, feelings and significant events, as well as our growth graphs. This helps us become aware of our inner states and clarifies our state of mind. It also helps record how we dealt with earlier changes.
Goal setting is a third technique. To ensure that the goals fit you as you change and grow, make sure that you have awareness that life helps you reach your goals. Also, choose an understanding that the goals that really satisfy are those that fulfill your purpose in life. Finally, develop your inner guide so that you can adjust your goal as you go along. Be easy with failure. It is part of the process of reaching your goal.
Try this exercise to get a clear picture of where you want to go:
To envision the qualities of life you want
Turn to a fresh page in your journal. You'll be evaluating an area of your life that you'd like to infuse with a high level of love and well being.
In a few sentences, answer the question: How do I see this area of my life now?
Start a new paragraph and answer this question: How would this area of my life look if it were filled with well being and love?
Write the answer to this question: What actions can I take to bring this about? List one or several things that come to you, even if they seem silly or irrelevant. Have any signs appeared lately that might give you clues as to what actions to take? These can be subtle indications of a turning point.
Look at what you must surrender to bring this about. What old beliefs or attitudes about yourself or your life could be tossed out now? What must be changed to fit your new vision?
Now have an action plan as to how to get to the goals.
Gopinath recommends truth telling as a way of mastering change. "We are shrouded in untruth. Every problem we have is because of the illusions and superstitions we uphold. If you and I have a problem, its genesis will inevitably be some assumption or belief, which I see as a lie."
Gopinath's own odyssey to truth telling began when he was cribbing to a colleague about a problem in his life. "'Get off it,' my colleague told me and I did! I have based my whole life and work on this insight."
DR Johnson suggests imagining and visualizing one's goals and the direction one wishes to travel. This exercise uses the mind's ability to create whatever it powerfully imagines. "Imagining myself enjoying new cheese even before I find it, leads me to it."
In his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey argues forcefully for the ability to move from reacting to proactively creating. We can create this space, he says, by utilizing our unique human gifts of self-awareness, conscience, imagination, and independent will. These four gifts when used in unison, can give us the ability to willfully shift from destructive habits and attitudes to internal transformation. "You can become an agent for change," he enthuses. The three most necessary items to chart the change, he says, are a vision or destination, a travel plan and a compass that tells us if we are off course.
INTEGRATE THE CHANGES
Now that the changes have been made, take stock again. What have you learnt? How have you changed? What would you do differently? When he first became a boss, Mathew was a hard taskmaster, sarcastic and intolerant. Determined not to make the same mistake again, he actively cultivated patience and the ability to inspire his subordinates. There have been other fall-outs of Mathew's jousts with change. "I used to be very pessimistic earlier. Now I feel I can cope with life."
Indu Kohli says: "I have discovered so many skillful parts of me. My inner work has also generated a great deal of acceptance of myself, which means I am also accepting of others. I don't think there is anything my friends and family can throw at me that would shock me or cause me to reject them, not even a confession of murder."
Fashion writer Meher Castellino had a painful estrangement in the family soon after her mother's death that left her devastated. She got in touch with her late husband through a medium. She is now on the spiritual path. Says she: "When I was a model, being on the ramp gave me a high. As a writer, the high came from seeing my byline. Now I get a high when someone tells me that talking with me makes him or her feel good. Earlier, I used to be very angry and high-strung. Now I feel peaceful and my anger has dissolved. Friends tell me I have changed a lot and I agree."
Roxanne Marker, too, is on the path. "I now view my husband's death as necessary for my growth. I still miss him every day but it's a grief I can handle because I now know that nobody actually dies, they just change form."
Mithu Basu went through profound experiences when her mother died recently: "In the two months prior to her death, I looked at life purely from her perspective. Whatever faint wish or whim she had, I would pass on within the family and one of us would fulfill it. When she died, my relationship with her was so complete that there was no sorrow whatsoever. I have now put this insight into every relationship of mine. I believe that we must make every relationship precious to ourselves and at every moment we must strive to complete it. Write that letter, say that sorry, make that call. Treat each day as your last, and when that person is no more, you will be able to let go and be complete."
Change has made them bigger, better, more limber. Like a good aerobic workout, it has worked out their character, pumped up their souls, shaken off superfluous bits of baggage and got them into shape. More importantly, change has made them agents of change, the hard taskmaster's handmaidens. Each, in their own way, reaches out to others and helps them walk along the same thorny but rewarding path. Mathew says: "I now know that everyone can cope with life. My faith in others has gone up substantially." Meher Castellino is looking for peace and happiness and intends to pass it on to those around her. They have seen the other face of change and know that there is nothing to fear. Any minute now they'll be spinning, Nataraj-like.
(All exercises are taken from How to Master Change in Your Life by Mary Carroll Moore, published by New Age Books)
Subject: Celebration thru to the other side of grief - 9 November 2010
Thank You for this gift.
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