By Suma Varughese January 2002 As the velocity of change whips up, can we create for ourselves an attitude so receptive to change, so attuned to it that change becomes not just painless but positively joyful, brimming with possibilities for ourselves and others? Here’s how to develop the strength and equanimity to master the whirlwind of change Look abroad thro’ nature’s rangeNature’s mighty law is change.—Robert Burns 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.&rsq
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