Every day, Life barrels along, dragging us along in its path into a new existence, if in no other way than in our cellular makeup. The “us” of yesterday is not the “us”” of today, thanks to the countless number of new cells our bodies create in order to maintain, yes, Life.
But there are ever so many signs of change all the time. Around here, where I live, I hardly know where to begin. Take the organic section at my local Kroger — where one day all the ‘conventional” produce ended up in the center, and the organic stuff now lines three walls. Or consider all the road construction. Without GPS, I seriously ask myself how anyone can get from side of town to the other anymore.
And then there’re the cow barns. Should I really say, “There WERE the cow barns.” Overnight Bessie, as I shall christen the cow in the photo above, disappeared, along with her barn and her mates, thanks to a new and much-touted cloverleaf traffic exchange. Very apt, the cloverleaf terminology, if you know what I mean. I asked myself the other day, “How do cows handle change? What do they do when they’re in a new barn, with its odd odors and an entirely different spaciousness?”
Do cows act as we do when faced with change? Do they resist? Do they feel lost? Do they feel loss when one of their mates passes on? Do they envision a quick dive into the hay, burrowing up to their soft, velvety noses?
I’m not trying to belittle change and liken humans to herds of cattle. The truth is, as these rather superficial examples point out, change is relentless in its onslaughts, at a pace unheard of in human history. The usual changes occur: we grow up, we lose loved ones, friends walk away, or we do the walking. And with the breakneck speed of the modern world — Twitter, 24-hour news cycles, Facebook, cell phones, instant messaging —change accelerates beyond all comprehension. It can be impossible to find the time and space to deal with it all, to just be. Alone.
Keyword, that. Alone. So difficult to pull off, aloneness.
I find that reading about, and contemplating, the words and actions of various medieval monastics such as St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila a tremendous help at moments when I am not at all happy about changes in my life. Dark nights of the soul are to be expected as we make our way from infancy to old age, true. Instead of thinking, “Oh my God, I need Prozac” every time a sad feeling rises up, it helps to remember that Life isn’t always going to be like a vibrant, joyous 1940s musical. Those old saints knew a thing or two about change, things that apply far beyond any religious dogma. They met the negative square on and lurched through it all, stronger once they reached the other side and could look at Life again with gratitude and optimism.
They escaped from the outer world in order to deal with the inner.
Perhaps the most challenging aspect of dealing with major Life changes today lies in giving ourselves permission to rest and retreat like these saints did, to lie down and enjoy a fallow period.
Silence the phone, shut down the computer, lock the door.
Take a long walk.
Break out that camera gathering dust in your closet. Look at the natural world through a different lens other than your eyes.
Write in a journal, by hand.
Cook something you love to eat.
Read the books you keep saying you want to read , but never have time for.
Or sit and watch the world outside your window.
© 2015 C. Bertelsen