What is Change?
“The law of the world is change” -- Irish proverb.
When you look at the physical attributes of Ireland, you can begin to understand why that saying has resonated with the Irish people throughout the ages. Ireland is an island approximately the same size as South Carolina in the US. About two-thirds of it is exposed to the open ocean, making the weather sometimes glorious and sometimes harsh. I have been able to visit family in Ireland on a couple of occasions and, while exploring the country, was amazed at the variety and diversity not only of landscapes but of climates. Rolling through the back roads and amongst the ruins of abbeys, churches, stone tower houses, castles, and open countryside, I was able to personally connect with Irish folklore, songs, and sayings. I also had a tangible awareness of the volatility that the Irish people have weathered from the beginning.
For me, Ireland itself and the people who have survived there through the millennia, are constant sources of inspiration and important examples of the perseverance it takes to survive and thrive during constant change.
Over the years I have experienced change every day. -- We all do!
Big changes, small changes, and events that may not seem like changes to others but feel like changes to me.
I used to often use the familiar litanies of: “I hate change.” “Change is so hard", “Change sucks”, “I prefer to avoid change”, “This is different and that makes me want to crawl in a hole and hide” … and the list goes on. They are all feelings and expressions that are common - I hear them from almost everyone I know.
However, through teaching vocal performance and languages I created a saying about change that I stick to:
“Change is different, not hard”.
This may seem dismissive. It also may seem to minimize the feelings that come up when we experience change. It is not intended that way. It is intended to shift perspective. It is a type of “mantra” or repeated saying.
When I experience seemingly unmanageable change and I feel like I am spinning or spiraling inwardly, I stop what I am doing and say the phrase “change is different, not hard” as many times as it takes to calm myself. Sometimes, when the change is feeling completely overwhelming, I make myself say it out loud, repeatedly, until I actually hear the words and allow them to affect me.
Since I started using this phrase I find it always calms and focuses me. It helps me release tension, fear, and anxiety. My students, no matter what they are studying, tell me it has helped them significantly throughout their lives.
I like to understand variables and analyze possibilities in order to be able to recognize options. This allows me to feel as though I have done some work to reduce or minimize how many variables there are. It has served me very well, especially in music.
From my first teachers and throughout my formative music years I learned that being prepared by learning and really knowing your music, and examining and knowing the physical challenges of pieces or roles helps a performer deal with all of the things that can change during performances. While there is no way to know what is going to happen on stage in a live performance, there is a way to feel confident that what you have rehearsed is solid enough to allow you to stay focused and centered during amid the potential chaos. Acting and singing in live performances with any number of other people is always a play amid chaos. As soon as there is one person other than you creating something artistic, the possibilities and options expand infinitely. I do not use the word infinitely lightly - I mean infinitely! Being able to function during and through this chaos is only possible when a person has done the work to 1. Know your role on that stage 2. Have some trust of the people creating with you 3. Move, adapt, and flow with the creative current and not allow ego and self to get in the way of the creative chaos.
How does this all relate to viewing, appreciating, and dealing with change and to our lives in general?
The last of the three things just listed are the key for me. I do not see or feel that creative chaos is limited to the formation and creation of art in its myriad forms. I see it as an ongoing, constant aspect of our lives that we can choose to recognize and utilize every moment.
I challenge myself to answer the following self-questions: Why do I hate change? Why is change so hard? Why does change suck? Why do I avoid change? What about change makes me want to hide? My answers are frequently rooted outside the change itself.. and answering the questions is sometimes simple but more often very very difficult.
The most common words we hear describing approaches and views of change are we need to “deal with change”, “confront change”, “cope with change”, “manage change”, “overcome change”. The list of phrases continues and is rather long. Many of the phrases are aggressive, combative, and manipulative: “dominate changes in your life”, “take charge of change”.
I prefer, can relate to, and choose alternate approaches and words: “adapt to change”, “transition through change”, “grow through change”.