Contributor: Kari Skaflen
Photographer: Taylor Balding
As we step fully into Fall, we feel the change all around us: the evolving landscape, the colder temperatures, the shorter days and longer nights. Perhaps we aren’t thrilled Winter is approaching. Maybe we still long for the warm days of Summer, or we pine for a vacation by the sea in Mexico. This longing produces a small discontent that pulls us out of the present and into a state where we wish for something else. And now we feel a twinge of pain creeping into our experience.
So the question becomes: how do we willingly, gracefully embrace change, especially change that we don’t particularly want to invite into our lives? How do we feel the shifting ground beneath us without losing our balance? On a daily basis, we are faced with a multitude of changes, some too small to even notice, and some so large they seem unbearable.
One of my favorite writers and philosophers who speaks of change is the Buddhist monk, Pema Chodron. She’s written multiple books on the subject of change and fear and living in difficult times. And so I’m leveraging her expertise for guidance as I too attempt to cope with change in a graceful manner. Here’s what she writes in her book, Living Beautifully:
“When we resist change, it’s called suffering. But when we can completely let go and not struggle against it, when we can embrace the groundlessness of our situation and relax into it’s dynamic quality, that’s called enlightenment . . . We have a choice. We can spend our whole life suffering because we can't relax with how things really are, or we can relax and embrace the open-endedness of the human situation, which is fresh, unfixated, unbiased.”
The takeaway: we have to remain supple and allow the changes to come as they inevitably will. Simply opening oneself up to the possibility that change is certain and perhaps you have very little control in the situation allows for a sort of eye-of-the-storm calm. I know, I’ve experienced this first hand lately.
I live in Panama and a few months ago I adopted a street dog. I recently learned that she has Canine Venereal Disease, which is treated like cancer. For at least a week, I wanted to wish this tumor away. I couldn’t come to grasp it. I researched, I agonized, and I felt like I was living under a cloud. After much debate, I succumbed to giving her chemotherapy in the hopes that it would eradicate the tumor and she would go on to have a long happy life. And now, after only one treatment, my adorable, energetic dog is changed. She’s still here, but she walks with a limp—in the leg where the chemo was injected—and she possibly will limp for the rest of her life. I was devastated. But when I stopped trying to control the situation, to wish the limp away, to take her back in time, I found peace. It was a strange feeling—as though the dark clouds swirling around me were lifted and I could see again. I could embrace each moment with her and watch her play and live seemingly unaware of her changed situation. I found space to be present with all the happiness that existed before her treatment. I’m not saying I’ve achieved enlightenment, and I still struggle with the pain, but I am learning to embrace the unknown of the situation. And in that, there is much peace.
I believe there’s a challenge in each shift. Can we meet the leaves that have turned to mush on the ground, the starck landscape, and the sky and its long line of silver days with open arms? Here we will find an openness and a joy that might have previously seemed impossible. And if we still need that Mexico vacation in January, that’s ok, too.