We all know that change is occurring more rapidly and dramatically today than it ever has in history. This may be either thrilling or terrifying, depending on the day and how ready we are at any moment to go along with dramatic transformations. For many months, I’ve had the feeling that many of us humans have been milling around like athletes waiting for a marathon to begin. Recently, it feels to me as though we’re all being told to take our position in the starting blocks.
I’m not sure exactly what this means, only that it feels tremendously exciting and somewhat alarming at the same time. I’ve noticed two categories of reaction in myself and the people I know: Some highly evolved individuals are positioning themselves happily and easily for some exciting unknown transformation; others are kicking, screaming and resisting like race horses who have decided at the last minute that the whole event is just too strange and frightening to tolerate.
This translates into divided extremes of emotion. There seems to be no middle ground; either life feels incredibly joyful and exciting or absolutely horrid. I, myself, alternate between these two extremes. When I am completely in line with my purpose and following my inner compass, I feel almost intoxicated with joy. When I am resisting in some way, I feel like week old road kill. It seems that the biggest difference lies in my ability to relax. There was once a time when hard work and intense willpower moved me effectively toward my goals and filled me with enthusiasm. Nowadays, hard work and willpower feel horrible, even when I can muster them, and prove entirely ineffective. On the other hand, when I give up struggling and acknowledge that I have zero control and no more energy, things suddenly begin to work in my favor, as if by magic.
I watched this process very intently as my friend Jayne passed away, which as you probably know, was simply a change of address as far as I’m concerned. People talk about how courageously people fight their illnesses, and Jayne fought ferociously, but the effect of her struggle was horrific. A few days before her death, when she completely stopped struggling, it opened a door to peaceful and joyful transformation that uplifted Jayne and everyone around her. Watching the grieving process of her son Joey, who has Down syndrome, was another astonishing example of the power inherent in refusing to struggle. Joey flows in and out of sadness with absolutely no resistance, and as a result, the pain of this time has been intermittent, alternating with periods of true and enormous happiness.
For anything new to be born, the existing arrangement of particles and situations must die. Struggling to survive is laudable and natural. I believe the “deaths” we experience as we take our positions for a new phase of history are benevolent and necessary, and are, therefore, best greeted with relaxed acceptance. This is a wild time to be alive. If you feel yourself being moved into position, you might justifiably feel terrified. My advice to you this month: Stop struggling. Relax. The signal to run is coming.
I’m thinking of training a hamster to predict the weather in California, where I live. It won’t be difficult; I’ll purchase two buttons – a red one that says “sunny” and a blue one that says “not sunny.” Then I’ll teach the hamster that the blue button doesn’t exist. We’ll make millions!
For those of you who don’t live in California, please accept my deepest sympathy. The first time I ever sought professional counseling was during my freshman year in college. I told the psychiatrist at the student health services that I was weepy, despairing, and unwilling to get out of bed. He glanced at his watch and said, in a casual tone, “it’s February.” Apparently, every February, Massachusetts sees a mass rush to psychotherapy. It’s not the cold as much as it’s the darkness, or maybe it’s the wetness. Or maybe it’s the wind – I remember being unable to carry my sketchbook to art class without being blown off course as if I were a ship in full sail. February in the northern hemisphere is hard on the body and the soul.
Albert Camus wrote, “in the midst of winter I finally learned that there is in me an invincible summer.” I believe this is true of every human being. In ancient cultures, there are distinct rituals for dealing with winter – both the winter of the earth and the winter of the soul. In our culture, we put on our microfleece, plug in fluorescent tubing, and pretend February isn’t happening or that it isn’t hard. I suggest we go back to the ways in which thousands of generations of humans learned to get through hard times. If you are having a February – and I mean a February – try these nearly universal ways of coping:
- Be still. When times are difficult, many of us think we should get up and get moving. Nothing could be further from the truth. Meister Eckhart, the thirteenth century mystic wrote, “I need to be silent for a while, worlds are forming in my heart.” During the times we think we’re being “unproductive,” the seeds of new worlds are germinating within us, and they need peace to grow.
- Breathe. If only I had known during the worst times of my life how much conscious breathing can change our brains, I would have missed a lot less sleep, suffered a lot less physical pain, and avoided a lot of depression. Deep steady attentive breathing, as simple as it sounds, is a cornerstone of almost all mystical traditions. If you’re having a February, try ten minutes of lovingly observing the way your body breathes for you. Be grateful for the miracle. Gratitude for the breath takes the brain into gratitude for everything in life. After watching someone struggle with terminal lung cancer, I am literally conscious of almost every breath I take and that consciousness has warmed my heart a great deal this February.
- Sleep as much as you can. Our bodies were designed to fall asleep when it gets dark. When we force them to stay awake during darkened hours it messes with our brain chemistry. In a place like Massachusetts during February, this means sleeping approx 23 hours and 45 minutes a day. Do you have a problem with that? Get over it.
- Come to California. Visiting a sunny place even briefly can rejuvenate your entire system during February. Besides visiting a warmer climate, you can head toward the equator emotionally by watching a warmer climate on video, getting together with a silly friend, or reading a book by a warm and compassionate author. You must make time for such mini vacations!
If the weather in your home gets brutal, these suggestions might help until the sun makes its way back north. If the weather in your heart is the problem you may not have to wait as long. The moment we acknowledge the invincible summer within us, the light edges closer, and the temperature goes up ever so slightly. Keep tending that inner flame, and soon there will be enough light and heat to cheer not only you, but everyone around you. At least that’s what this hamster tells me.