Every year around this time, I hear many people comment that Fall is their favorite season. For some, they look forward to the return of their favorite pumpkin spices. For others, it’s the mix of cool, crisp air and the array of changing colors they find inspiring. For me, it’s become about something else.
The season of Fall is my visual reminder that everything will always continue to change.
Buddhist psychology offers the perspective that all things are in a constant state of flux. This includes both people and circumstances. Some use the term “impermanence” to describe this reality. Depending on what you are coping with, the concept of impermanence can be a source of stress or comfort.
When we experience change that we decide is positive (i.e. a new job promotion, romance, or material acquisition), we tend to experience positive emotions. We are happy, excited, comforted, and hopeful. When these changes are within our control, we can add on a layer of pride and accomplishment to the experience. If these positive changes are unexpected, we label the events as pleasant surprises and feel like the universe is smiling down upon us.
When change is not so pleasant (i.e. job or relationship loss, unexpected health challenges, etc), uncomfortable feelings come up for us that are harder to feel and be with. They can include disappointment, hurt, shame, frustration, etc. For significant loss and change, we experience grief that includes denial, anger, bargaining, and depression/anxiety. Changes that are not what we want or anticipated are the most challenging.
So what do we do when change is hard? Sometimes, we try to avoid or deny it. Usually, that doesn’t work out well for us. We end up delaying reality and suppressing the feelings we need to process, which wears away at our well being over time. When we can’t avoid change, we often don’t handle it well. We try to barrel through, hoping to get the pain over with as quickly as possible, But, as anyone who has experienced grief knows, our feelings are not on a timeline.
What other options do we have?
We actually can learn to accept reality, even when we don’t like it. Radical acceptance is just that – coming to terms with what is changing, including how we are impacted. This includes all the hurt, frustration, denial and depression that goes along with difficult change and transition. Coping with these feelings is often the hardest part, and what we fear we will get lost in if we allow ourselves to feel. But, we can learn to do this better. We can develop skills and build resources so that we don’t get lost in the pain. This is what counselling is all about; holding space for your experiences and feelings, and learning how to navigate them. When we can grow in this way, we are better equipped to face the next change or transition in our lives.
Because, as sure as the seasons turn, transition will happen again. We can close our eyes and pretend it’s still summer even though the leaves are falling at our feet. Or, we can learn to open our eyes to the dark and light of each season of our lives, embrace our growth, and deepen our understanding of ourselves, each other, and the value in all of our experiences.