On change

A couple thousand years ago, the Greek philospher Heraclitus said that nothing endures but change.  It is, so to speak, the only constant.

These days, it’s a message that I find myself coming to face with frequently.  I suppose it has to do with the place I am at in life, at the “beginning” of a career, a real life.  It’s felt this way for a while, maybe because the end of my life as a student has seemed so near for so long.  Maybe it’s because the realities of adulthood – a terrifying concept, at best – have started to really stack up, and bills and debts became larger and more frightening, etc., etc… all the while watching others my age who decided not to spend tens of thousands of dollars on school driving new cars, buying houses, getting married, having kids.  Progressing, in some senses of the word.  Settling.

The word ‘transition’ is a bit of a tricky one.  It implies an in-between state, not at the start, not at the end.  In the middle, wherever that may be.  To be in transition is in some sense to assume that one will not always be so.  That there is a graduation, an end to the process of alteration.  We’ll come out on the other end no longer changing, but changed.

Of course, there’s really no end to the change.  Old Heraclitus was bang on, and thousands of years later the frontiers of scientific thought have chimed in agreement to the perplexing tunes of relativity and quantum mechanics.  Nothing is absolute, not even the fundamental particles of matter.

The thing is, we’re creatures of habit.  Change is a really hard thing to have to put up with, as most anyone in the process of moving will tell you.  And more often than not, at least from the perspective of counselling, it’s change rather than stagnancy that takes people from a state of being okay to a state of distress.  It takes us out of our comfort zone.  Makes us put up our radar a bit higher.  We have to pay more attention to what’s going on, and that takes resources.  In extremely unfortunate (but much too frequent) cases, like trauma, these resources are vast, and not easily reallocated to other, more adaptive things.  Major life changes like transitioning into and out of the workplace, starting or breaking up a family, etc. can also take very long periods of time to get used to.  Sometimes people just don’t.

At the same time, no change would be boring.  Knowing things will be the same day in, day out can be extremely depressing, and just as damaging as too much change.  The extreme that comes to mind is solitary confinement.

So, there’s a conundrum here.  We’re quite stretched between wanting things to stay the same and wanting things to change.  In a way, the ‘good life’ is all about finding the right balance between the two.  No one knows exactly how to get it right (and if they profess to, they’re trying to take your money), but we all know when we’ve struck that sweet spot with the right mix of stability and spontaneity, just like we know when things are way out of whack.

The best we can do is adjust as we go.  Like finding the perfect water temperature in the shower – it’s only possible once in a while, and it’s damn frustrating to get there.  Even the smallest adjustments seem to cause unreasonably magnified outcomes.  Then we think we get it right, and the great big hot water tank of life has other plans.  But, in a matter of minutes it’s over.  Time to get on with the day.

Are therapists plumbers in this metaphor?