For as many euphemisms as there are about how life is always changing, most of us often struggle with the reality of change itself. It is no wonder, as the skill of holding onto ourselves with nothing solid beneath us remains untested ground no matter how often we experience it. Intuitively we know that the process of change and where it will lead is not really ours to control, so that even the big life changes we initiate often require a magnitude of surrender that we cannot anticipate. In part this is because of what we have all suspected, our neurological wiring is geared toward consistency. Our brains want and need stability so much that we often create it erroneously. Recent reports demonstrate how our social and political affiliations blind us to our own inconsistencies and misattribute these inconsistencies to our opponents.
George Bernard Shaw once said: “Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” If there is any truly effective preparation for change, it begins with our mind. The most impressive surfers of change are people that would be described as continuous learners, who are not only actively looking for new information but even more willing to challenge their previous belief systems. If there is a fountain of youth to be tapped, it is here, in a mind that stays young through wonder and a willingness to let go. If we are not able to change our minds, we lose in so many ways. Emotional story lines become grudges that separate you sometimes for decades from people you love. New experiences, from taste to technology, become something to avoid instead of relish.
Worse still, when life’s biggest changes come to shake up the world as we know it, our minds are often too rigid to respond. Traumas and tragedies of all kinds from natural disasters, the random hand of illness, and freak accidents fill the news every day. A learning nimble mind has the flexibility to experience grief and fear, without identifying with it. A life that isn’t trained to open to change through the cultivation of flexibility has no resilience to fall back on when unpredictable life events occur.
In fact, the only way to open to change is to give up our resistance to it. This letting go is the easiest and hardest thing in the world to accomplish. The power of opening to the present moment and letting things be what they are is a simple act, and in many ways a great relief. It is also a spiritual feat to embrace the moments you are in, especially the painful moments.
On a practical level, this means witnessing the truth. 95% of the 60,000 thoughts we have each day are the same ones we had yesterday and the day before that. Repetitive thinking is not a friend to change. I was reminded of this while with my son as we reviewed the last two hundred years of American History for an AP test. While History does provide a remarkable context for understanding how we got to this point, my biases would get easily inflamed by his recounting of many of the embarrassing racist and imperialist acts that have paved our collective history. In his infinite wisdom, he looked at me the other day and said quietly “Mom, can we just learn this?”
Next time you are stuck between what you think you know and the changing world around you, ask that simple question, “Can we learn this?” Choosing to learn is how you open to change. A learning mind makes a flexible heart and opens in ways that will surprise you. And all this time we thought being right was what mattered.