Why Is It So Hard to Change?
I like to think of New Years as being at the top of a mountain. It’s a point at which you can see behind you and look forward all at once. We take a higher, more lengthy perspective on our lives for the moment. With this moment of reflection comes the yearning for changes to the ever-repeating known, ergo New Year’s Resolutions. It’s trendy now to call them intentions, but it’s all the same thing, a desire for evolution.
But why is it so darn hard to make those changes?
We all have those things we want to change about ourselves, whether it’s something like changing our diet (small self) or changing our climate (Big Self). I’m sitting here surrounded by evidence of the personal changes I wish to make this year. If you could look around the room from where I’m writing this, there’s a collection of suitcases still packed from the holidays in the corner, the rowing machine doubling as a coat rack, and mocking me from the shelves is my vast and untouched cookbook collection (apparently, I love cookbooks, actual cooking not so much).
These things are all evidence of stagnation. Nature hates stagnantion because the one constant in the relative world is change. I’d modify that to say the one constant in the relative world is evolution, which is progressive change. Everything is evolving at all times, though the rates of change greatly differ. In order to avoid being a “change-victim” we must become a “change-maker,” a newly popular buzzword that kind of makes me cringe but works in this context, we have to understand the mechanism in nature by which we change.
When thinking about the things we want to change, we must first realize that the change is inevitable, whether we are prospective with the change or let nature force the change is up to us.
There are three ways in which we interact with change:
A. You are a change agent of nature and initiate the change
B. Nature forces change upon you and you embrace the change and go with the flow of it
C. Nature forces change upon you and you resist
That’s it, there are no other options. Say for example, the thought keeps coming to you that you should change what you eat. You can:
A. heed the inner voice calling for change, start by educating yourself on healthy methods of eating and make some diet adjustments and your health improves
B. ignore the inner voice calling for change, have a health event like a high blood pressure diagnosis, you accept the news and then take steps to change your diet
C. ignore the inner voice calling for change, have a health event like high blood pressure and you place blame outside yourself and insist on doing things the old way forcing an even more extreme health event like a heart attack in the future
Obviously, there are infinite grades between A and B and B and C, but this is the basic breakdown.
So why do we so often pick options B and C?
One thing, and I’m going to give it its own line and underline it so you remember it:
Change requires a shift in consciousness
We cannot run new software unless we upgrade our hardware. Self-help books, self-improvement seminars, talk therapy, this all tends to fall into the software category. This is why it’s so frustrating to read or listen to the wisdom of these sources, agree with them, but then no lasting change really happens.
You’ll notice both options begin with the word, “ignore.” What expanded consciousness means is that we are ignoring less and less. As our awareness grows, this is in inverse proportion to our ignorance decreasing. Ignorance is what keeps us stagnant and prevents progressive change.
How do we shift our consciousness then?
Two ways–Karma or meditation
Karma is just the word that describes nature giving you the push. It’s nature’s change enforcement mechanism. In this way, the push happens first, the consciousness shift second, and then the changes come third. This happened recently to me. For the last few years I’ve heard the ping inside to become a vegetarian. I always mentally threw excuses back at it, like, “But I like meat,” and “it will be too hard to make separate meals,” and “But what is Thanksgiving without turkey?” When I lost the baby this past summer, the day it happened was the last day I had a bite of meat. It wasn’t a choice, it just was. That event was a massive push from nature resulting in a corresponding massive upgrade to my consciousness. Vegetarianism is just one of the many changes that was a result of that shift to my awareness. I would put this scenario in the “B” category. I ignored the inner voice in a lot of areas resulting in a big push but then didn’t insist on returning to the status quo.
Meditation is the method of proactively expanding the awareness so no push is needed. The changes we wish to make just start happening on their own. Some changes we didn’t even know we needed start happening. When I first got back from my teacher training, I could no longer drink alcohol. I didn’t make the decision, just every time I tried, I felt a strong urge to stop.
What is happening when a push comes from nature and it doesn’t result in change?
Resistance to change. And the push wasn’t hard enough to push through the resistance. What comes next is a harder push. Big mama asks you quietly to clean up your toys, you ignore her, then she yells louder, you ignore her and finally she sends you to your room.
You can see evidence of this in the collective. We ignore the signs of the planet under strain–we start getting extreme weather events and fires, a pandemic but overall, we as a society are not putting major changes in place. What that means is the pushes will get harder–more flooding, more extreme fires, more species going extinct–until it’s enough to shift the collective consciousness and we have to take action.
Getting to the "Bad-Enough Point"
This is always the real answer when someone comes to me about not sticking with their meditation practice. They haven’t hit the “bad enough point” where they are finally pushed to move out of doing things “their way.” The ever-repeating known, though hindering us, is comfortable and it’s not so bad that we feel motivated to move into the unknown. Think of the thousands upon thousands of times we have to try to find fulfillment in the outside–in finishing a to-do list, or buying something, or getting validation from someone, or extracting it from a relationship–before we finally turn the awareness inward to the source of who we are.
The trifecta is–finances, relationships, and health. When something goes really wrong in one, two or even all three of these areas is when people find their way to meditation. For me, it was a combination of relationships (I lost my mother) and health (I developed gall bladder disease by the age of 28).
Enlightenment is the ultimate goal of change
When we meditate, we can no longer ignore. The light is turned on and with that enlightenment comes change on its own. It is the reason for the change in fact. Nature doesn’t care about change for change’s sake, change is merely its method for its creations gaining greater and greater awareness. The Darwinian view of evolution in which nervous systems gain in greater and greater sophistication is the effect of the expansion of awareness within individual beings. Therefore, meditation, because it brings you directly to the goal of all changes, keeps nature from imposing change upon you as often.
Since it becomes harder for us to ignore, we become the players nature uses to enact change–the creation operators, the change-makers, there’s that word again. Change becomes less and less scary. The reverse starts to happen. Now, when we sense stagnation, we start to get nervous as we know it’s the sign of increasing pressure which always ends in destruction, like a dam about to give way. The unknown becomes the comfortable place.
The one thing this all comes down to is–change is inevitable, it’s just whether or not you are creating change or change is creating you. Now, I guess it’s about time to unpack those suitcases.