Nothing is Permanent Except Change

Imagine if you will a wonderful and complex machine that when you press the right sequence of buttons provides all your needs. In fact it can provide way beyond your needs. Out of it comes all the basics like food, a house, money to school your children and drive a fancy car. You could even manage one or two holiday houses abroad. And of course, if you know how to play this machine well, you may ask for things way beyond that.

Then – how could this happen – no matter what sequence you play, nothing more comes out. You are well and truly stuffed. The house has to go, along with the car, the holiday home, and definitely the yacht if you managed it.

Just in case you think this is some sort of fairy story, it isn’t! Huge financial institutions are collapsing or sacking staff. That is how John Hodges got sacked from a £300,000 a year job. He said there is no hope of him getting that sort of work again. So, yes, he has to sell house, holiday home, car, and so on. His wife will no longer be able to afford the expensive hair do’s, clothes, manicures, nanny for her children, and cleaner for her house. It goes further still and hits estate agents, car sales, clothing manufacturers, and all those who cater for the high income city workers.

Remember too that John is only one of thousands in his work area, and loss of employment is nationwide in most sectors. So how will John and all the other women and men confronted by this huge change deal with it?

The magical machine that John could conjure his £300,000 a year from, and thereby his grand house, car, way of life, and advantages for his children, was constructed out of an economic and social system based on ever greater profits, exploitation, and greed. Bill Rhodes, senior vice chairman of Citigroup said that this is the worse financial crisis he has seen, and he has been involved in many. (5) Geraint Anderson writes that “the actions of certain ‘Cityboys’ brought this about by years of reckless gambling with other people’s money. (6)

It’s not just the economy

Because of the critical situation the world economy faces, the way of life many people knew has come to an end. But change confronts all of us. The world as it was in the early part of the last century has completely disappeared. For those of us who have lived a long life we have had to meet incredible social, political and technological change, devastation, loss and the emergence of a new world order. I lived through the second world war and know about change and loss, having experienced several economic crashes, marriages, illnesses and a world totally different to that of my childhood. Great lessons have been learned on the way. But now there are even greater challenges, and changes on a wider scale.

Many people see the greatest challenge as global warming. That is certainly an enormous shift we are all confronted by, but there are others. If you compare today’s way of life with what was happening even as little as thirty years ago you will certainly see there have been enormous movements in the shifting of national, economic and world power. Millions of individuals have also been at work eroding the old ways governments, businesses, the police and creative individuals worked. In 2000 Paul Ray and Sherry Anderson assessed that 50 million people in the US alone were quietly revolutionising everything from the way our land is cared for to the schooling of our children. (7)

David Korten (8) has led international resistance against corporate globalization. He points out that fundamental shifts are going on to change the way top down government and corporate power is being used. Ricardo Semler takes this further in that he has helped develop a fundamentally different way of running an international corporation, one based not on top level control, but by integration between all levels of staff, and the encouragement of creativity and innovation. (9) Those types of alterations to the very basic structures of our consumer society will bring about enormous transformations in the way we live, love and work.

But the future is always surprising and usually unexpected. As far back as 1958 Stanislaw Ulam (10) wrote that, “…. the ever accelerating progress of technology and changes in the mode of human life, …. gives the appearance of approaching some essential singularity in the history of the race beyond which human affairs, as we know them, could not continue.”

That is a very challenging statement, but we can see for ourselves that the graph of technological change and invention is on a sharp upward rise at the moment. Taken from the earliest discoveries of tools, fire, the wheel and bows, the rate of change has slowly increased. In recent times it is rising faster than ever before and it is thought by some it will become vertical soon. That means faster and almost constant change. I notice that many of my friends get stressed by moving house, what will it mean if their life is facing constant change? 

Gerald S. Hawkins (11) called these huge technological changes ‘mindsteps’. He said, “None of the mindsteps can be said to have been truly anticipated, and most were resisted at the early stages. In looking to the future we may equally be caught unawares. We may have to grapple with the presently inconceivable, with mind-stretching discoveries and concepts.”

So, an unanticipated, mind stretching, challenging and life altering future is on its way. Some prophets of the future even think such a change might be overnight.

Our personal stumbling block might not be global warming or the loss of fossil fuels; it might not be population explosion leading to food shortages, or enormous economic and social change. Perhaps we can face unprecedented technological innovation and even enjoy it. Maybe extended life will be a joy instead of a burden, or the challenge of very different ways of relating, loving and working easily met. We might effortlessly accept the loss of our car, genetically modified babies and adults, or the emergence of artificial intelligence as it changes our world forever. But somewhere in all of that we are going to hit the brick wall of our boundaries, and we might hit it at speed. And then, where will you be when you can’t fuck around any more?

Personal Challenges

In connection with this I have personally faced many changes. I lost those I loved very dearly, experienced the breakup of two marriages, was homeless for some years, and unemployed during that time too – not through lack of skills, but simply because of my age. I remember indelible moments when, living in a small village, and having worked as a labourer for £13 a week in an attempt to keep financially afloat, and seen my wife groped by my employer, I quite my job and became unemployed again. Then, in an attempt to create my own employment I telephoned various venues to organise an event, but without success. Closed doors everywhere. My hopelessness and pain were so awful my whole body was trembling and wracked by the experience of apparent meaninglessness and powerlessness. Personal survival has been a struggle, and I know about meeting change. 

I remember a sunny day when I lay for hours in Port Meadow, Oxford, trying to find the roots of my desperate situation and depression of that time. As I looked deeply at who I was and what I felt, the gloom of my situation gradually got worse. I was estranged from a wonderful wife by my own doing. I had started a small business that was going nowhere and my finances were dwindling. I had in the past been very creative and yet at the moment it seemed all of that wonderful spring had dried up. It felt as if the person I had been had died, and in his place was a feeling of emptiness and disillusion. I often went to bed hoping I wouldn’t wake in the morning. After all, what was there to look forward to? The feelings were of being old, unattractive, with my body aching and awkward. The feeling of being old and decaying was very powerful. This was a part of and linked with the feeling that I wasn’t producing anything the world wanted. So I felt out of the mainstream and ambling along in avenues of disuse and decline. The feeling of not being able to achieve anything, of having nothing in me anymore that could attract acclaim, and of living among people who were themselves non-achievers, was very profound.

As the time went on I saw that I identified with people whose life had been torn apart because my own life had the same sort of background. So I couldn’t lie to myself and say that I was a high achiever or that I was different from them. The sense of being lost, of hopelessness and of not going anywhere got so strong that I could see no way out of it. It was like a real environment surrounding me. It felt like a true awareness of what was happening in my life, rather than a FEELING of what was happening. It was so real that I started to feel that maybe ‘this is it’. Maybe this is real and therefore I have to adjust to it, to accept it as the reality of old age and my life – I was 59 at the time. This must be what old age is about, I thought, and therefore it is escapism not to meet it and accept it. No wonder I wanted to die. I began to think that in the end, as one ages, one has to take second best. If it was real, and I was feeling it was, then there was no creative way out of the situation. I had missed the boat in career, in my teenage years by killing my sexuality, in my adult life because I had spent years trying to climb out of the pit of depression and psychological distress.

At that point it seemed obvious to me why I had been trying to find some easy place to live in and get old and die. No wonder I had no zest for life, no motivation. What is there to motivate toward if the world doesn’t respond to ones efforts? What is the point if there is no real contact with others, no love, no money, no opportunity to be a part of creative action in the world?

So the whole feeling at that point was there was no way through, that my life was now in backwaters, or even stagnant waters of which there was no way out. If there was any real lesson to be learned it was that I needed to accept this, not to fight it and feel distressed by it as I had been. If this is a new phase of my life, struggling against it only led to pain and conflict.

As I experienced all this I was wondering how to come to terms with being a second-class sort of person in a second-class life situation. I started thinking about all the potential and mental possibilities I had touched in the past. How could it be that I had come through so many things, transcended myself in so many ways, and yet at the moment I was locked in apparent decay and decline? Had all the past been an illusion? Had I declined so much that all the power and wonder of my previous growth was now lost to me?

I knew I had been capable of creative resolution of any problem, of any life situation in the past. Having worked as a therapist with so many people, and seen them move beyond apparently irresolvable problems, it seemed crazy to be so stuck. I knew from past experience everyone has an incredible potential to meet problems creatively, to grow and transform if they are daring enough to feel, to explore, to sense, to be capable of change and adaptation. So why had I been in this situation for years now? Why was I stuck in this place?

The question was like a bomb that exploded in me. It began to fracture the apparently real environment of gloom and death I was encased in. Having asked the question I could see I had got into a negative feedback loop. Because I had got stuck in this place I feared I was a failure, which produced the certainty I didn’t have the resources to change, which produced the feelings of despair, that set going the certainty it was real and the inability to move out.

I realised I was feeding back to myself images of failure and feelings of unattractiveness, and all the other negative feelings I met during the week. Instead of looking at them and seeing them as passing feelings, I had taken them as impressions of reality and was drowning in them. I had accepted them as true and started to live that truth. When that happened the events of my life confirmed the negatives and so it went on.

So I tried to find the way out of the loop. The only possible way I could find was the realisation that the loop has no end. There is only one thing to do, stop it playing. I needed in some way to grab it and stop the crazy recording. To help with this, to help grab the thing and kill it, I obviously needed to have realised it was untrue. If I still believed the loop to be playing a truth, then it would only strengthen the action.

I had realised years before that thoughts and emotions, as real as they seem, and whether positive or crushing, are only passing impressions. They shift all the time, and so are not the fundamental me. No feeling, or sense of myself, was anything more than a sense, a feeling, it was not me. So how could this feeling represent some sort of permanent personal reality?

Having seen that I asked myself what was now keeping me in the state of deadness. It was difficult and painful to see what the answer was. I had been party to creating an awful emotional and sexual distance between myself and my wife. It was hard to accept the part I had played in it, and that having created it I was looking for another partner. However, the hook, the paralysing force, wasn’t that. I had turned myself into a pillar of salt because I was denying two things. Firstly that my marriage was finished. In one way or another I had helped destroy it. Secondly that I desired another partner, but denied this to make out to myself that I was still married in a great relationship. The result – DEADLOCK.

The changes I faced at that time were loss of employment, apparent loss of creativity that over most of my life had led me to produce saleable ideas, loss of a great relationship, homelessness, loss of contacts that had been doorways to employment, and ageing. It was quite a load to face all at once, but I came through to an even better life than had existed previously.

What I learned in those years is that everyone has an inner genius that can meet any circumstance life throws at it. Although this is true, our personal genius is usually locked up and made ineffective by early education, social programming and personal fears or attitudes. This is so important it needs to be spelled out.

My experiences described above dramatically illustrate the situation, so let us look at it step by step.

1 – There are lots of ways we can react to a problem. We can run away, hide, make out it doesn’t exist by denial, try to get help from someone else, identify with it, fighting the situation, change position, find a different attitude, experiment with it to see what works, pray for guidance, get drunk or drugged, and so on.

My difficulty was both external – homeless, ageing body, and out of work – and internal – hopelessness, sense of being past my prime, etc. My early response was denial and identifying with it. I denied my marriage had ended, and that I was looking for another partner. By denying these things I had stopped myself moving on and being in a relationship with someone else. Within a week of really facing that denial I had moved on into another relationship. So the first step is to really look at where you are and who you are at this moment as honestly as you are capable of. Blaming other people or oneself doesn’t help. It needs you to examine the situation to arrive at understanding, not blame. My years of working as a therapist had developed skills of self examination, so this part may need the help of someone else who can help you cut through all the emotional crap and smokescreens we sometimes get lost in.

But the main point here is that I dared to directly look at and explore my situation. It is of no value at all to run away from difficult feelings or past pains, they simply run after you. You cannot escape from yourself.

2 – By identification with the situation I mean that I was sure what I was feeling was really true, was the real me. When I felt a failure I really believed I was. When I felt my body aching and depleted I believed I was an ageing and defeated old man. I am many years older than 59 now and my body is still fine and flexible, and I am relating to a woman 27 years younger than I.

Understanding what you identify with and what you believe yourself to be is one of the great secrets underlying how to meet challenges and change. Helen Keller, blind and deaf, didn’t identify with her physical handicaps but with who and what she could be within herself, and therefore creatively express in her life. (12) It is imperative in meeting change to identify with what is lasting and can survive change. Your body, thoughts and emotions are constantly changing, but the naked awareness that experiences all of that change never alters. Like a mirror it reflects ever shifting experiences, but itself does not change. This is the pearl of great price. Find it!

A lot of failure to meet change and challenge is based on the belief that we do not have the resources, personal ability, or power to deal with what we face or want in our life. I have met so many people who believe, for one reason or another that they are limited in their ability – maybe they got poor marks or were criticised at school – and so they live within that negative feedback loop as I called it. They believe it so they live it, and then their life apparently proves it is true.

3 – When these people know about the many different things I have done in my life they think I am a special person, born with those talents. But that is another excuse for them to fail. I am actually the son of a shop assistant and factory worker, and was thrown out of school early having failed at most lessons. At twenty one I still didn’t know the alphabet and couldn’t write a proper page of text. However, even from childhood I believed my personality was a tiny part of what I knew about myself. I believed that there is a bigger self that gives me life and has infinite potential. So when I wanted to do something I just got on and did it. Like a bird that has never flown before but jumps out of the nest, I spread my wings believing that whatever it is that enables this nestling to fly will come to my aid if I actually call on it.

Whether that is actually true doesn’t matter. Such philosophical arguments are pointless. What matters is that if we believe it we gain extra power; we call on latent resources we would otherwise never access. How many times have you heard about a person, in an emergency situation, doing the most amazing things? If you wonder why, it is because they called on their enormous reserves without the silly question of whether they could do it or not. So the fundamental strength here was to recognise that there was a creative core that could find a way through the life problem I faced.

4 – We are not alone in the world. You and I are not alive out of our own cleverness or power. Something you are barely aware of keeps your life ticking over, your food digested, your temperature steady, and it did all that from conception onwards completely without your conscious help. Of course, you can interfere with it by overeating, poisoning your system with alcohol and junk food, and abusing your need for rest and love. But even then it tries to keep going.

So you are not alone in your attempts to survive. That incredible wisdom that is millions of years old with experience of life on this earth, and has met just about every calamity world changes, meteor strikes, ice ages, droughts, floods, changing continents and disease can throw at it, is within you at this moment. Also you are part of a web of life. It is a living responsive system. It is not a mechanical and mindless machine as used to be thought. Everything you think feel and do in some way touches everything that is. Some years back, wondering if that were some cosy thought and belief I had I challenged ‘life’ to give me some proof of my connection with everything. Within a minute the doorbell rang and the man at the door spent hours with me excitedly talking about the mystery of life we are surrounded by. The point being made is that when you reach out for change or a goal, ‘life’ in the form of its many millions of living creatures, responds in some way. As soon as I shifted from my stuck beliefs and feelings things changed, opportunities began to appear, my connections with others widened.

Recognising you have a creative core that is bigger, older and wiser than your conscious personality; shifting your identification from the ever changing world of your thoughts and emotions to the naked awareness that you fundamentally are; daring to look at yourself and your situation honestly and with the courage to feel uncomfortable memories and feelings; remembering you are never alone or disconnected, no matter what your situation; allowing love to express and be accepted in whatever degree you can tolerate – these are the great secrets of facing the challenges your present and your future bring.

Recently I asked people to share with me how they met difficult life situations and survived. A woman, B.B. told me the following.

After thinking about your question and my life – to start with my troubles began when I heard that my husband had left me and was marrying a Thai woman and having a child. All that without telling our children. Then two of our kids attempted suicide, myself being with my daughter as she went through the next 24 hrs, not knowing if she would live or die. My son in Australia sealed himself in his flat, put the gas on and was lighting cigarettes. Then I met a brother I never knew existed. All that on top of adjusting to leaving a long marriage and being back in UK after 16 yrs in Australia was a huge overload emotionally.

How did I cope? Well, I had had the good fortune in my early adult years to meet a man who gave me time during a difficult period of my life; who taught me about framing what was happening, like taking a pause, holding the story of what was going on. He showed me how to check out my thoughts and feelings, to give me a sense of control and power; to take notice of my dreams and how to understand them; to listen to my body and listen to life, noticing what they were communicating with me. He helped me understand what we are and how connected we all are, and that staying in touch with myself, rather than running away with drink or drugs, that a lot of people in emotional pain do, myself included before we met. Lots of love B.

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