Change is a concept or a word I use a lot but today I had a different emotional experience when thinking about change.
I was examining my own ways of thinking about society and human beings. I was noticing some of the generalisations I make, the assumptions I make and the biases and prejudices I have. And how some of my thoughts and subconscious processes are very much driven by fear and a need for self-preservation and control.
Fear of being attacked, fear of being humiliated, fear of humiliating myself, fear of being dismissed or excluded. Fear of getting things wrong and being judged, of other people talking about me and having stories about me that I could not recognised myself in. Something about being seen as silly or stupid or annoying. And not having control over the way other people think and talk about me.
It is an interesting fear and I imagine that I am not alone in this. I imagine that most people spend energy creating and preserving a certain image of themselves that they present to the world. A persona that they try to project when they are around other people in order to control how other people think of them.
The persona I tend to prefer to share with the outside world is a persona that has characteristics such as being calm, consistent, reliable, intelligent and self-aware.
I used to hear this persona as a voice which I named Elizabeth. It would guide me through every day, telling me how to behave ‘normally’ – basically keeping me informed about what was socially acceptable behaviour based on my environment. It could be simple personal things like not sleeping in, being late, what to wear, keep up with personal hygiene but also things related to social interactions like how to move, how to talk and how to avoid conflict. The whole point of this persona and voice was to keep me safe. To preserve me from any attack from the outside world.
This way of navigating life was necessary for many years because my experience of myself was one of extreme chaos and unbearably fragility. I felt raw – without skin or filters, without ways of defending myself should I be attacked, without strength to stand my ground, without ground beneath me. Everything within me and around me constantly shifting, changing, crumbling and rearranging itself. I am trying to think of an analogy but can’t really come up with something that really captures the level of uncertainty and chaos I experienced.
And the constant emotional and physical overwhelm and pain.
And through all this my main aim was to change myself. To change how I was and what I was so that I could experience myself and the world differently. And when this desire to change became too intense and I felt powerless to create that change or lost hope that change could happen, I would long for death.
Hoping that death would either be the ultimate transformation or oblivion – the absence of everything, even the consciousness to experience this absence.
So today I was thinking about change.
About how much of my time is spent on figuring out how I can affect change… Change in myself, change in the world.
But then I thought ‘Why am I so caught up in changing things? How has change become this mantra?’
And I rembered being in states of mind where I felt okay with being powerless and had a view of life where change happens – change as the only thing that is for certain. Where change was not something I could instigate or manufacture and where I didn’t think I had the right idea about what change was needed.
I have written before about the intensity of the fear I have been experiencing for the past 18 months and how it affects me and how much effort I put into navigating it, making sense of it – and changing it…
I really do not want to feel this level of fear. Dread, trepidation, terror, panic… I really really want to feel differently. I want it to stop.
I hate how it is in my body – how my chest feels tight and my heart feels unsteady and my stomach churns and my neck and shoulders are like rock and my joints sounds like gravel when I move because they have seized up with tension. How I have to relax my hands and feet every 5 minutes because I keep crunching them up. How my jaw keeps closing itself and I am constantly frowning.
I hate how I wake up in the morning and uninvited intense thoughts just pour into my consciousness. I hate my restless mind. I hate how fear affects everything I think of.
And I hate how I have ended up hating myself like I used to 20 years ago. And I hate how I hate the world in a very generalised way and how I judge and blame people – human beings – as a mass of mindlessness. I hate how I am constantly anticipating and preparing for threat. And I hate how it just seems to go on and on and on…
I want it to stop. I want it to change.
And I have been socialised to think in terms of cause and effect. Something is painful or uncomfortable or threatening so there must be a cause, a problem, something or someone to blame. If I can find the cause I can change it or stop it.
So if the problem is me – how can I change me?
If the problem is in the world – how can I change the world?
How can I influence this change?
I am finding that focusing on the need to change -myself or others or systems or things – is causing me a lot of frustration.
Because I loose sight of what I am longing for. I get engrossed in all the things I don’t like. In my ideas of wrongness. What is wrong with me, with people, with my community, with society, with the world.
I start thinking about ways to influence, manipulate and fix things. To assert some kind of power. I become strategic in my thinking and my intentions become about resisting or battling with this wrongness that I am perceiving.
Because I am not really sure what it is I really want to achieve through ‘change’.
Freedom from pain? Freedom from fear?
Where am I hoping to arrive? What kind of place am I hoping to create through changing myself or other people or systems? What does it feel like, look like, taste like? What will I do there?
And for some reason I hear in my head Michael Jacksons voice saying ‘I am a lover not a fighter’ (and I think ‘ oh I shouldn’t be mentioning MJ and definitely not mention him talking about being a lover’ and I start deleting what I wrote and thinking of how to rephrase it. To avoid attack. And I think about how I don’t want anyone else to feel like this when they try and write about their experience… And I rewrite what I first wrote and then wonder if I should disable comments on this post to avoid attack… And I feel sad that once again I get caught up in fears and in my perception of the world as hostile. And suddenly I am back to feeling that either I or the world must change because the current state of things is unbearable…)
And I wonder what would happen if I gave up fighting for change…
If ‘change’ was no longer important, how would I engage with myself and the world?
Elisabeth, I just read this even though I’d saved it in my inbox for awhile. I want to hold you and gently rock your beautiful self/soul/body/heart. Fear is powerful. Pain and grief are our natural. Love is too. I experience love when I’m in your presence or read your blog or watch you move and dance. I, too, land in times when I feel I have no skin. Yes, that was common for long periods in my youth and younger adulthood, and the experience has returned in recent years, especially when I feel powerless and isolated as I have lately. When we feel like we have no skin, our reactions to shelter and protect our vulnerabilities, to move into blame, strategy, and control might have kept us alive at times in the past even as they feel fossilizing now. Our shame ignites. We experience our own and the world’s chaos and our own, and it’s easy to miss the beauty we’ve been given. You repeatedly remind me of what’s possible when we breathe together, allow space for paying attention to what is emerging, to our small parts in a much bigger mosaic of interconnecting being and becoming. I experience you bringing love and compassion to a shared space that expands with your clear courage. Expressing truth allows us all to breathe deeper and risk connection and love. Thank you!
I love reading you. Aroha mai (forgive me) for my lack of acknowledgement over the long period I have rode your back of experience, strength and hope silently. Nga mihi kia koe (much love and respect to you)