Softening Into Change
I wrote this poem in November of 2003, in Syracuse NY, where I was teaching at a national conference. It was a time in my life when I didn't feel very at home anywhere. My first marriage had ended traumatically three years earlier, I'd left my job as a nonprofit executive director, and I discovered that the health problems I'd thought would go away once I could rest were instead continuing to evolve in a multi-layered complexity that baffled me and many health care practitioners.
The people, places, and roles that had created a sense of place for me were all gone.
The night I wrote the poem, I'd been in the basement of the convention center all day, surrounded by noise, people, and fluorescent lights. There were no windows. I had no idea it was snowing until I emerged at dusk to walk back to my hotel. The section of town I was in was ugly — full of concrete and cars. But the snow, falling in big, fat flakes, transformed it, softening the edges, gracefully outlining the bare, spindly trees and the dead flowers in pots, and brightening the air itself. And it did the same for me, opening my heart to grace and brightness, softness and transformation.
I was still grieving, shell-shocked, lonely, and very unsure what my new life was going to look like, but I was starting to feel my way into the possibilities, beginning to find small ways to be joyful again, beginning to suspect that I could, maybe, create a life I would feel at home in.
Now, every time it snows, I am pulled back into that experience. Just a few minutes of watching the snow come down invites my heart to open again to that softness, and to the possibility that transformation can simply come, as a gift.
But wait, aren't we supposed to have to work hard to change?
For those of us with strong internal “doers,” and strong perfectionist tendencies, the message that change can be about softening, rather than doing hard work to “make it happen,” can seem alien — wrong even. I know. I believe in hard work, I mostly trust it to be useful, to make good stuff happen in the world. And often it does.
But over and over again, I find I need to relearn the lesson that I, myself, am what is most in the way when I want to change.
When I try to create internal change by using my habitual approach to doing something that feels “hard” — identifying that something is wrong/needs to be fixed or accomplished, making a plan, and then “girding my loins” and diving into the hard work of implementing the plan — I hit my own resistance.
And progress grinds to a halt (or at least feels like I’m trying to push pudding uphill).
I'm a powerful opponent.
I know all my own weak spots, all the ways to push my own buttons. It's exhausting to try to fight my way through all my own fear and resistance to change.
But, as children of the universe, change is actually our natural state. It's not hard to create change; it's hard to keep things the same.
It's just that we are afraid of change, and so we've gotten good at resisting it; we've built up powerful muscles to help us avoid “losing” what “we've got” — what's familiar and therefore feels predictable and “safe.”
Softening Into Change
In this time where we in the northern hemisphere are moving towards the darkest time of the year, as leaves are falling and decaying, and maybe snow is falling, I invite you to experiment with softening into change.
❄️ What happens if, instead of seeing the changes you want to make as hard work, you see them as a path you can create by walking it, slowly, gently, one step at a time.
❄️ What if, instead of pushing (forward or back) when things feel hard, you instead invite yourself to be soft, to feel what you are feeling without needing to act immediately?
❄️ What if you invited yourself to pause the striving for a few weeks, in this time when nature is quiet and fallow, and just see what emerges?