By: Kenny Frazier, LCSW
Once again it’s that time of year of change and transitions. And, if we look at our experiences closely, our lives seem to be filled with hundreds, maybe thousands of transitions—some big and others seemingly inconsequential. From waking up in the morning and beginning our day, to finishing with the work day and going home to the family, to the school year ending and transitioning to summer break, to the change in the seasons, and finally the one that we make when we begin to turn off our minds to go to sleep for the night—we can’t escape the reality of change and of transitions. We are required daily to transition from one task to the next, from one place to another, from one mindset to one sometimes completely different, and from one experience to the one that follows. This can be quite taxing and stressful to our minds, bodies, and hearts if not approached from an appropriate perspective.
How we navigate all these transitions can be the difference between experiencing peace and contentment in our lives or stress, discontent, and suffering.
Fortunately, we don’t have to just settle for the experience that life delivers to the front door of our awareness—there are tools that can assist us in navigating the transitions in our lives more mindfully and skillfully. In the ancient text known as the Tao te Ching, we find some very helpful strategies to assist with this process. In verse 76 we read;
Men are born soft and supple;
dead, they are stiff and hard.
Plants are born tender and pliant;
dead, they are brittle and dry.
Thus, whoever is stiff and inflexible
is a disciple of death.
Whoever is soft and yielding
is a disciple of life.
The hard and stiff will be broken.
The soft and supple will prevail.
(“Tao te Ching,” translated by Stephen Mitchell)
Recently I risked my life and safety to trim a very large tree in the front of my house that had died due to a change in the city’s irrigation system. It had grown accustomed to having lots of water run past it for decades and as such had developed a root system that favored the abundance of water. As these water supplies changed and were no longer available, the tree had no other choice but to suffer, eventually becoming “brittle and dry.” I began to notice this over the course of a few years only after several branches had been thrown from the tree to the driveway below by our Utah windstorms. As I witnessed this I became increasingly concerned because I knew that the more “brittle and dry” the tree became the greater the chance the tree would be “broken” and the greater the risk I would inherit of damage to property or injury to passerby.
In contrast, I’m reminded of sitting on the North Shore beaches of Oahu feeling the warmth of the sun, hearing the sound of the Palms on the trees, and watching the trees bend and flex as they would yield to the afternoon trade winds.
It’s interesting to consider how these two trees approach and navigate their own storms of life and how they are either able to endure sometimes very extreme and violent storms or are broken by the stressors created by the winds of change.
We too have a similar opportunity in our own lives. We are presented with many opportunities to approach and navigate the changes and transitions of our lives, again, some seemingly small and meaningless and others big and life changing. And, our approach as well as our response and resultant experience is based on the development of our own root systems and equally important on our learned perspectives of adaptability and flexibility that contribute to our internal structural constitution.
To be adaptable means to also be flexible.
The wisdom of the Tao te Ching suggests that we begin to become more mindful, more aware, and more able; to flex, to yield, to bend, to be soft, to be supple, to go with the flow, and to roll with the punches. It is in adopting and implementing these qualities and characteristics with the small transitions—the small changes—that we will prevail with the big ones when they come.
Today, notice one transition where you can practice being more supple, more flexible, more yielding and watch how it allows for more peace and contentment as you become a disciple of life.