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Chill Out: Dealing With Change

Posted: 08/24/08 08:52 AM ET

I was born in the Bronx and my wife Deb was born in England. We met in the US, but decided to move to England. I thought it would be a great chance to immerse myself in a different culture, and Deb needed to be closer to her elderly parents. I had lived in India, where I had trained in yoga, so I thought that moving to another country would be easy.

But change is not always so easy. Living in England was a much bigger challenge than I had anticipated and it gave rise to an even bigger shift in my mental state. I felt isolated. Having left my friends in the US, I found it difficult to reach out to make new ones, we all spoke the same words and yet there was this huge gulf in understanding. As they say, England and America are divided by a common language. I had to be with just me and, as much as I had years of meditation and spiritual training behind me, this was a different level of confrontation. I lost the plot and spiraled into depression.

My teacher once said, "The difference between a Yogi and a madman is that the yogi knows he is mad." I could see what was happening, I was witnessing the madness of my own mind, but how to lift out of it? I started by immersing myself in karma yoga, doing simple jobs in the garden, sweeping the floor, any small activities in order to keep my mind engaged instead of getting caught in my internal chatter and endless confusion. I knew that things would change. I knew nothing stays the same so I was patient. I stopped fighting and began to surrender to whatever arose. I became friends with my breath, with the simple in and out process of breathing. Whenever my out-of-control mind was ruling I was a mess, my mind was like a monkey bitten by a scorpion, but by accepting myself just as I was I could relax. Patience became by ally. Making friends with the monkey mind allowed me to go deeper into a calm space within where there was peace. My mantra became, "Being with what is." I meditated more, the silence like a comforting blanket wrapping itself around me. The clouds in my head eventually turned into sunnier days. Little by little I got my life back.

When a shift of this nature occurs it invites to go to a deeper place inside us, a place that may not even want to be happy. This might sound ridiculous for surely, given the option, we all want to be peaceful and at ease with life. But we carry layers of insecurity and self-doubt within us that we do our best to avoid, and so we resist making changes. How often have you said, 'This is the way I am and I can't help it, so it's just too bad!' This is what happened to me. The change I confronted appeared as a threat, rather than an exciting challenge or an opportunity for growth. It made me take a new look at how fixed and immovable I was.

The fear of change happening, or of making changes within ourselves, is the fear of the unknown. Your present life may be stressful, demanding, perhaps lonely, but at least it is familiar, whereas change implies unfamiliar, unknown territory. Who will you be? How will you behave? Will people still like you? Will you have the same friends? Will you be able to cope? I had coped fine in India living at the Ashram, but when I tried to cope in England I fell apart. Yet that falling apart led to finding myself in a whole new way.

Change is a shift in the story line, a letting go of the known, a leap in the dark. It is scary but it is also the very nature of existence--our thoughts, feelings, beliefs, ideas, even our relationships are as changeable as the weather or the seasons. As life never stands still change is inevitable, no matter what we do. Everything comes and goes; nothing is permanent. Without change in ourselves we become stifled and stagnant. Being with what is as it is, and integrating the reality of change is wonderfully liberating, like clearing away layers of dust and cobwebs to reveal a pristine beauty.