Heraclitus (an ancient Greek philosopher) wrote, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”
I love this metaphor.
The moment you step in the water, it has already moved on, constantly flowing, constantly changing.
You may look at the river and see what looks like a single entity, but, of course, its very nature is constant change.
And, as Heraclitus so rightly points out, so is ours.
“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” —Heraclitus
Both we and our lives are constantly changing. Our bodies are changing. Our perspectives and even our personalities are growing and evolving, responding to the flow of our experiences. Our values may change. What we want may change. The circumstances and events of our lives are in a constant flux. Our emotions are ebbing and flowing from one moment to the next.
When we try to hold on to the moment, to prevent things from changing, we often feel out of control, desperate, afraid. Sort of like trying to hold on to water as it flows through our hands.
Of course, there are some aspects of our lives that change more slowly than others, some parts of ourselves that remain relatively consistent over time. (And good thing they do! If we don’t experience ourselves as relatively consistent from day to day, this can lead to some real problems…) Some things may change so slowly that we barely notice. But even so, as small or as slow as some of these changes may be, we are always flowing, always evolving.
Sometimes, when we think about this, it can be frightening. We may fear losing what we have — our relationships, our health, some circumstances that make us happy in the present moment.
And when we’re afraid, it’s only natural to try to hold on even tighter — even when it’s that holding on, that grasping, that makes us feel so out of control.
So what can we do to embrace change, to learn to relax a bit more into the flow our lives?
1. Practice being fully present.
Practicing mindfulness has a whole host of benefits, from lowering stress and anxiety to feeling more connected to those around us to improving our physical health.
At its core, mindfulness is simply the practice of bringing our attention gently and nonjudgmentally to our present moment experience, as it unfolds from one moment to the next. (To learn more about mindfulness, check out this previous blog post.)
The last part is key — as it unfolds from one moment to the next. The present moment, much like the river, is constantly moving. If we get stuck on one moment, we’re no longer in the flow. However, if we let our attention rest lightly on the present moment, we might find that we can float along, appreciating each moment as it comes or, if it is uncomfortable, recognizing that it is temporary. Which leads us to the next point…
2. Remember: this too shall pass.
While change can be uncomfortable, its inevitability can paradoxically also be a source of comfort.
If you’re in the midst of a moment of change and uncertainty, remind yourself that this feeling — like all feelings — is temporary. This doesn’t mean that it’s not acutely uncomfortable, even painful, in this moment. (Please don’t invalidate your feelings!) But you can trust that much as it came, so it will also eventually go. You can ride the wave and have faith that it will come down on the other side.
3. Welcome the unknown.
Ok, so I know this is easier said than done, but there’s a certain freedom that comes in embracing change and welcoming it with open arms.
When you find yourself bracing against change or grasping for certainty, see if you can open your arms, metaphorically, even a little bit. While change can be uncomfortable, it’s also been the source of all the things you’re now wanting to hold on to. Who knows what it will bring next? Maybe something wonderful!
4. Practice gratitude.
Brené Brown, author of Daring Greatly, has a great recommendation for something we can try when we’re faced with the fear of change. Rather than identifying with the fear and getting stuck in it, we can recognize it as a signal that its time to practice gratitude for something in the present.
If you’re afraid of losing a relationship, take the opportunity to recognize how grateful you are for this person in your life. Right now.
If you’re afraid of getting older, take a moment to appreciate your current state of health and wellbeing. It’s here in this moment.
When we’re in the midst of change or feeling sad about something in our lives that is no longer — a relationship, an experience, a state of being — this can also be an opportunity to practice gratitude for the fact that we had this experience in our past and that it has contributed to who we are today. This doesn’t mean that we won’t also feel sad or a sense of loss. That’s completely natural. However, we can also chose to practice gratitude for these experiences, and this appreciation nudges us gently in the direction of getting unstuck from the past and turning once again toward the possibilities of the present and the future. (To read more about practicing gratitude, see this previous blog post.)
5. Be gentle with yourself.
As always, being gentle and compassionate with ourselves is important. Getting frustrated with yourself if you notice yourself resisting change or getting stuck in the past isn’t going to help.
Just notice what’s happening. Recognize the resistance and let it be. (Paradoxical, I know.) Recognize that learning to embrace change is itself a work in progress, and that means accepting where you are in the current flow and remembering that the story isn’t over yet.
p.s. As always, I would love to hear from you — your thoughts, reactions, or questions about this post. However, if you choose to share your thoughts below, please keep in mind that these comments are visible to anyone who visits the blog. Therefore, I would encourage you to use a pseudonym (not use your real name) to protect your own privacy. If you would like to get in touch but would prefer to contact me privately, you can do so here.