Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them-that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like. --- Lao Tzu
Life happens, and what happens is something called change. Some changes are the result of biology and the passage of time, within the natural cycle or order of things. Others are self-generated, under our own control and willful effort, or dependent upon encounters with significant others-family, friends, colleagues, and intimates. Still other changes occur as a result of circumstance or fate, a proverbial "date with destiny."
Our experiences are externally or internally focused; they either follow a linear pattern, regulated by chronological time, space, and the social structure, or transcend ordinary time and emerge from the depths of our psyches and our own internal strivings. They may be subtle and gradual, easy and welcomed, or difficult and demanding. We may meet change with acceptance and grace, or with protest and resistance.
The personal significance of each change occurs when we decide to make change. This means we move from the passive state of just watching how things unfold to taking some action that enables us to utilize the change to create an outcome of our own choice. Shifting our focus from what happens (the events themselves) to what we do with what happens is another way to describe transition. Ultimately, the way we make change is our personal choice and responsibility.
The danger of going through change without allowing ourselves to truly experience it is that transition through change may not actually occur. If we are too uncomfortable to stay the course through transition, too anxious to fix the problem, we may lose the message and its accompanying transformative effect. Change without transition may only serve to recreate old scenarios and reinforce old patterns of behavior. For change to have a salutary effect on us, we need to learn to effectively work with it and not to run the other way when it presents itself.
Everything changes all the time, so the ancient philosophers and mystics tell us. The I Ching, the Book of Changes, is a classic Chinese text that has served as a tool for decision-making and for predicting the future for well over five thousand years. Although everything is transient, continuously changing, the concept of change and its evolving process adhere to basic natural laws, which by their cyclic and repetitive properties make change essentially unchanging.
The I Ching is comprised of a system of symbols whose purpose is to help us find order within the random occurrences of life. Basically, every situation in life cycles through six mutable, yet predictable stages that are mirrored within each symbol of the I Ching: coming into being, beginning, expanding, moving toward the highest potential, achieving peak potential, and descending toward the opposite. The ancients recognized that all life follows the rhythm of the universe. It's the wise person who internalizes this rhythm, harmonizes with the "surrounding All," and conforms what he does to the flow of life, the Tao.
While change may interrupt the usual flow of our daily lives and disrupt our normal functioning, it also affords us the opportunity, and the challenge, to examine our lives and to alter its course, if we so choose. Or to stay the course, making better choices and decisions in the life we're already living.
Turning too quickly away from what change has to offer may deprive us of gaining valuable insights, or being gifted by a powerful lesson. The key here is to understand that change is the rule, not the exception. When we have accepted and mastered that concept, it's far easier to adjust our lives accordingly to it with the knowledge and trust that we are being carried in its flow.
Putting change aside for a moment, let's turn to the other essential piece of the equation---the complexity of individual personality development. Healthy personality development is determined by the complementary interplay of three organizational systems: the body (soma), the psychic (psyche), and the communal or social (ethos).
Theories of personality development abound, but it's the pivotal theory of psychoanalyst Erik Erickson that may help us better understand change within the context of the entire life cycle. His theory helps illuminate and clarify how an individual meets and processes intrinsic change and, by inference, may contribute to an understanding about whether or not an individual is able to rise to the task of making change for him-/her self in the world.
This is a summary of the eight psychosocial stages, and the crises and ego qualities that accompany each stage of the life cycle. Each of these crises represents a period of heightened potential and a turning point in the life. Ideally, mastery of each stage and its associated crisis produces ego strength, or ego quality.
For Erickson, conflict and crisis are positive and necessary; they are "sources of growth, strength, and commitment." But even if an individual fails to complete a given task, carrying it unfinished into future stages, each subsequent stage provides added resources and opportunities to resolve old conflicts and crises.
Beyond theory, however, there are many practical factors that influence if and how we engage change.
Since even the idea of change for many of us is often overwhelming and anxiety provoking, and for some of us, something to be avoided at all cost, hopefully this overview has set your mind at ease about the prospect of change and the actual process of moving through it.