I was sitting on my futon writing when suddenly I heard a creaking in the walls. Assuming it was the usual bus driving down the street, I thought nothing of it. Seconds later, my two kitties came flying erratically into the living room and suddenly the entire room began to shake. We were having an earthquake. My legs involuntarily turned to jello.
I live in San Francisco, so I am no stranger to earthquakes. But despite that, they still give you a shock when they come, always so unexpectedly. Several hours later, having wound down from the adrenalin of the small quake, I was laying in the acupuncture chair, full of needles and definitely ready for the relaxation of my weekly acupuncture treatment. Suddenly the acupuncture clinic began to shake somewhat violently. I threw my upper body into the air and yelled out an expletive! We were having yet another earthquake! Twice in one day.
Those two earthquakes were several months ago now, but I was reminded of them early this morning at 5:30 am when I was jolted awake by yet another earthquake. Fortunately none of these quakes were serious ones, but each one of them has gotten me thinking… thinking about change. It has me thinking about how change can come at any moment, when you least expect it, and often when you are not remotely prepared for it. I am certain that we have all learned this lesson in our lives, often the hard way.
It seems to me there are three types of change: 1. the type of change we consciously make and for which we are excited, 2. the changes that we do make of our own volition, but yet which are still very difficult and sometimes heart-wrenching, and then there is the third type of change: the type of change that catches you completely off-guard, takes you completely by surprise, knocks you over and has the ability to shatter you, just like an earthquake. I have learned through my own experiences that we can learn to approach all of these types of changes in the same fashion: with openness, vulnerability and a willingness to accept whatever may come our way…and not only to accept it, but to embrace it. But I did not come to this place easily.
I’ll never forget the very first major change of my “adult” life. I was 18 years old, just barely an adult, and due to a broken heart and complex emotions in which I was stagnating in my home town, I made the decision (at the encouragement of my mother) to drive the two hours north to spend the summer living at my grandparents’ adorable little beach cottage in the resort town of York Beach, Maine. I had spent all of my childhood traveling there in the summers with my family. It was, in fact, my favorite place on earth, so moving there should have been an exciting change. And in part, it was.
But after packing up the car and making my way part-way up the highway for what felt like a journey to another dimension, I suddenly found myself gripped with panic. I had never lived anywhere except my small, quaint colonial town of Wrentham, Massachusetts. I had never known any friends but those friends with whom I had gone to school for the previous twelve years. Suddenly the thought of moving to a new place, where I didn’t know a soul (other than my family), was terrifying.
I pulled over to a gas station, pumped the pay phone full of coins and called my best friend back home. I was in tears, I was gripped with fear. The tremor of change had taken me over. This friend, who had been my closest friend all throughout my high school years, was wise beyond her years at 18. She somehow knew I needed to overcome this fear and confront this change. She told me to forge on. My eyes brimming with tears, I got back in the car and continued on, steeped in my own trepidation.
Well, I am so glad that friend encouraged me to continue forth because that change turned out to be one of the most important ones I have ever made. It was that step that allowed me to see that there was life beyond the 20 mile radius that I had known all of my life. That move opened up a whole new world to me that I never could have imagined; a new job, new friends, and most importantly…a new perspective. But even more importantly, it was this move, this first spreading of my wings that would pave for the way for me to dive head first into many more significant and life-altering changes to come. It was largely this change that allowed me to put myself on a plane, by myself, to go live in Spain for a year; to subsequently move to several new cities and then furthermore to move across the country and begin a whole new life. It all started with that two-hour drive to York Beach, Maine.
But it seemed that those intentional changes, despite having to overcome fear, did little to prepare me for the unexpected, undesirable and involuntary changes that were to come my way down the road. When the first true love of my life left me in my mid-20’s, I felt like there had been a massive earthquake and the whole earth had fallen out from under my feet. It seemed that there would be no possible way to put the pieces back together again. My world had crumbled.
I did everything in my human ability to try to adapt to that change, but despite my best efforts, it was a change to which I simply could not adjust. Without realizing it, I was fighting tooth and nail to resist that change, and I suffered greatly for it. Life was trying to pull me with the current, but I refused to go. I couldn’t go. I didn’t know how, where or why. It wasn’t until an even more devastating broken heart, six years later, that I would begin to realize that there was only one way to deal with an unwanted, gut-wrenching change. If that first heartbreak had seen the earth fall out from under me, this one had done both that and had overcome me like a giant tsunami and I was drowning in my own sorrow, in utter despair. As I struggled to breathe under the weight of the crushing waves, I reached a point of complete desperation, a point where I knew I only had one option: I had to surrender.
Since reaching that point of surrender in recent years, I have begun to perfect the art of surrendering, going with the flow and trusting in the Universal forces. I have learned that though we cannot see them at the time, there are reasons why all of these changes, however painful and unexpected, come into our lives: they come to teach us powerful lessons; they come to take us with the current and deliver us to new found places we never could have before imagined; they come to transform us into the people that we are meant to be. Those changes, however unsought and however devastating, have allowed me to live through a transformation, a more powerful alchemy than I ever could have imagined. They have allowed me to blossom into a person I never could have known, living a life of emotional and spiritual richness of which I never would have dared dream. Those changes, however unwanted, were in the end…gifts.
And one of the most powerful lessons I have learned from walking through the fire of my own changes, is how to truly open myself up and surrender to any changes that may come in my future: whatever they may be; however painful, however unimaginable and earth-shattering. As I think about this morning’s earthquake, those that have already gone by and those that will come, I have realized that earthquakes provide us with a powerful lesson for life: