Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’
– Bob Dylan
The times, they are changing. For me, for my friends, for my family. For everyone. Classmates are graduating and starting their careers. My cousin and his wife just packed up their lives and moved to California for a new job opportunity. Me? I quit my job, moved across the state to live with three college girls I don’t even know, am in the process of a heart-wrenching change in my personal life and am starting an internship at a huge power plant where I don’t know anyone.
Change is hard. Really, really hard. I see freinds’ Facebook posts about apartment hunting, buying furniture, driving across the country, starting a job, buying a house. These are celebratory posts. Everyone “likes” them. All smiles and congratulations. And they are wonderful things. But they’re also scary and sad and hard. Change brings excitement and opportunity and new experiences. Nothing can happen in our lives if nothing changes. But change also means loss. Loss of routine, loss of familiarity, loss of proximity to people we’ve come to love and rely on.
This huge change I’m making in my life has been bumping along quietly for four years. I was still doing the same job I’d always been doing. I was only taking a couple classes at a time. Nothing seemed all that different. All the change that was happening was kind of hiding from me like a jack-in-the-box, winding up, playing soft music. Until last month, then, POP! Surprise! You’re not a graphic designer anymore! You’re living with strangers! You’re working in a power plant! You’re graduating in a year and your life will change completely and you have no idea what is going to happen! And the confetti is still settling around me.
My first night in my new town, in my summer apartment: crippling loneliness, anxiety, sadness. Strange noises, people talking and walking upstairs. I missed my bed. I missed my apartment. I missed my friends. I barely slept that night. But I got up, went to my first day of training and I survived. That night I went to see my friend Sarah who lives in a nearby city, someone who knows me, understands me. And it was wonderful. The next day I got up, went to training and survived. I checked out the gym at the university near my apartment. It was really nice. I took pictures of it and sent them to my dad, who had encouraged me to go. I had a good workout. It felt familiar. I felt like me.
Over the past week I got to know my fellow trainees. All nice people, all dealing with similar changes. Yesterday was my last day of training. We were using training computers so I logged into my company email for the first time and found several welcome emails from future co-workers and supervisors. I even had one from a classmate who graduated last year and works for my company. I’m not feeling so alone anymore.
In the midst of massive change, it can be really hard to remember, to believe, that over time things stop feeling so new. That things start to feel comfortable. We’re amazingly adaptable creatures. Yet despite struggling through change and coming through on the other side over and over again, it never seems to get any easier.
I took up meditation a couple of months ago to help work through stress and difficult emotions. It’s deceptively simple. Sit, close your eyes, focus on your breathing, recognize thoughts as they come, let them go, bring your attention back to your breathing. That’s the whole thing. The idea is to learn to live in the present moment and free yourself from your thoughts because thoughts are not reality. They’re fabrications our minds create about the past and the future. It’s not easy. Meditation helps you realize how much of your life you spend living in the future and in the past. Meditation teaches you to cling less tightly. To thoughts, to places, to relationships. Life isn’t just a series of large changes – it’s continuous change. Life is impermanent. How quickly can we adapt? How loosely can we hold the things that we think define us?
I’m a clinger. I think too much. I crave routine. I get comfortable with the cycles of my life and I want to hold them close. Living in the moment is really hard for me. I think it’s hard for most of us. But the more we change, the more we learn how adaptable we are. That first night in my apartment I decided with certainty that I could not, would not, move far away after graduation. Too lonely. Too scary. Would not survive.
It’s only been a week and I know now that I would survive. It would be hard at first. I’d be sad and I’d feel alone. But I’d be okay. I’d meet people. I’d find my routines. I’d find happiness in unexpected places. Do I want to move far away? Probably not. But I know now that I could. And if I did I would know that I’ve got tons of friends and family who care about me despite the distance. I’d know that it’s okay to get choked up on the phone with your mom on your first night in your new place. Even if you’re 32. She won’t mind.