Creatures of Comfort
“I don’t like change,” a friend said to me this week. I laughed. Who does? No one. Anyone who tells you they do is lying. That’s a dramatic statement and I could be wrong but hear me out.
Firstly, I’ve never heard anyone say, “Oh, I LOVE change!” Never. But if someone was to say that, I’m pretty sure they’d mean they love certain change. Like the change of seasons. Or new technology, or the thrill of moving into a new home. But a change in their relationships or a change in their health or a change in their financial situation—unless these changes are good—no, no one likes that kind of change.
Saying you like change is like saying, “I love food” when what you really mean is you like to eat. You like certain foods. Or you like the idea of food because, after all, without it, you would die.
Secondly, the only time you hear people say that change is good is when they’re trying to help us get through our discomfort and disappointment. And this is valid because the undeniable truth is that change happens. All the time. In fact, the only thing constant is change.
Humans are creatures of comfort. Humans hate change.
George Carlin has a funny bit about this. On the surface, it’s about material things. How we like our things and are always buying more things. But look a little deeper and it’s about change. We don’t let go of stuff because we don’t like change. Even on vacations, we bring familiar things with us because these things help us feel comfortable in the midst of change – change of scenery, change of bed, change of climate, change of foods, change of people… Even if we like visiting new places and meeting new people, we remain creatures of comfort. We carry familiar things with us to minimize our discomfort.
Change challenges every illusion we have about being in control. The very nature of change is uncertainty. A period when everything we know is in question. Change is a momentary freefall.
But, my friend said, some folks are better at it than others. Maybe, but that doesn’t mean they like it. “But you’ve done it so many times!” he insists. Ah yes, people always assume this. Experience presumably should increase skill. But it doesn’t necessarily increase affinity.
I have moved many times. I am a master mover. Every box is labeled and recorded into an Excel spreadsheet. I know exactly where to find almost anything once I arrive at my new destination. This only means that I’m organized and I’m a planner. This does not mean that I like moving. Not at all.
In fact, having moved so many times is an argument for why I never want to do it again. I want to stay still, to be grounded in place, comfortable, and content. I want to wake up and say this is enough, this is good, and believe this is the last place I’ll live. I want to feel that I love this place above all others.
I have felt this. Repeatedly. And, much to my dismay, there has always come a time when departure was imminent. When change was already happening. The clues were in my dreams or in everyday things but I reasoned them away. I rolled with it, I adjusted. Which is what change requires of us. A daily adjustment. So when big changes happen, we are often surprised. We say we didn’t see it coming. We were adapting in a million mini ways, hoping to keep the big change at bay. But deep in our gut or in the recesses of our psyche, we knew.
I suppose it’s a bit like riding a skateboard. Innumerable adjustments are continuously made in microseconds to stay upright. And if you’re a seasoned skateboarder, you maneuver turns and jumps pretty easily. And then the crash happens.
Change can feel like that. Real change always feels like that at some point. Leaving home—whatever home may be to you (a place, a person, a job, even how you know yourself to be)—will always be painful. A momentary darkness. A crash. A freefall. The complete unknown. There’s no way around it. And no way through it but through.
The key, I think, is accepting the discomfort. Resign yourself to it. This is just how it’s going to be for a while so stop resisting, stop struggling, stop trying to make it better. Let go. Lean into the pain, if you can. At the very least, float. Be a leaf on a stream instead of a salmon trying to spawn. Let go of the idea of control.
Change can be terrifying, which is exactly how I’ve felt over the last few months. I’m not ready to tell you yet what change is triggering this, only that it is the first time in my life –in my entire fifty-some years – that I’ve felt this way. Absolutely terrified. In all the location moves I’ve made, all the career changes, the heartbreaks, and life shifts, I’ve felt extreme discomfort, pain, and even depression, but I’ve never been terrified. A friend reminds me that terror is the same sensation in the body as excitement. She may be right, but the feeling doesn’t go away. Only when I accepted that the change was already happening, the train had left the station so to speak, have I been able to let go or lean in, I’m not sure which. But the terror has largely dissipated. There are still moments of panic. The change is still happening and various emotions will inevitably return, but for the moment, I’m good.
This reminds me of an auto accident a few years back. Driving in wet snow on the highway, with a car trying to pass me going way too fast for the conditions. I eased off the gas to change lanes, only, I was in a rut of snow and when I attempted to move over, I lost control of the car. Careening across four lanes and spinning, time slowed down. Did I have my seatbelt on? Yes. And as soon as I realized that, I also realized there was nothing more I could do but give in to the inevitable, whatever that was to be. As a former massage therapist, I knew that relaxing was the only thing I could do that might minimize potential harm. So I let go of control – while still keeping my hands loosely on the wheel – and waited for the car to come to a stop, which it did, in a ditch lodged between the hillside and a pole. And wouldn’t you know it – I was okay. My car was nearly totaled but I didn’t even have whiplash. I simply opened the door and walked away.
Maybe I was lucky. But I was also experienced. Not that I’ve ever had that happen before, but I did know from twenty-plus years of bodywork that if I stayed tense trying to brace myself, I’d be pretty banged up. Knowing what to do actually helped me. But that doesn’t mean I enjoyed it.
The same is true for major life moves and the changes you don’t want or you’re not sure about and are happening regardless. It helps to know not to resist. And yes, it does progressively get a bit easier to accept the discomfort, the pain, the loss, and the heartbreak. But that doesn’t mean you’ll like it. You don’t have to. Just grab some token comfort from your huge variety of stuff and settle in. Ride it out. Let go. Float.
This too shall pass. Take comfort in that.