A Sense of Change

It is spring in New York – I know this because three days ago it was sunny and so warm that everyone was walking around in short sleeves and Central Park was packed. Yesterday was filled with cold, wet drizzle. Today is supposed to be warm and sunny again and the trees are blooming but, as of noon, it’s still overcast and cold.  This is the nature of spring: it’s a season of change, of transition, and many people find it stressful and actually get physically sick from the seesaw effect.

Kurt Lewin talks about the phases of change: unfreezing; change; and refreezing again. This assumes that you live most of your life in some kind of frozen state, a state that is your normal, everyday life. Then something happens that causes that state to thaw. Once that thaw occurs, you have the ability to change. And finally, having changed, you refreeze again.

This can happen in your professional life, with a promotion or a job change. It can happen in your personal life, with marriage or the birth of a child. It can be a big change, like those I described above, or a small change, like the rerouting of your train or the burning of the toast you were planning to have for breakfast. It can be expected, like spring, or unexpected, like the freak Easter snow storm that I still remember happening, to my great delight, when we lived in Tucson, Arizona – a place that doesn’t see snow much.

When people complain about the weather, what are they complaining about? Are they mourning the loss of some ideal day, a long summer afternoon with gentle breezes and the smell of hay?  Or are they irritated by the inconvenience it causes them, the extra layers, the soaking from taxis, the disgust of dirty three-day old snow? I like to think that I am pretty even-minded when it comes to weather but I know I feel worn down by the smelly humidity of August and September in New York. And, while I love the crisp cold of December and January, around the third week of February I feel done with winter.

Sometimes the process of change stays unfrozen for an extended period of time, in a period of slush. Slush is generally stressful: it’s too cold for your summer rain boots and too wet for your snow boots; it collects in huge puddles at corners that you have to wade through. Sometimes it freezes overnight and then becomes slick as glass in the morning. Just like late-February weather.

I read a story about a man once who went to a Buddhist monk and told him that he was ready to give himself wholeheartedly to the practice. The monk reminded him that he had a family and told him to come back later, when he was older. The man had underestimated the commitment required to give up certainty, give up the comfort of being frozen, and live in constant state of being unfrozen. It takes a lot of energy to live in slush – certainly too much energy to have any left over for a family – and many of us do not have the strength to live in a state of slush for an extended period of time – we long for the security of refreezing.

The ups and downs of April don’t generally irritate me, though when I get caught without an umbrella or gloves when I want them, or in a heavy jacket that was just right yesterday and too hot today, I do wish the weather reports were just a little more accurate. What does this say about me? That I like change as long as I know to expect so I can prepare for it? Maybe. I suspect even those with more “P” in their Myers-Briggs wish they could predict the rain so they could bring an umbrella.

For 16 years, I passed the same tree every day on my walk to work, and I watched it change with the seasons. In April, it grew expectant with bud and every year I longed for the day when it burst into bloom so I could finally say: Spring is Here. I don’t pass that way any more, I’m on a different path now, and I am looking for new signs of spring.

How are you feeling about change this week?

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