We get so much encouragement to apply simple fixes to complex situations, to get over difficult, painful, losses quickly, to “think positive” rather than sit with and learn from our challenging emotions and experiences. It seems to be part of our culture.
No wonder so many of us struggle to handle the changes that life inevitably sends our way!
In spite of having absorbed those less than helpful messages, I’ve learned how to navigate change in effective ways. Instead of getting stuck, or repeating patterns that don’t work, I’ve discovered that living through change can bring healing, growth and resilience.
Changes, Wanted and Unwanted
I’ve had no shortage of opportunities to use what I’ve learned from Carol McLelland Fields’ Seasons of Change model. About seven years ago, I got involved in Seasons of Change training, in a course lead by her colleague Karin Marcus. I applied the model to changes in my own life and used it in coaching with service-centered professionals. Seeing the difference it made for me and others, I continued my training and became a Seasons of Change Master Coach.
The model uses nature’s seasons as a metaphor for understanding and moving through change. It provides the comfort of knowing you are not alone, and a structure that helps you see where you are now and where you are going.
A Happy, Much Wanted Change
The Seasons of Change served as a guide to me when I remarried after over twenty single years of raising two sons and pursuing a career I was passionate about. That was such a happy, and very much wanted change.
Yet, it wasn’t altogether easy. As I gave away the furniture and belongings that wouldn’t fit into our shared home, I wondered if I was also giving away who I’d become in those two-plus decades.Would I somehow disappear?
It helped me to remember what I needed to do. I had to allow myself some time spent reflecting on my inner experience, and what I could learn from it. I reached out for the support I needed as I made this transition. I thought anew about my life and my vision for the future. And I remembered how important it was to celebrate that we’d found each other and now were were creating this new life together. Within this happy change, one that we both chose, all was good. Even so there was the predictable sequence of change to travel through, and there was something to leave behind in order to make room for what was to come.
A Difficult, Unwanted Change
The Seasons of Change has helped me with difficult, unwanted changes as well. One of those was my cancer diagnosis and treatment, which arrived with little warning about two years after our wedding. The suddenness of that change had me struggling to handle the tasks three Seasons, or stages of change, at once: Fall, when you learn that the future is going to be different than the past; Winter, a time for deep reflection and learning while traversing an “I don’t know land” that at times can be harsh and difficult; all while having to go into action, developing a plan, making decisions and taking action, which are the kinds of things you usually do in Spring.
I was shocked, disoriented and frightened. The Seasons of Change served as a touchstone, helping me sit with, soothe and express difficult feelings, reminding me of the tasks to go back and take care of, including the need to gather the support that would help me heal in mind, body and spirit.
What I’ve Learned From the Seasons of Change
- Change is natural and inevitable.
- Whether change is wanted or unwanted, is prompted by internal or external forces, involves gains or losses, there’s a predictable order to it. Each Season, or phase, of change has key tasks, turning points and potential detours to be aware of.
- While simple changes can be handled by acquiring new knowledge or skills, more complex changes require a process of preparation (Fall), reflection (Winter), developing and experimenting with a new plan (Spring), and then savoring the results of that work (Summer), with each phase taking varying amounts of time.
- In Fall we sense that a change is coming, and start preparing for what lies ahead by gathering needed information and support, and by creating a safe space to use as a refuge from coming storms.
- When we are able to accept that change is coming, the process tends to be smoother, shorter and more successful than if we deny that change is happening.
- Winter is a sometimes difficult period of reflection and learning, a time when you might often say, “I don’t know.” Trying to bypass it only sets us up to repeat a pattern that isn’t working. It’s more helpful and productive to surrender to the need for some degree of retreat, spiritual growth and creative insight. You emerge changed in some ways, with new insights and initial new ideas for moving forward. They are seeds ready to be planted, once Spring has fully arrived.
- You can’t rush into or through Spring. You have to wait for the right conditions to plant the seeds of your new vision, and then tend to the emerging shoots and see what they grow into. Some of those seedlings might be as you expected. Others might surprise you.
- Summer is when the living is easy. Your garden flourishes and you can harvest the rewards of your hard work. There’s still work to be done, yet this is the time for savoring successes, allowing yourself time to enjoy and celebrate achievements.
The cycle begins again, when eventually Summer gives way to Fall, bringing hints of another change. Moving through your next cycle of change may be a little easier than before, as you carry with you the wisdom and confidence you’ve gained.
Does The Seasons of Change Help Us Understand How to Handle The Pandemic?
The pandemic is a special category of change, a type that very few of us now living have ever encountered.
(image © Carol McLelland Fields. Used with permission)
The changes came suddenly, as a “freefall” from Summer to Fall. That’s why we’re feeling disorientation, shock and uncertainty. We’ve had to act quickly, getting what information we could, making immediate decisions, taking care of basic necessities and accessing any support that we could. In the midst of all this, lockdowns started, forcing us into Winter. Since then we’ve been in a situation of the greatest uncertainty, with no known path to follow and no way of seeing what the future holds.
The present is destabilized not only by the pandemic and possible second surge, but also by a long overdue reckoning with our nation’s racism and social injustice. We have so many questions and no clear answers.
There are certainly things that must be done, whether that’s social activism, securing unemployment payments, or tending to our work, homes, and families, and we take care of those things. Yet this is a time for more “being” than “doing”.
What Can We Do During This Time of Not-Knowing?
We can compassionately give ourselves time for turning inward, gaining insights about ourselves and about the possibilities for the future. Those insights bring discoveries for new directions, new stories, and renew hope. I think this is what Al Gore is talking about in this recent interview.
Here’s what’s been most helpful to me during this time of great uncertainty.
Allowing myself to be in a place of not-knowing, and letting that not-knowing create the space for new insights and ideas.
Listening to what emotions like fear, anger, grief, or anxiety may have to say. Rather than trying to force them to change, shifting my attention to things that strengthen resilience and coping, like connection, joy, creativity, and hope.
Accepting that like the world around me, my energy and ability to focus change unpredictably.
Creating structure in the midst of uncertainty with daily and weekly routines and rituals. I make time for reading, writing, exercising, and self-Reiki. I’m getting up, having meals and going to sleep at about the same time each day.
Seeing possibilities for a better future. I’m pretty sure we’re in for a period of prolonged turmoil, and that turmoil may be part of the path to a better and more sustainable way of life.
Seeking meaning in the present situation. Part of that is coming to terms with the knowledge that the future has always been unknowable and uncertain. Another part is recognizing that I can use what I am learning now on my own behalf and on others’. A third part is recognizing others’ need for what I can offer, acknowledging my greatest gifts and strongest talents and willingly offering them to the best of my ability.
There are no easy answers or quick fixes in the midst of a complex change journey. This is a time for letting go of those societal messages about “staying positive,” “getting back to normal,” and of pressures to stay busy and be productive as if those were end goals in themselves. By creating a refuge for ourselves, and attending to the importance of “being” — while continuing to do what is necessary and important — we strengthen hope and resilience and find our way forward into Spring.