The same, yet not the same

thesameyetnotthesame

At times, I feel like everything is constantly changing and that there is unlimited potential. At other times, I can’t help noticing the same old patterns, and the daily routine feels like Groundhog Day. Although on the surface things appear to be moving, at the core there seems to be a psychological stagnation and the following question keeps coming to me: why don’t I change?

On the physical and developmental level, it is clear that during the formative years – I did change. From the baby born in the south of France, to the 7 year old boy who walked to school in the streets of Paris, from the 14 year old teen who went to an international school in England to the 21 year old college student who grew a beard and shaved his head – there certainly was a chain of transformations. All along, though, I assumed that I was the same person.

When I became an adult, the process slowed down – my conditioning became more rooted and I noticed that I tended to seek security. I did not really feel the years go by and in my head, I still believed that I was young. My image in the mirror altered, habits formed, and I became mentally less supple. Career changes and parenthood were challenging and made their marks. More responsibilities and busyness kept me from watching and questioning the process. I kept on learning and accumulating, but rarely did I have the energy to unlearn and to let go.

Now in my late forties, I experience a great desire to shake things – not only in myself but also in the world. I want to make a difference. Many people would call this midlife crisis – I prefer to call it midlife renaissance: an opportunity to reinvent myself. I want to learn new skills, I yearn to meet new people and start new projects. But if I am honest, I am quite attached to my conditioned self and I know that changing things on the outside is very limited. So I have a renewed interest in self-knowledge and challenging my conditioning.

Our cells get continuously replaced, our neurones make new connections and we learn new things all the time, in nature everything is in constant flux, materially speaking our world is ever changing and innovations are transforming our lives at an unprecedented rate. Yet psychologically, it would seem that humans have not really evolved. So why don’t we change? What stops us?

It is probably beyond the scope of this blog post to go into it thoroughly, but I have observed a fragmentation in myself and in everything I do. I am not sure if it is real, but it sure feels that way. Seemingly there is a division between what I think and what I do, between idea and reality. Leo Babauta calls it the mind movie and I find it a very useful metaphor. What is also evident is that within the mind movie there are contradictions and conflicting desires. I want to stay the same and I want to change.

In the last six months, I have been observing the process more closely and find it fascinating. I have introduced mindfulness and have actively applied some changes in the way I do things. I try to meet my fears and have managed to become less judgmental. Our conditioning, although apparently quite ingrained, is not fixed. It is very persistent and builds an identity, but it can be dismantled by observation. In the same way, we can declutter our house, we can declutter our minds. We can let go of most of our past hurts, opinions, and ideals. Although memories are useful, they can cloud our thinking. Are we not more than the total sum of our experiences?

Over the last ten years, I have met many people who have told me that apart from my grey hair, I have not changed. If they were to see me now, they would probably say the same thing. They have not witnessed the many Groundhog days I have been through and all the different things that I am attempting to do. No, there has been no breakthrough, but things are moving. I am the same, yet not the same.

This post was originally written a year and a half ago, is it the same now?

Breangelo*

Self-portrait, Barcelona.

j j j

The Challenge

You_can_change

Eight years ago, during a conversation, my eldest son asked me the following question: “what interests you most?

Generally, I don’t really like questions such as: “What is your favourite colour?” but in this instance the question struck a chord. What interested me most? This question was a tough one. At the time, I was in between two jobs wondering what I was doing with my life. I had plenty of interests, ideas and potential projects, but none seem to stick out. Things came into my life, and I would mostly meet them with enthusiasm.

Professionally, I had never pursued a clear path and was becoming a ‘jack of many trades’. When I narrowed down my experiences and interests, they usually fell into the following categories: architecture, nature, education, sustainability, health and wellbeing, self-knowledge and spiritual freedom.

As far as skills, I dabbled at this and that – not really mastering anything. So this question became meaningful. If I looked back at my life, was there a thread? What was I passionate about? I could not answer his question straight away, so promised to think about it overnight and to give him a response the next day.

After pondering about it all evening and into the night, I realised that what interested me most was change. Change – as a human phenomenon. On the material level we have altered our world entirely, yet on the psychological level, we have not really changed much. People have the potential to change, we see examples of this all around, but most of us find it very difficult to change even when it is in our interest. More importantly, I came to the realisation that unless our civilisation radically changed, we would irreversibly damage the very fabric of life and may even precipitate our own extinction as a species. External changes were needed, but more importantly deeper personal changes were required. Eventhough I did not understand it, change fascinated me and I wanted to learn about it – one tiny change at a time.

Eight years later, I feel even clearer and I want to focus my attention further on the subject of change. I have been intrigued by the simple insights of Leo Babauta who has delved on the topic of small incremental change on his blog ZenHabits.net and turned his life around in the process. Last year he has self-published a book entitled Zen Habits, Mastering the Art of Change, which I have just started to read again.

His core premise is that for a change to last one should turn it into a habit and that one should only take small steps. He really stresses the importance to only tackle one habit at a time. The challenge he gives his readers in the book is to chose one change and to put into practice everyday the advice laid out – one short chapter at a time. He also emphasises the power of accountability: tell people that you want to make this change. I am thereby publicly committing to take this challenge for the next 42 days.

So what is my change going to be? I have been writing on and off for the last three years but have found it difficult to be consistent and confident enough to share it with people. I want to make writing a daily practice and use this blog to document the process. Let’s start small. It may only be a paragraph a day, the important is to show up, to write and to share it.

Today is day zero.

Would you like to take the challenge too? Go on, choose a change you want to make and join me.

Here is a link to the book so you can start straight away:

The Zen Habits Book
(it is uncopyrighted by the author and free to share)

Good luck,

Breather*

j j j