“Man cannot discover new oceans until he has courage to lose sight of the shore.”
Often we only think of transformation in terms of the end result. That’s when we celebrate and reflect on how far we’ve come! We enjoy and feel pride in ourselves for arriving at the new place, whether it’s a new job, new relationship, new understanding, or new version of ourselves. We know that we have put in hours of work, revision, research, and contemplation getting to know ourselves and/or others so that we are able to move forward into the next best thing. The journey has traversed a multitude of potential barriers in the form of challenges, obstacles, and less than stellar encounters. Yet we prevailed and have been transformed!
What we may forget about in the act of jubilation, is the starting point of any change. In facing a major makeover in our lives, we often face a great deal of fear. It can present as an underlying sense of discomfort and anxiety or a debilitating fear. We are embarking on a shift from a familiar situation and taking a leap into what is unknown and unsure. It takes courage, sometimes large amounts of courage, to change and face what may feel like insurmountable odds.
Humans are creatures of habit. Habits are how we learn to function in society. Some habits are simply automatic like breathing; others are necessary for survival like eating and drinking regularly, having a physical shelter where we can sleep safely, or wearing clothing to protect us from the elements. Other habits include how we interact with others, what our habitual mindset is, what emotions are most available to us, or how we treat ourselves. These last patterns are often the result of constant verbal, emotional, or physical reinforcement received at the hands of our parents or guardians. These patterns become locked in and we move about our lives with these habitual patterns running in the background influencing everything we do, say, or believe.
When we are no longer content or able to remain functioning from the background behavioral and emotional patterns, that is when we look for a way out – a way out of where we are in the present moment. Perhaps it has become unbearably difficult to stay in the same job, home, relationship, or, even, be the same person. Perhaps we will die – either quickly or slowly – if we don’t make a switch. Maybe we are so bored that to face another day like yesterday and the previous days without a change is unfathomable. We can be running away from a painful past or moving forward to an idealized future. Regardless of our motivation, we are looking for a course correction.
In order to transform, we must be willing to shed our skins, like snakes, so that the new skin can begin to emerge. During the shedding and before the new skin has fully formed, we are vulnerable. We don’t have the comfort of the old habits to maintain us and, yet, we also don’t have the new future pattern firmly in place. This is where fear comes in.
How do we know that what we envision will work? What if the vision is a moving target? What if we “fail”? How do we trust what we’ve never actually experienced before? Will we have to leave everything and everyone we’ve known in the past behind? Will anyone love us when we have changed? Will we recognize and like ourselves in the future?
Our very identity is at stake. We may have an image or dream to guide us but there is the moment of leaving behind what was and standing at the precipice, before we reach for what will be. We are by ourselves at this moment. It is our decision alone to go forward, stay still, or go back. Leaving the familiar awful for the mysterious unknown. This takes courage, enormous courage.
Sometimes we don’t have the courage required for transformation. In the end, we want to stay as we are with no alteration in our habits. A former friend of mine found that when he was standing on the precipice of transformation, he was not willing to let go. His decision was to maintain the habitual belief that he was not lovable and didn’t deserve to be in a romantic relationship. He was unwilling to change his “story”. Painful as this was to observe, my friend made his choice and turned back from the ledge and walked back to his old way of being. The familiar patterns held a siren song for him from which he couldn’t break free.
In my own life, it has taken enormous courage to make a later life career change to become an energy medicine practitioner. To do so, I had to surmount the fear of financial ruin, the fear of ridicule by family and friends, and the fear that I would fail. Energy medicine is on the cutting edge of health practices and has not been widely respected in the western world. I had to buck the prevalent trend in western medical theories and beliefs. There were days of almost paralyzing fear that I was embarking on a fool hardy course. But in the end, I had to move forward into this new career. Despite the anxiety, I had to step out from the precipice to continue to grow as a person. I found the courage to stride forward into the mysterious unknown and transform.