One of my dearest friends queried me a few weeks ago in an email: “Franny,” he wrote (that’s his nickname for me), “I’ve got to take some lessons from you about changing. I can’t seem to wrap my head around changing mindsets I have to make regarding my situation.”
Now the situation my friend is in is quite unusual. He’s been living and working for almost 20 years in Saudi Arabia for an oil company And he’s a dentist! Go figure. Almost twenty years ago, he left Santa Fe, NM, and took a job on what I call the campus of Aramaco, an oil company once owned by a conglomerate of several Western countries, including the U.S. with additional ownership by the Saudi government.
You’re probably asking “why” my dentist friend took that job, but it made very good sense to him at the time. He is one of those citizen of the world and has traveled to almost every place on our planet like the adventurer he is. My friend has had a wonderful, happy and peaceful life. He could leave Aramaco any time to live elsewhere and continue to pursue his passions, particularly music. Thus far, he has lead a complete life: he is a Buddhist meditator, a tango dancer, a yogi and a man devoted to excellent physical and mental health.
But he can’t quite come home – back to the good old USA – to the different realities of living in his home country. He’s not quite sure he’ll be as comfortable in another place. He hasn’t surrendered to that idea yet. He hasn’t let go yet.
“Fran. You gotta help me out here. You love change. You move through life easily, and I’m having trouble with this one.” Well, my friend, twenty years is a heck of a long time in one place, in one culture, with unlimited free space. But your perspectives are limited about now and you’ve worn out all the emotional contexts. Time for change.”
Changing mindsets is very difficult and challenging because the defensive brain cannot change. It’s awash in stressor chemicals that cause the brain to go into survival mode, which is about using old behaviors we’ve always used, regardless of their ineffectiveness.
How do we change our mentality? How do we reframe the old mindsets, the old mental categories, get rid of rigid ideas, self-important opinions and our preoccupation with goals instead of process? How do we prevent our mind from taking in the mindless environmental and societal messages that bombard our thoughts daily? How can we pursue our own truth and get rid of the negative clutter of mindless mental activity? Mindless mental activity is usually defensive, toxic and promotes past and future thinking. It causes stress and anxiety and digs us deeper into a false comfort zone.
We all get overwhelmed with change, but we need not be. Change can be imperceptible and subtle. Change is really about fine tuning. Maybe my dentist friend has been slowly mentally creeping into the moment when he will leave the cocoon and come home. In the meantime, fears pile up. What’s on the other side? What if I hate where I’m going to end up? Darling friend, forget the other side. What does the other side matter? The fears are manufactured, groundless, illusional told to you by a universal language that lives in fear. My mother used to tell me not to fear anything because it’s a waste of time.It’s more fun to be surprised by life.
Year after year after year my friend said he was coming home next year and the next year and the next year, and maybe really now it feels like as the twenty year mark rolls around the statue of limitations is kicking in. Who knows what is the trigger.
Sarah Silverman has this riff on change that I love: a friend says to her,”I’m going to start my diet tomorrow.” Sarah says bluntly, “No, you’re not.” The friend gets resentful. “What do you mean? I’m going on my diet tomorrow.” Sarah replies, “No, you’re not, no you’re not, no you’re not!!! Because if you were going on a diet you would have already been on the diet instead of just telling me you’re going on a diet!” I love human nature. We’re so predictable.
The truth is that if we take on the challenge of change, we’ll never burn out. Change energizes our imagination by reframing old mindsets, allowing us to see in multiple perspectives in a variety of contexts, thereby, increasing the possibilities that a new approach to an idea or situation will be discovered.
We can unleash the mental and emotional powers of self-reflection when we’re deciding on change – and by that I mean every single bit of energy directed towards positive growth and maybe even transformation. What we choose may not meet our needs in the moment, but on a continuum, change will always be positive if we listen to the truth inside of us. But if we label or judge the choice as negative, it will be; if we over-think the change, it won’t happen because we are stuck in the quicksand of decision. Remember fear will stop us from action but fascination won’t let us walk away.
Living skillfully is about making mindful decisions that enhance our life, deepen our ability to asses our individual needs and open up to limitless possibilities and opportunities. Leave superstition and dogma for the mindless. Please don’t squander the privilege of consciousness because that’s where the truth resides and bravery begins.