July 4, 2012

All I Ever Needed to Know About Change I Learned From a Cicada. ~ Stephanie Carter

It’s summer in San Antonio, and I’m not emotionally prepared. Summer in south Texas is not just a season, it’s an ordeal—months on end of unrelenting heat and humidity, with no hope of respite until Halloween. Ready or not, it’s here. And so am I.

So are the cicadas.

Anyone who has lived in this part of the country knows the familiar and, at times, deafening sound of cicadas in the evening. By August, their songs are loud enough to drown out conversations. Right now the cicadas are just coming out of their shells and beginning to sing. Their journey is long and challenging, but the cicadas don’t complain.

Cicadas spend most of their lives underground, feeding on root juice and building enough strength in their legs to dig a tunnel to the ground’s surface and emerge. For some species, this underground adolescence can take 17 years, but that’s not where the story ends. Once above ground, cicadas still have to shed their exoskeleton and emerge once again to live out the rest of their lives as mature adults. In cicada terms, this means getting to fly, eat, mate and sing at night. Not a bad payoff.

Photo: Stephanie Carter

You’ve got to hand it to the cicadas for their rites of passage—digging a tunnel to the earth’s surface using only bare hands in order to see the light of day, bursting through and shedding a hard outer shell to emerge a fully fledged adult with all of its privileges, including fresh air, sunshine and the ability to fly. It makes my whining about the heat seem a little silly by comparison.

Without the burden of self-pity or fear, the cicadas allow themselves to be completely transformed by life, which can be a challenging process (though in all fairness, I doubt the lucky bastards have the mental capacity for self-pity).

They don’t fight or resist the process of change; they are change.

I think we humans, with our big, complaining brains, could learn a thing or two from the cicadas. When it comes to change in our own lives, we think too much. We analyze, question, predict, anticipate. And we learn to resist and fear.

Resistance is our ego’s misguided way of trying to protect us. Much like the brakes of a car, resistance gives us the ability to slow down and stop. After all, If we didn’t have the ability to question or weigh our decisions, we’d make a lot of bad ones. We can use these mental brakes to slow down, pause or stop when necessary, then step on the accelerator and get to where we’re going. Or, we might constantly ride the brakes, and never get anywhere.

So often when things get challenging in our lives, instead of seeing it as a rite of passage, like digging a tunnel to the earth’s surface, we resist. We get nervous, we get negative, or we check out. We’re not willing to make the hard decisions and do the harder work it takes to make positive changes and be transformed. We make excuses, and eat sour grapes.

In yoga, this can take the form of holding back in physically demanding poses because we don’t want to endure the intensity, even though that’s what is required to get stronger. It’s also avoiding intimidating poses because we don’t want to do the work, or we don’t want to fail.

Or, we might practice aggressively, constantly pushing ourselves in the name of commitment and dogged determination. We think if we are relentless in our pursuit of change, we can will it to happen.

As that cicada will tell you, that exoskeleton isn’t going to crack until it’s ready.

Sometimes we have to allow things to happen naturally. Rushing is another way of resisting. Both of these strategies—avoiding and pushing —are rooted in avoidance.

Off the mat, maybe we don’t want to go without health insurance or take a cut in pay, so we stay in jobs that tear us down slowly. We despair at the idea of being alone, so we stay in relationships that suck us dry. We don’t want to look stupid, so we don’t try new things, dance at weddings or tell the people we love how we feel about them.

Or, we may decide that with enough meditating, praying, doing yoga, etc we’ll finally be happy. We do it relentlessly, with an unspoken expectation that this is finally going bring us happiness.

But change doesn’t necessarily share your schedule. It’s nothing personal. I think the best we can do is to try and get in sync with change is to realize that resistance is truly futile, and get on with it. Real life gets ugly sometimes, and uncomfortable even more often. But three qualities can ease your way: clarity, courage and compassion.

Clarity is being present to your life and knowing yourself. Clarity helps you see when your resistance is legit, or self-defeating. When you really see your resistance for what it is, it’s much easier to let it go. Clarity helps you see the potential for growth in situations, but you’ll need courage to make steps in that direction.

Courage is having the cojones to live your life the way it ought to be lived, to stick with your convictions, to take risks, to work hard and to be vulnerable. It’s being willing to be uncomfortable in the service of growth. After all, If you want to live the kind of life you won’t regret when you’re 93, you’re probably going to have to get off the couch.

Of course, getting off the couch can be challenging. To ease the discomfort of life, many of us eat too much, or drink too much. Some of us do yoga. This is where compassion comes in. Having compassion for ourselves makes the discomfort tolerable. We can soften our internal world to make the rocky road outside a little smoother. At the very least, kindness means not adding to the discomfort and challenges of life with more negativity, anxiety or self-flagellation. With self-compassion you can see that your own negativity and resistance are not helping your situation, and you can let them go. Let them go like the crusty exoskeleton of your more immature self.

When we can accept the challenges of our lives and see them for what they are—rites of passage—not only do things fall into perspective, but transformation occurs.

Or, we get to eat, mate and sing at night. Either way, not a bad payoff.

Photo: Lana Reed

Stephanie Carter, E-RYT, Ph.D., is a San Antonio yoga teacher and psychologist. When she’s not practicing, studying or teaching yoga, she also enjoys writing, making music and taking pictures. Contact her on FacebookTwitter, or her  website.





Editor: Anne Clendening

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