Friday, July 31, 2009

Do You Want to Change?

Today is Iris' birthday! Yeah! Tomorrow, we're going have a big party with music, dancing, food...

Yesterday morning at breakfast, in anticipation of Iris' upcoming birthday, we were discussing all the changes that Iris had made in her life over the past six year. It's pretty amazing.

We met six years ago in a personal development program. We spent four weeks together after which we decided, "Hey, let's go for it!"

Iris went home (to the Netherlands), sold her house, quit her job, and gave away her car and most of her stuff. She showed up in Boston a few weeks later with a suitcase and no keys (i.e., she had nothing in her life that required keys). For me, the absence of keys became a definition of freedom.

I believe (speaking for both of us), it's the best decision either of us ever made.

So, Where is the Change?

As Iris and I talked about all this, we started to talk about where the changes had all occurred. I pondered aloud, "So, did you change, or, did you just change all the circumstances of you life (all the stimuli).

We considered all the changes that Iris had made: new country... new house(s)... new man... new job... new friends... new independence... and so on. Wow! All these circumstantial changes! So, had Iris actually changed?

Has Anyone Changed?
We then started talking about many of our friends who, on the one hand had seemed to change, but on the other, had only actually changed the stimuli in their lives. We recognized that many of our friends who espoused that Happiness is a Choice, in fact seemed to be living a life of Stimulus is a Choice. Although they appear to be happier, the source of their happiness seems to be in the control and changing of their environment, some to the point of micro-management-control-freak-hood.

So, we came to the question, "Does anyone every actually change? Or, is the apparent change just an artifact of having changed the situation?"


Apathy is a Choice
We then talked about other friends who hadn't so much changed their environment as they'd decided simply not to care any longer, a sort of Apathy is a Choice approach to life. Essentially, if you can't or don't want to change your environment, you can just give up! Simply stop caring about anything.

Of course, this isn't actually changing, at least not in the manner that I would consider changing. It's more like living your life on Novocaine: numb and detached. You know, existentialism for the shallow.

In this case, we decided that if you're actively choosing happiness, then you can be passionate about the outcome and not attached to the outcome. So, the folks who were living dispassionately with lives devoid of meaning also weren't really changing; they were just giving up.

People Do Change
At one point, Iris said, "Huh... Maybe I haven't changed at all?"

We sat silently for a few moments contemplating this, and then Iris said. "Wait! I have changed!"

I responded, "Cool! How have you changed?"

She responded, "Six years ago, I wouldn't have spent even five minutes with a man like you!"

I said, "Wow! People do change."

We then went on to see all the places in Iris' life where she is really different. How she has gained amazing capacity for happy persistence... how she she approaches things with a boldness that she never had before... how she is really easy in situations where she would have previously been tense or stressed... Iris really has changed.

In some ways, the fact that she could make so many circumstantial changes in her life reflected a real change in herself.

Intellectual Integrity
We had a lot of fun with this discussion. At the end, I realized a few things.

First, whether or not people can change doesn't actually matter in and of itself. I just like the intellectual honesty of recognizing the difference between changing myself and simply changing the circumstances of my life. I don't want to trick myself into believing I've changed when I've only become better at controlling the stimuli in my life.

Second, if you're actually interested in changing yourself, then it might be useful to look at how you are in the same old situations in which you've been. Go back into your old environment and see how you are there. This is not a requirement, it's just a useful metric as to whether or not you have changed.

Third, if you've taken on the existentialist view of things, the nothing has meaning perspective, then you might be half way there. If there is no greater meaning to life other than here we are, you can decide "screw it! I'm just gonna stop caring about anything." or, you can decide, "great! I get to decide what's meaningful and not." The former results in a dispassionate existence, the latter in passion with a loose grip.

Real Change
Ultimately, the real metric of change is, "how do I behave in situations that matter to me." We can manipulate situations, we can insulate ourselves from the effect of situations, we can numb ourselves to situations, but in the end, if we change, we can fully and passionately embrace situations, and respond differently.

I'd love to here about the places in your life where you've changed in a significant and lasting way.

Happy Birthday Iris!

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