or why does change take so long!
Frank has lived with chronic back pain for 13 years. He wants the pain gone right now. He tells me this in our first one-to-one session.
On my website and in my contact emails, I am very clear that I work with people for between 7 to 14 weeks. I remind Frank of this and add that in my experience it can take time for a person’s system to grow into a more harmonious way of being.
Frank isn’t impressed. He tells me he will be the exception.
I would be happy for Frank to be the exemption. For 30 years I have been looking for ways to speed up the process but so far nothing. What I have observed is that there is a reason it takes as long as it does.
Over the following weeks, Frank releases an array of childhood traumas that were contributing to his back pain. Each release is difficult, his pain levels fluctuate, some days he is pain-free, something he hadn’t been in 13 years, some days the pain is immobilising.
Each release is like peeling layers from an onion. Deeper and deeper we go getting closer to the root cause of his pain which is located in a spiritual part of him and related to his whole reason for being alive in the first place.
As he touches into the root of his pain it triggers a dark night of the soul which causes him to reevaluate the fundamentals of his life.
As he does this the number of pain-free days begins to increase until he is pain-free all the time.
In total, I see Frank 11 times over 12 weeks, so his whole process from chronic pain to being pain-free, after 13 years of pain, takes 12 weeks.
At the end of our last session, I ask Frank if he is disappointed he isn’t the exception. Frank is thoughtful for a moment and then asks if it were possible to get rid of his back pain in one session would it mean that everything he went through over the previous 12 weeks would have been condensed into one week.
“No way,” he says, “I don’t think I would survive that.”
When You Know You Know
Somehow you and I get this, we understand. It is not too long, is it, to become pain-free in only 12 weeks, after 13 years? Why so impatient Frank?
It takes no time to read the words but for Frank, it was nearly 3 months. Day in and day out dealing with the pain, the highs and lows.
Yet at the end of it all, he too could see the wisdom in the pace of change, that his system had changed as quickly as it could within the confines of what it was trying to do.
It is easy to look at Frank’s case and understand the wisdom of pace because his situation involved physical pain.
It is exactly the same with emotional pain and spiritual pain.
Things take time for a reason.
Frank’s impatience is not unusual. We are all like Frank. We want to be free of our unconsciousness right now.
not next week,
not next month,
Back in the 80’s, I did a lot of personal development trainings. They were intense, cathartic, and transformative. People would drop a lot of baggage over the course of a weekend. It was very inspiring to see them leave on Sunday night determined to change their lives. They had so much energy, it looked like they would do it.
It was so disappointing to see them a month later returned to the way they were before the catharsis and in some cases being in a worse space. Now they had the extra piece of baggage that they had failed to sustain their transformation.
From this experience, I began to see that while it is possible to have a dramatic transformation in a short space of time it is very hard to sustain a rapid change.
I am no farmer but even I know that you don’t put an acorn in the ground today and have an oak tree tomorrow. Growth takes time. Speeding up the process can be disturbing and ineffective in the long run.
I lived in Australia for ten years and when I finally returned to Ireland, and my hometown of Dublin, much of the traffic flow around the city had changed. I had been a delivery driver at one point and knew the city better than most. Now there were new one-way streets, new roundabouts, pedestrian areas, and the direction of traffic flow had been reversed in some streets.
After a couple of weeks, I realised I was now anxious whenever I had to drive anywhere. My anxiety was because I was disoriented. I knew where the landmarks were, they hadn’t changed. I knew the districts, they hadn’t changed either. I just didn’t know how to get from one place to the other, at least not in a car. My anxiety came from not knowing the city in the way I once had. The landscape had changed and I was lost in it.
Our inner landscape is no different. We may not like our inner landscape but at least we know where everything is and this allows us to know who we are in it.
There is an orienting part of us that holds our minds together by using inner reference points. Our inner landscape might consist of a mountain of shame, a river of regret, and a lake of despair. This orienting part doesn’t see the shame, regret, or despair. It just sees a river, a lake, and a mountain.
We might want the shame, regret, and despair to be gone and like Frank, we want them gone right now. Here is how disorienting that would be to the orienting part of us that holds our minds together.
Imagine you set off for work one morning. When you get to the end of your street, what was a tee junction the night before, and has been a tee junction for as long as you have lived in the area, is now a crossroads. Not only that but there are now two skyscrapers on the opposite two corners. All of which sprang up overnight. Can you imagine how disorienting that would be?
Who am I?
It is the same with our inner landscape. If our mountain of shame disappeared overnight it would initially be wonderful to no longer have the shame but the disorientation we would experience would have us recreating the mountain very quickly so we could keep our mind together and continue to know who we were.
The cliche of the person who wins the lottery and within a year has spent all the money and is back where they were financially before the win is a good example of this in action. It also gives a better understanding of why my personal development friends had such a hard time maintaining their transformation.
If any of the elements of our inner landscape change too quickly alarm bells go off. We no longer know who we are and our mind begins to fragment.
Little By Little
Long term sustainable change happens over time. This gives us a chance to remain oriented while the change occurs. The mountain of shame is reduced little by little and becomes a hill which becomes a mound which becomes a rise which becomes flat.
Impatience to change quickly is very understandable particularly when pain is involved. Knowing that things take time to change so the change can be permanent makes the waiting a little easier.