I’ve been looking ahead, daydreaming about blossoms on trees, and fresh starts, and new things. They sound beautiful. Newness means change, though, and I’ve had a complicated relationship with change. Perhaps many of us have in recent years as the pace of it seems to have picked up. Change can bring about great good, but it can also pile up and overwhelm us.
I remember reaching overwhelm one summer when I moved to a new home near a rail trail. Sitting on the floor and unpacking, I promised myself not to box up my life again for a long, long time. Cardboard cuts from moving box flaps were still fresh on my fingers. Cardboard cuts, like life transitions, can look superficial even when they’ve gone deep. For me, some things had gone deep. I needed to heal. Have you ever been there?
Life doesn’t sit still around us, of course, as we heal. I tried to sit still, myself. Outside my new home, joggers, cyclists, pedestrians, baby strollers, and pets on leashes passed by on the trail at all times of day and night. I spent hours watching them from a chair outside my back door. I let the movement flow past me, wanting nothing more than to rest, nest, and observe.
Scanning my shelves in the evenings, I’d take an old favorite book and a mug of tea to that chair out back. One evening, I found well-marked pages in a copy of The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.* I hadn’t picked him up in years, but I remembered his boldness. I’d liked it. I’d liked how he almost seemed to lift up his fingers, marked with their own healed-over cardboard cuts, looking somehow like wisdom by the time he was now writing about experience, and feeling, and discernment.
Ignatius didn’t advise against movement or change. That struck me. Instead, he suggested dwelling with the new possibilities and noticing how we feel as we imagine different options. He explained that not all options come from the same “spirit.” Some spirits, he said, fill the soul “with peace and quiet,” while others bring turmoil. He suggested noticing which option brought which spirit.
I suppose I’d come to associate moving boxes with turmoil. Perhaps I’d even assumed that change meant the failure. Sometimes that’s the case, but of course, sometimes it isn’t. I couldn’t have found a better place to help me remember that than the little home by the rail trail. The trail kept calling me out, insisting I remember how to move.
That trail had an interesting history. Nineteenth-century Midwesterners called that railroad path “the Monon.” Tracks of the Chicago, Indianapolis & Louisville Railroad ran through the state of Indiana like a big “X” crossing at the town of Monon. The Monon carried troops and supplies during the Civil War. It hosted 90 miles of the funeral train procession for Abraham Lincoln. It served the limestone industry, five universities, and two resort hotels. Eventually, as rail lines were discontinued, tracks got removed. Long swaths of the Monon were converted into the multi-use trail system so busy in my own day.
Though its cargo had changed, I suspected the Monon had kept its old energy. It moved people and things. That’s what it did, and it lured me out.
I started setting books aside for short autumn walks. In October, I noticed a great horned owl beginning its outrageous calls overhead. I brought out snow boots for late November walks. Winter cramped my style, but after months of endless white, grey, and brown, my first glimpse of a crocus poking up through trail-side dirt felt thrilling. I loved those moments observing the earth move through its cycles around me. With so much to take in, is it any wonder I began making time to walk that trail so often?
I’d visit shops along the way. A sporting goods store had operated for years in an old house beside the trail. When they’d grill burgers out in the front yard, I’d stop to chat and look through sale racks. Though a vegetarian, I even ate a burger and enjoyed it.
New places caught my attention, too. Cafes and farmers market days offered new tastes and new faces. When I bought a bike and tried to ride even further, I discovered the aches and pains of middle-aged legs moving in new ways. I found I didn’t dread that pain as much, though, as I’d dreaded the pain of cardboard cuts. Perhaps it was the new shops, and farmers markets, and faces I thought of finding with the new distances my bike could give. I kept on with it, and I wasn’t disappointed.
I even took decisions out with me for my time on the Monon. Paradoxically, the movement slowed down my brain in ways that I needed. My mind got to wander, to reflect. I’d picture possibilities. I’d alternate between lingering in daydreamed scenarios and noticing the world around me. One day at a crossing signal, a man on his bike stopped beside me.
“You come this way a lot,” he observed.
“Yes,” I said, studying him, “and you pass me a lot.”
“You must enjoy it,” he said. “You’re always smiling.”
I hadn’t known that. I had known that other people kept smiling at me, and I’d smile back, relishing the exchange. I’d known that I was settling into movement that took me new places, showed me different things. Some days it even brought me peace. I’d known that eventually, with whatever decision I had on my mind, I’d come to a sense of what I needed to do. Perhaps all that stretching and strengthening of my legs was helping me work through other kinds of pain, as well.
“Just as taking a walk, journeying on foot, and running are bodily exercises,” wrote Ignatius, “so we call Spiritual Exercises every way of preparing and disposing the soul.” I liked his exercise metaphor, but I also liked how he noticed that bodies, senses, and emotions carry their own insights. They teach us and change us, and we practice their lessons in how we pass our days.
I found myself trying out the idea of leaving that little home by the rail trail much sooner than I’d expected. It raised the specter of moving boxes and cardboard cuts, for sure, but it also came with some new possibilities I hadn’t gotten to consider before. I daydreamed through them as I wandered the Monon over the next couple of months. When I once again gathered moving boxes, I noticed a change in myself. This time, I was making no promises about how long it would be before I moved again. Instead, I was feeling more confident that I could know when movements were right. I suspect the Monon trail had given me some good practice. I felt grateful for my time on that path.
What about you? How do you practice change?