Knowing What to Do in Times of Change

Modern society is passing through a chaotic transition. Old ways are no longer producing desired results and new ways are not yet in place to serve as new routines and traditions.  We are trapped in a chrysalis of change, no longer the caterpillar we once were and not yet the butterfly we will become once we are successful in completing our struggle to transform and emerge — paradoxically restored to vitality as ourselves and yet no longer ourselves as we once were. The times they are a’changing, as Bob Dylan wrote some years ago: 

The Times They Are A’Changin’
By Bob Dylan 
Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.
Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’.
Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.


What approach  is most helpful during times such as these? It’s most helpful to learn to listen closely to wisdom and to increase our capacity to hear and to heed what wisdom is saying. Wisdom is not swept away by rising riptides of change because wisdom is rooted in ancient truths that stand up well even to the severest tests of time.  Wisdom may be time-worn but the wear and tear it’s endured only makes it all the more valuable like well-polished jade in a setting of gold.

In times of tumultuous change when former traditions cease to serve well as guides, you can easily lose your bearings as you discover how unprepared you are to navigate through turbulent waters.  The more you’ve previously lived a sheltered life, the more shocked and afraid you may be as you are exposed to the turbulence today’s changes entail.  Even if you’ve been exposed and vulnerable to hard times before, it can still upset you to face them again, especially on the intense, society-wide scale we are now enduring.  Feeling ill-prepared for life as you are forced to face it is unnerving. Discouragement and despair may come knocking and perhaps even take up residence for a while.  Being thrown off balance by turbulence is natural.  It’s not necessary to fault yourself for how you react to unpleasant conditions.  It’s more helpful to have confidence that you can find your way through the turbulence to better opportunities beyond it.  And you surely can if you apply yourself to learning all you need to learn to achieve that goal.  One thing that may seem puzzling is that you are better prepared to succeed than you yet know.  Part of what you’ll learn if you apply yourself with focused attention is how to recognize your hidden qualities that make you more prepared than you realize. 

As Dylan points out, you can hardly tell at the beginning how things are going to turn out.  But wisdom knows how to guide you through winds of change and clouds of doubt to an outcome you’ll welcome along a journey you’ll enjoy as an adventure.  And you can know what wisdom knows if you’re willing to listen closely to its cues and allow them to guide you forward through the confusion and chaos of storm-tossed times.  We are surely going through stormy times as modern society wrestles with the unforeseen consequences of its past decisions and tries to find its answers within the very patterns of thought that caused its current problems. There are many wise sayings that describe society’s current dilemma.  Among them are two attributed to Albert Einstein:

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
“The solution cannot be found at the same level of mind at which the problem was created.”

These quotes suggest that we’ll only drive ourselves more and more insane if we continue to try to address society’s currently deepening problems from the same perspective or traditional thinking from which we created the problems. It simply does not help to dwell upon them as if they are both worrisome and hopelessly unsolvable.  We dig our hole deeper by worrying our way around in it in circles.  We’ll only worry ourselves into self-sabotage through this limited approach. Wisdom knows that we are capable of a much less limited and immensely more promising one.

The dilemmas facing society signal that we’ve reached the limits of the way of thinking in which we’ve mainly been indulging for many centuries. With rare exceptions like Einstein, most people have simply failed to master the art of thinking for themselves and instead allowed others to tell them what to do.  We’ve become so accustomed to looking to others outside of us to do all the thinking that we don’t know how to think for ourselves and may only panic when expected to do so.  As we learned how to be accepted and belong within our society, we entrusted the responsibility for thinking to those to whom we looked as our teachers/trainers – authority figures whom we believed to be in charge of our society for us.  What we don’t realize is that those to whom we looked to tell us what to do are not running society “for us” in the sense of “for our benefit.”  They are running it for other purposes that are not necessarily beneficial to us in the long run – and many times not even beneficial to us in the short run.  In fact, one of the signals that we are in trouble is the reduced “duration of benefit” we’ve received on account of our letting others do all the real thinking for us while our minds are pre-occupied with trivial pursuits. 

Allow me to expand upon the example of shrinking “duration of benefit” to explain what I mean.  “Duration of benefit” refers to the time elapsed between purchase and disposal of a product or service.  As this period of time becomes shorter, the lack of correspondence between the cost of our investment in the purchase and the value we receive from our investment becomes increasingly obvious.  Examples that are hitting home include the decreased time during which material goods remain useful to us – before we either pay dearly for their repair or upgrade or replace them entirely.  Equipment once classified as “durable goods” has become progressively less durable and now approaches the status of disposable.  For example, common household items like clothes washers, driers, dishwashers and refrigerators have proliferated in options and styles that only make it more likely that one of their complex features will fail and cause a repair bill that rivals the cost of replacing the equipment. Due to equipments’ increasing complexity, reliance upon electronic controls and rapid turnover in models composed of parts not used in previous models, home repairs have become less adequate as a solution.  Artificial complexity and shifting models has put the handyman-homemaker out of business and required homeowners to seriously consider throwing away equipment that in earlier days would have A) lasted longer in the first place and B) been repairable by the homemaker. Similar rise in complexity and decline in useful lifespan have afflicted automobiles and other formerly durable goods. 

The arrival of computers and accessories like monitors, printers, scanners, modems, routers and methods of interconnection has added a new category of consumer goods subject to change-induced obsolescence that the common user rarely has the know-how or access to repair parts to address when something breaks down.  In addition, “new and improved” models rush to market before many owners of previous models have learned how to use all of the features of their existing equipment.  New software requiring larger memories and storage capacities as well as upgraded monitors and modems drive older equipment out of use before they are actually failing as products.  Expanding demands of Internet web sites expect visitors to connect through equipment with the latest features and capacities. New methods of interconnection challenge users to keep abreast of the latest developments. The whole interlocking world of computers, software, accessories and their uses has expanded at a rate that is incredibly profitable to those who provide the equipment, software and related services but leave most users at the mercy of market-driven motives to render existing investments inadequate to perform and require consumers to spend more money to remain current with the latest state of affairs.  Whom is this reduced duration of benefits serving?

It’s as if the universe of computer technology has replicated the cosmos as a system of infinite possibilities that is expanding at the speed of light and far outdistancing the finite resources of many explorers of that universe. Many explorers resort to debt to keep up. In fact, all too often “duration of debt” now exceeds “duration of benefits.” Another example of this phenomenon is the proliferation of ever-upgraded cell phones and accessories that render the previous models old news within as short a time as six months.  Related to this example is the spectacular meteor shower of accessories and apps to use with cell phones. Keeping track of the inane number of such cell-phone-related features and their various uses occupies the minds of many users as a distraction from more significant alternative uses of their minds. Functioning in a similar manner to interfere with slower paced contemplation is time spent reviewing and commenting upon Youtube and Facebook postings and watching engrossing movies, TV reruns and entertainment programs ranging from supposed “reality shows” and talent contests to hit fiction shows of all kinds. Add sports broadcasts and commentaries plus endless newscasts, pundits and, heaven forbid, bloggers commenting upon life from every possible angle and who’s got to time to think for oneself?

Those with the youthful curiosity to master new skills and the desire to prove their competence ride the leading edge of trends in the age of high tech electronics and information overload.  These trends now wash across society like a multi-wave tsunami to sweep all previous technology into the trash bin long before many older users have discovered how to use their features and reap their benefits.  Although it is developmentally appropriate for youth and young adults to be curious and to exercise their minds to learn new competencies that prove their worth to themselves and others, to place a significant market that affects society at many levels into the control of young adults who are also discouraged from asking why they are doing what they are doing is another outcome of insanity’s reign in our society. Society is not well-served by intentionally occupying young minds with electronically hyped and accelerated trivial pursuits with the effect of diverting their attention from the core issues with which our society struggles.  We need the minds and hearts of youth and young adults focused more intentionally on social issues if ever we are to resolve them successfully.  We cannot address and resolve significant societal issues without the full engagement of youth and young adults. Their participation is essential to our success! It is their future and the future of those who follow close behind them that is at stake and must now be clarified and implemented in a manner meaningful to them. It is vital to the health and welfare of all of us that young minds not remain hooked on fascinating electronic stimulation that draw them to focus on trivia and away from focusing on what is truly significant to their futures.

I mean no offense to youth and young adults when I question whether it is wise to turn over our society’s major techno-trends to their controlling passion for mastering new technology and exploring new territory of experiences as their natural appetites and passions operate in their legitimate quest for a vision of a life worth living. I mean only to caution us all that wisdom percolates into our hearts and minds through experiences which take place at slower paces, occur over longer periods of time and require more intense and deeper personal engagement with other people than most fast paced endeavors promoted by the technology market cultivate. Many youth and young adults have such lire-enriching experiences.  We need to help them to tap into the empowering wisdom of their library of experiences that are stored deep beneath trivial pursuits.

Modern society does not encourage youth and young adults to identify, appreciate and process such slower paced, in-depth experiences but rather leads youth and young adults in circles in the shallows chasing meaningless superficial changes that matter little or nothing in the long run.  I really do mean no offense to youth and young adults. In fact, I devote my life to helping to correct the way society is misleading youth and young adults to ignore they capacity to think for themselves and listen to and be led by wisdom from an early age. I have met youth and young adults who have proven to me that they do sometimes listen to themselves in this manner and experiment with thinking for themselves.  I’ve also learned that it is precisely when they do listen to their deepest inner guidance and think for themselves that they are most likely to come into conflict with modern society’s shallow values and priorities and be labeled “rebellious,” “uncooperative” or “misfits.”  We need to encourage rather than discourage such independent, “rebellious” thinking that resists cooperating with the norms of modern society and instead develops creatively activated “misfits” better suited to leading the new society that is arriving in our midst than to remaining loyal to the old society that is fading from our midst. It would be wise for all of us to switch our loyalties from the fading society to the emerging new one.

Youth and young adults have an inborn capacity to listen to and reap the benefits of wisdom as guidance for their lives.  However, modern society teaches us all to ignore our in-born, wisdom-oriented capacity and instead to listen elsewhere for guidance.  Based on our past social training, too often we listen to the fading society’s standards and expectations instead of to the emerging society’s standards and expectations.  As children we are naturally inclined to listen to our parents, teachers and other older adults for guidance. But as the guidance from those adults proves less and less useful (largely because it’s not all that helpful to resolving the issues we face during times of transition), youth and young adults understandably turn away from that source of guidance and seek for guidance among other voices available to them.  Many of these alternative voices are found among media of various kinds.  Others are the voices of admittedly well-meaning but similarly misled peers. In a society where everyone is taught to have an opinion no matter how little investigation and analysis may go into forming it, media personalities and peers can sound as if their voices are authoritative when in fact they are voices of ignorance and arrogance. Most media and peer voices do not yet convey the wisdom and understanding needed to provide truly helpful guidance for life, especially guidance for navigating turbulent times such as we face now. In effect, by teaching us to orient our listening outward into the turbulence rather than inward into the deep inner calm at the core of our beings, social norms and traditions have cut us adrift from and now block our awareness of the wisdom and understanding we would otherwise naturally access within ourselves. Our submission to social pressures to think, act and live as social-approval seekers sabotages our ability to enjoy higher quality lives and robs us of the inheritance we would otherwise naturally receive from Divine Love’s Presence within the calm at the core of our beings.

Bob Dylan was a voice to which many of his generation listened and through which many found comfort. He voiced the thoughts and feelings of many in his generation.  Lyricists and spoken-word artists today frequently voice the thoughts and feelings of their generation too. Many are their cries for greater understanding and wisdom.  Fewer are the voices by which understanding and wisdom come forth in response.  I hope that my voice will provide some of the understanding and wisdom that youth and young adults hunger to discover is present in the world on their behalf, at their service.

Knowing what to do in changing times is a mystery worth addressing. It is a valid question to ask “How do I know what to do when traditional answers no longer point the way forward?”  My response to this question is simple: Learn again to trust yourself to know deep inside what is best for you.  Take the time necessary now to stop, look and listen inwardly.  Your native-born, inwardly tapped guidance will encourage you to be true to yourself because that is best for you – in times of turbulence as well as times of calm. That is why I focus so much of this web site on helping visitors to regain confidence in their authentic nature. To do so, one must abandon every attempt to fabricate an artificial or false identity because pretending to be someone you are not gives too much value and power to what other people think of you.  False identities emphasize image-making (social approval and reputation) and pleasing others by words and actions that are not true to your own heart.  You access both your short-term happiness and your long-term joy and success when you stop pretending and instead live true to yourself under all circumstances. When you master the art of remaining true to yourself during turbulent times, you emerge from these times as a master surfer emerges from waves that tumble others off their boards. Once you master the art of authenticity amid challenging waves of change, you can rest in calmer waters with ease and grace.

Being true to your own heart is key.  To trust yourself to know deep inside what is best for you is the same as trusting yourself to love and care for yourself even when it seems at the moment that no one else agrees with you.  Your heart is the “deep inside” where I encourage you to learn to listen.  Listen to your heart and heed its guidance and you’ll learn to hear the wisdom that it shares with you from the divine realm of inner peace with which it is in touch.  The “heart” of which I speak is not the physical organ. It is the core of your being associated with the fourth and central chakra (energy center) where your spirit listens to your emotions.  It is your sensitive, intuitive nature.  It is what some call our “feminine side” mainly because men are taught to not be in touch with and express their emotions openly and caringly. The attributes of humanity that society associates with being in touch with and expressing one’s emotions openly and caringly are stereotypically considered “not masculine” and therefore by default “feminine.” In addition, masculinity is associated with the male body’s procreative capacity to thrust and penetrate and not with the female body’s procreative capacity to open and receive. When we see ourselves as merely bodies, we remain blind to our more expansively authentic nature and fail to grasp the far broader picture of who we really are as spiritual beings engaged in a human experience through our bodies.  As whole, authentic human beings, we are not merely bodies but also spirits, wills, minds and emotions expressed within relationships.

There is a myth afoot in modern society that the aggression associated with masculinity equates to being strong and powerful and that the gentleness associated with femininity equates to being weak and helpless. This myth is so pervasive and persuasive in modern society that women who seek equality with men tend to think that becoming more like stereotypical males brings them greater power.  This tendency to equate stereotypical masculinity with power is based on the false notion that power equals aggression and violence.  It escapes our notice that aggressive behaviors are symptoms of internalized insecurities that aggressors fail to honestly admit and prefer to cover up. Aggressors use aggressive words and behaviors to distract the rest of us from noticing and addressing underlying emotional issues and discourage us from calling their bluffs.  Aggressive men and women are not displaying their power. They are in fact displaying their buried feelings of insecurity, inadequacy and resentment as they use intimidation to silence, confuse and dominate others by shifting their negative emotional energy onto those they seek to control. These negative, crippling emotions are not the energies of a truly powerful, self-confident person of either gender.  Gentleness, tolerance, defenselessness and patience are signs of true power in both genders.

Our gender-neutral capacity for tuning into inner guidance and flowing with its nuanced leadings grows as we nurture our wholeness and learn again to be aware of the full spectrum of our emotions and become comfortable expressing our colorful emotions’ full range.  Our wholeness unfolds like a satellite dish to capture more and more of the signals that wisdom sends to us constantly as guidance.  As we learn to unfold our sensitive antennae and tune ourselves to wisdom’s broadcasts, we’ll find the guidance we seek.  Wisdom wants to give us our heart’s desires.  Our hearts are listening for what wisdom says is ours to do and ours to enjoy.  The harmony between our hearts and wisdom is akin to cooperation between an orchestra and its conductor. The music of our heart is unique to each of us as individuals and yet also plays in harmony with the chorus of life within which we are all valued participants. Our confidence to participate in this chorus grows as we become increasingly aware of our creative capacities and interests that blossom as our wholeness comes online through mutually interactive encouragement within the communities that we serve and benefit.

Wi-Fi is an apt analogy for the capacity of human wholeness to empower each of us to thrive as happy, productive contributors to the welfare of various groups and communities to which we belong.  We are naturally equipped to pick up energy signals wirelessly and to translate them into guidance received in the form of intuition, hunches, gut reactions, day dreaming, sleep time dreams, creative endeavors and selective listening to others.  A writer may receive wisdom as he or she listens within and records to share with others what he or she allows to flow from within while also listening to messages in the environment that resonate with and lift up his or her spirit, heart and mind.  A poet or lyricist may do the same. Composers, painters, dancers, actors, sculptors, ceramicists and other artists and creative thinkers may likewise share with others what they are discovering deep within themselves – especially when encouraged by others through social connections to dig deeper and share abundantly.

As Einstein and others demonstrated, scientific discoveries surface to be shared in a similar manner.  The creative process is natural to all of us because we are created by a Creator who shares the power and dynamics of Creativity with us. The quality of human life as shared within a society or any smaller group of people is determined by the process of inner listening and outward expression. In fact, all relationships are always shaped and energized with meaning and significance based on the voices to which we listen inside. To the extent that we listen to internalized voices of former external authority figures who in turn conformed to former external authority figures generation after generation we participate in a chain of conformity and replicate the past, imitate rather than create, conform rather than transform and cause our destiny to come forth as a repeat of our history.  To the extent that we question and, as wisdom guides, set aside such internalized voices of others who bought into the artificiality of modern society and listen instead to the gentle voice of Wisdom whispering within our hearts, we contribute to the creation of a wiser alternative society on terms of love and truth in which authenticity is honored amid ever strengthening bonds of trust.

Within such a trust-bonded society, we will appreciate and respect rather than judge and condemn each other. We will cooperate with one another to bring peace to troubled waters and dispel clouds of doubt as refreshing breezes of clarity appear in their place. Beyond modern society’s chaotic transition, we are sailing together through storm-tossed seas towards a more highly evolved expression of humanity than our human memories can tell of. It is recorded in our imagination as visions of the brighter, gentler and more promising future our hearts have long desired to share.  Into open hearts wisdom freely flows. Let us open our hearts together and, with persistent playfulness and ceaseless celebration, grow forward into this vision of a better world to come and wholeheartedly welcome our transformed selves as manifestations of that better world.

© Art Nicol 2013


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