how to gracefully go through change using your self-reliant kung fu

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“‘Many people have a misconception that martial arts is about fighting and killing,’ the monk was quoted as saying, ‘It is actually about improving your wisdom and intelligence.’” –Peimin Ni, Professor of Philosophy at Grand Valley State University

Change uproots what we are most familiar with, what makes us safe (or so we think).

When drastic change is upon us, sometimes it is all we can do to simply breathe. And sometimes, even that is difficult. When all that is familiar suddenly is not there or was not what we thought it was, our assumptions and thinking rants can be our worst nightmare.

I recently found myself pontificating to a friend about the importance of embracing change – how all of us need a good shaking up every now and then.

Within two weeks of that conversation drastic change was upon me. I was offered (and accepted) a position at a job I could not refuse. It required me to move from my hometown, which has been a sort of haven and safe house for me the past four years – a healing place to recover from corporate politics and sixty-hour weeks; it also allowed me to spend more time with my children.

Within the past few weeks all of that has changed. My youngest (now seventeen) decided he wanted to move in with his dad. My daughter is getting married this month. And by the end of August, my oldest will be attending a university in San Francisco.

I am officially an empty-nester, mother of the bride, new employee, single person, virgin blogger (alienating family and friends by writing about the importance of spirituality in religion – woohoo! good times!) going through massive amounts of change.

Every single aspect in my life, as well as most of my important relationships are in the middle of massive change. And there have been key moments the past few weeks when I have dissolved this “change stress” gracefully and other times when I succumbed to it and made things worse.

Most of us want complete possession of that super self-reliant “centered-ness” – to dissolve stress in a snap, but then there would be nothing for us to learn. (Sometimes surrendering to the lesson is a lesson itself.)

There are also times we require encouragement and are fortunate to have support from others. But for many people, a support system just isn’t there; or at least unavailable in the moment it is needed.

So what do you do when you feel yourself sinking and have no one or nothing to grab onto? How do we get super self-reliance in those difficult moments?

Some people find it in prayer; but what if you are praying to God and the tone of your plea is more of desperation and an unwillingness to face your problems, rather than submitting to God’s will for you?

What if you don’t believe in God or in praying to an omniscient being/presence?

The following practices could be used in either case:

The first rule of self-reliant kung fu is to simply breathe – to be still – to let every thought, feeling, and reaction simply circulate and move around us as if they were gusts of wind – to wait for the torrent to subside before we act.

The second rule is to to feel and observe while we stand still – to allow all of the pain, the confusion or uncertainty to exist without the finality of our judgement. It’s not just about a positive attitude. It’s about mentally and emotionally getting out of the way, so that we CAN learn.

 (The more ‘in the way’ of the lesson we are, the more attached to the way things are ‘supposed’ to look, the less we learn and expand our wisdom, the more we stagnate and petrify our minds.)

The third rule is to speak and act from this new-found bird’s eye view. And what emerges will be more powerful, more effective and influential than any reaction or immediate response we may have previously conjured.

Change can cause chaos. And according to Neil Gaiman, that is the time to make good art. In fact, any time is a good time to make good art.

Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Somebody on the Internet thinks what you do is stupid or evil or it’s all been done before? Make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, and eventually time will take the sting away, but that doesn’t matter. Do what only you do best. Make good art.

Make it on the good days too.

So take your time. Breathe. Make some good art. And when you are ready, when you are centered in your self-reliant kung fu… speak, act, respond. And that is the best you can do.




  1. Change is a whirlwind. If you keep your feet and hold onto your hat, you’re doing well. Good luck with all the seismic shifts going on in your life! Sounds like they are all of the very good variety, rather than those requiring hand-baskets.


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