I had a little incident a few months back. It involved some heavy furniture, an awkwardly executed lift-and-twist on my part, and some resulting back pain.
And by back pain I mean super gnarly spasms that beat out any pain I’ve ever experienced.
(And if you’ve been following my blog at all, you know I’ve experienced a lot of pain over the years.)
The spasms came mostly at night, jarring me from my sleep. I was desperate to get rid of them. I was desperate for change.
I saw a chiropractor and a massage therapist and a PT. I tried stretches and exercises and new sleeping positions. Whatever was prescribed and whatever I could think of, I did.
This pain has proven to be quite clever. Teasing, in fact. I would have a few nights where I’d feel better, where I’d actually sleep all the way through. I would celebrate, sure the injury was healed and the pain was behind me. Woo hoo!
But then, almost like clockwork, the pain would return, along with a string of sleepless nights.
I grew frustrated. I felt like I was climbing this big mountain.
And just as I thought I was done, I would slide back down again.
I felt like I kept starting over.
But then I realized that’s not how change works. It doesn’t happen like a mountain.
It happens like a mountain range.
Hear me out. This is actually good news.
There are all kinds of changes we want to make or see in our lives:
- We want to start a new habit or hobby – or quit one
- We want to heal emotionally or physically
- We want to help solve a social issue that we care about
We all know that when we work to make change, there will be ups and downs along the way.
It’s like we are walking to a city, and between us and that city is a mountain range. To get to the city we have to go up and down…and up and down…maybe several times. Maybe dozens. Maybe hundreds.
It can feel maddening, this mountain range. We work hard and we make some progress, and we feel like we’re finally getting to the easy, downhill part…but then, things don’t go as planned.
We slip with our habit or fail at our hobby or find our pain returns or discover that our efforts haven’t come close to solving the social issue we care about.
It can feel frustrating. Daunting. Like we have to start all over and climb that big mountain all over again.
But we don’t.
Change is happening the whole time. As we hike up. As we sweat and learn. As we make some change, feel close to the summit, enjoy some downhill movement (and maybe even get cocky about it). Change is happening even as we realize we’re not done, that there’s more to learn or do. Even as we feel frustrated about it. Even as we feel like we’re starting over.
That frustration part is real. The starting over part is not.
We haven’t backslid down the mountain. We’ve just hit the next one.
Now, to be real, the new mountain is probably no fun either. It might be huge. We might be exhausted. It might hurt a lot and there might be loss. It might be the toughest mountain yet.
It’s just helpful, when this happens, to take heart. To remember that we’ve got a whole mountain behind us. Maybe several. That we’re continuing to get ever closer to our objective, even if it doesn’t feel like it. That change has been happening in some way the whole time.
Yes, there might be a few changes we’re working on where we might not get to see the city completely because our objective keeps changing or we keep growing. Maybe our destination itself changes. Or maybe the mountain range is big enough – like in social change – where we might not get there in our lifetimes.
That doesn’t mean we’re not making – and experiencing – some positive change along the way. It doesn’t mean we can’t feel good about the work we have done. We can. We have that choice.
Our habits are changing, our skills are growing, our pain is healing, our world is changing.
We are climbing a mountain range, after all.
And that, in and of itself, is something to celebrate.