By Deepak Chopra, MD
The one thing in life that never changes is change, or so people say. But in reality we all experience a struggle between accepting change and resisting it, trying to make things different and yet feeling an anxious need to keep things the same. This struggle is what makes personal change so difficult. We can’t make up our minds once and for all how we feel about changing.
If change is so difficult, how can there be personal transformation, upon which the whole movement of human potential is based? It takes vision and commitment to believe that such a thing is even possible. Most people have mixed feelings about how their lives are going. “Taking the bitter with the sweet” is an old saying in English dating back to the 13th century, but it expresses a universal experience in every society.
In the face of life’s mixed blessings there runs a contrary trend, however, based on a deep yearning for transformation. The yearning is expressed through visions of a heaven where eternal bliss is gained, in romantic literature where perfect love is found, and in imaginary utopias of every kind, including a lost Eden or Golden Age.
Is this yearning for transformation mere wish fulfillment, like dreaming of what you’d do if you won the lottery? If you are totally pragmatic, you abandon such fantasies so that you can productively direct your energies to becoming better off by inches and degrees. (There’s at least one bestseller promising how to get ten percent happier, for example, which sounds like opening a passbook savings account—better to get a small safe return than shoot for a higher but much riskier reward.) Even then, modest goals aren’t always achievable. We settle for half a loaf, or less, because common sense tells us to.
But the real issue runs deeper. Transformation exists throughout Nature. Consider the total change of state when two invisible combustible gases, oxygen and hydrogen, combine to form a liquid, water, which is so non-combustible that it puts out fires. Two poisons, sodium and chlorine, combine to make salt, which is necessary for life. The essential nature of the two ingredients give no hint that they could be transformed so completely. But that is what transformation means, as opposed to gradual stepwise change.
What would it mean to achieve personal transformation? Despite the stubborn way that people resist change, clinging to beliefs, fears, biases, and personal habits for no rational reason, we are transformative beings. This can be evidenced in everyday experience.
- When you have a thought, mental silence is transformed into a voice in your head.
- When you see an object, invisible electrical signals in your brain transform into color and shape.
- The sense of sight works by taking minuscule snapshots that individually have no motion, but your mind transforms these into the moving world, the same way that a movie is created out of a series of still frames projected in rapid sequence.
- In the presence of a sudden shock, the balanced state of your body at rest is transformed into the aroused state of fight or flight.
- The words “I love you,” if spoken by the right person at the right time, creates a total psychological transformation known as falling in love.
None of these experiences happen through gradual or stepwise change. There is a sudden alteration by which one state turns into another completely different state. And as with water and salt, the first state gives no clue about what the new state will be like. That’s why someone falling in love for the first time often says in amazement, “I never knew such a thing ever existed.”
Obviously, the setup of society is drastically tilted toward conformity, routine, and conventionality. There is pressure not to be different. But none of this alters the fact that we are surrounded by transformation in Nature. Moreover, our brains couldn’t transform the raw signals received by the five senses into the image of a three-dimensional world without transforming them.
The lesson here is to accept that transformation is always within reach and requires no special effort or struggle to achieve. But to access any kind of personal transformation, you cannot rely on either your ego or your brain—both ae designed to keep doing what they are used to doing. Both are conditioned by the past. The source of transformation lies elsewhere, in consciousness.
What triggers transformation happens in consciousness; the intention to change registers in consciousness; and consciousness carries out the desired transformation. This isn’t mysticism. Your intention to lift your arm is a conscious trigger for the bodymind to go into action. Without conscious intention, nothing can happen in the direction you desire. What people find hard to accept is that consciousness is present not just as a trigger; it governs and creates change. Ultimately the entire experience occurs only in consciousness.
That’s why we refer to states of consciousness. Only consciousness can change the state you are in physically, mentally, or emotionally. Like a gas changing state into a liquid, the new state isn’t a matter of a little more or a little less. A change of state is a transformation. In childhood, most fairy tales are about transformation, like Cinderella or Beauty and the Beast. These tales linger our entire lives because deep down we know that transformation is real.
In adulthood, transformation becomes wishful thinking because we turn to the ego-personality to affect change, yet it always fails in the end, because of the inner conflict I began with, in which change is desired and feared at the same time. The key is to journey to the source of transformation, which is achieved through meditation. Only when you learn to identify with the inner level of yourself that creates transformation effortlessly can you master your own transformation. In effect, you stop trying to change and let consciousness do it for you. Discovering that this is possible brings fulfillment to our deep yearning to be transformed.