Column: A clean slate

As the winter solstice, the darkest day of the year, gives way gradually to longer days, I don’t need champagne or silly “2018” glasses to know that the world is making a shift.

For eons humans were surrounded and guided by natural cycles; now the world of man-made things intrudes on that ancient relationship. Yet lengthening days, the snap of cold air inhaled, the smell of wood burning, the sight of animal tracks in snow, provokes some sympathetic nerve or primitive brain part to stir and remember: change is the way of things in nature and in myself.

The instinctual understanding that change is a constant in life becomes clearer and clearer as I see myself becoming an “elder,” a role I thought would always belong to those older and wiser than me. The things I thought would never change, did, sometimes to my consternation. But I’ve also discovered the somewhat miraculous upside of change: when I cooperate with it, wonderful things can happen!

Embracing change doesn’t necessarily mean wrestling it to the ground by main force. A few years ago, I began experiencing some serious hip and back issues. I was surprised — and somewhat indignant! —that my body was not functioning as well as it once did. I sought treatment from chiropractors and an orthopedist, wore a special truss, took handfuls of ibuprofen, took yoga, got X-rays and an MRI, went to physical rehabilitation, and received spinal injections. I did everything I could possibly think of to control the situation and nothing worked. Finally, I had to conclude that this was my new normal, and by the way, not an unusual one for someone my age.

Accepting the change reduced anxious thoughts and muscle-tensing. Rather than jumping out of bed, I relaxed and took time to slowly stretch and warm up my back muscles. I began thinking about what else I could do myself, without a practitioner or external aid, to improve the situation.

I began to listen to my body more closely, even when it wanted to skip breakfast, that “most important meal of the day.” I finally won the battle over soda and switched to water with lemon. Though I never gave up my nightly bottle of beer, I lost some weight which took strain off my back as well. I began gently exercising on the treadmill. Finally, I was able to return to Zumba, the aerobic dance class I love, with the new understanding that I needed to pay close attention to what movements did and didn’t cause me discomfort.

Making these little changes did not take enormous willpower, they took accepting the reality of my situation and thinking about how to cope, not how to conquer.

As the clean slate of the New Year approaches, the inevitable shift is not only expressed by the man-made calendar but by the movement of nature in and around me. My resolution? Not to muddy that beautiful clean slate with my own ego-driven ideas of how to control change. Instead, I hope to be more aware of how things really are at this present moment, how best to go with the flow, and to share the enjoyment and appreciation that results with those around me.

Alexandra Piacenza is a 10-year resident of Prescott, retired from a career in technical documentation and strategic planning. Email her at apiacenza@cableone.net.