The Marginalian
The Marginalian

On Change and Denial

On Change and Denial

Central to our ambivalence about change is the fundamental difficulty of letting go. I am not sure what is more difficult — the heartache of enduring a change made against your will and without your consent, which is the foundation of all loss, or the inner turmoil of having to make a necessary change yourself, breaking the momentum of patterns propelled by a lifetime’s motive force, which in turn presupposes the loss of a familiar way of being, the letting go of a habitual self.

Often, we feel the tectonic tremors of change long before it erupts to alter the landscape of life; often, we tune them out or invent a thousand alternative explanations for them. But we know, we know, deep in the marrow of the soul, when something must change — and when it is about to.

Terry Tempest Williams speaks to this beautifully in a passage from her book Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place (public library). Two decades before she came to reckon with the paradox of transformation, she writes:

It’s strange to feel change coming. It’s easy to ignore. An underlying restlessness seems to accompany it like birds flocking before a storm. We go about our business with the usual alacrity, while in the pit of our stomach there is a sense of something tenuous. These moments of peripheral perceptions are short, sharp flashes of insight we tend to discount like seeing the movement of an animal from the corner of our eye. We turn and there is nothing there. They are the strong and subtle impressions we allow to slip away.

Art by Jackie Morris from The Lost Spells

What keeps us from heeding those intuitions is denial, that most precarious of the mind’s acrobatics, most prone to self-injury — denial that the change is necessary, denial that we are capable of it, denial that the world will hold us even if we fall apart in the process.

Williams writes:

Denial stops us from listening… But denial lies. It protects us from the potency of a truth we cannot yet bear to accept. It takes our hands and leads us to places of comfort. Denial flourishes in the familiar. It seduces us with our own desires and cleverly constructs walls around us to keep us safe.

Couple with philosopher Amélie Rorty on the antidote to our self-defeating delusions, then revisit Williams on how to live with uncertainty.

Published June 18, 2024




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