This morning at my conditioning class one of the other students commented that for him exercise was a “necessary evil.” I immediately jumped into my cheerleader mode: “Just imagine how good you’ll feel afterwards.” He was friendly enough but clearly wasn’t buying into my attempt to re-frame of his view of reality.

It got me thinking about the destructive power of habituation and conditioning. We get stuck doing things the way we’ve always done them and  let our limited view of reality and ourselves create attitudes that undermine our efforts before we’ve even begun. We’ve all said things like: “That’s just the way I am…” or “I’m just not a person who…” or “I’ve never liked…” or “I’ve always…”  While there may be valid reasons for viewing exercise as a necessary evil, but it certainly isn’t contributing in a positive way to anyone’s life.

It also got me thinking about what emerging research reveals about identity. Historically Western philosophy, theology and psychology have tended toward a static view of the self: there is an “I” that I am becoming/finding/developing. Freud dubbed this the ego. But post-modern thinking and neuroscience studies on the brain and mind indicate that the “I” that I think I am is not as set in cement as many of us believe.

Circumstances change.

People change.

Change happens.

For many years I’ve struggle with getting things done in an orderly, systematic fashion. I tend to be random, intuitive, spontaneous, sometimes impulsive, and on a bad day tending toward chaotic movement in so many directions that I fall into an emotional tailspin which can end in an meltdown. And that is not a pretty sight. Just ask my poor husband!

Thanks be to God that the scenario has changed over the years. I’ve changed. Through mindful awareness, centering prayer, yoga and other mind-body practices I’m better able to regulate my energy and attention.  I rarely go into tailspins anymore and it’s been a very long time since I had a meltdown. I still tend toward randomness and spontaneity in accomplishing non-appointment related work. In fact this morning my calendar tells me I’m supposed to be clearing out my email in-boxes. But I had an inspiration to write and made an executive decision, spontaneous as seems to be part of my creative capacity, but not impulsive. I evaluated the decision in a mindful manner, aware that the in-box project remains to be tackled.

Consistently exercising the capacity to focus my attention and stay present through these practices has strengthened the connections between the executive brain (at the front of the head behind the forehead) and the emotional and survival centers in the middle and back of the brain. Neuroplasticity is the technical name for the brain’s capacity to develop these new neural pathways that are integral to our capacity for change.

It isn’t as much about my efforts to change as it is about opening to the Spirit of Grace that does for me what I can’t do for myself. It isn’t trying harder, but softening each time I fall short of my ideals and asking for help. Change happens when I am willing to be changed and engage in practices that make myself available to be changed.

Jesus asked a man who’d been an invalid for 38 years if he wanted to get well. The man responded with his static view of himself and his reality, reciting his scenario as to why change wasn’t possible. We all have our versions of this story: “It’s always been this way…”

In another story Jesus met a man whose son had suffered convulsions since childhood. His response to Jesus’ statement that everything is possible for one who believes is one of my favorite prayers: “I do believe, help my unbelief.”

Unbelief is the crack that opens us up to grace. God does for us what we can’t do for ourselves, not because we have 100% belief, but in the midst of our unbelief.

The first question to ask ourselves isn’t “Can I change?” but “Am I willing to be changed?”

Holding onto a static view of ourselves or reality not only is ineffective, it isn’t true! If you’re a person who “hates exercise…” or “doesn’t like to eat…” or “has always eaten…” or “never could imagine yourself….” then you’re in good company. Many of the people Jesus healed were in exactly the same position.

Will you choose to believe, in the midst of your unbelief?

Today I choose to move at a mindful pace in the unhurried rhythm of God’s grace. After posting this blog I’ll get back on schedule with gratitude that degree by degree I am being changed. And while one hoped for change is that I’ll continue to grow in getting things done in a systematic, orderly fashion, I trust that today’s version of that is good enough for today.

What version of who you think you are might you need to let go of in order to have the life your really want?

Are you willing to be changed?