Is Upheaval Required for Personal Growth?

Written by Christine Kane

About two years ago, I was at Greenlife Grocery, and I ran into two women who had attended one of my retreats.

I was surprised because neither of them had lived in Asheville. Now they both did! They told me that after the retreat, they had decided to make different choices in their lives. One of them left her husband. The other one quit her Grad School program and was preparing to enroll in an entirely different course of study.

Sometimes I tell that story on the first day of the retreats now – just because it cracks me up. (It also blows me away. Most people don’t take such massive action when they leave a three-day workshop!) When I tell the story, a few people look at me with sheer panic.

To some, this kind of life change feels like complete overhaul. Upheaval. They don’t want any part of it.

To others, it’s no big deal. It’s change. That’s the nature of things.

How you translate it could be how you answer the question posed in the title of this post.

It’s Your Call

In my experience, major upheavals on the path of personal growth depend upon two factors:

1 – Your intent or desire.

2 – Your distance from that intent or desire.

Let’s start with intent.

When people come to my retreats or take part in my e-Seminar, we spend quite a bit of time on their intent. Not just for the seminar itself – but also for their lives.

Many people are afraid to say what they want. I think one of the reasons for this is the fear of what will happen once they vocalize it. Words are powerful. We are powerful. We know that we can activate all kinds of change with our words and actions. Some of us are frightened of that kind of change.

There are also those who just need a “tune up.” They know what they want. And they need to spend some time listening to that still small voice, and maybe shift their direction a bit.

But then there are those who are ready for big change. They’re fed up. They’re tired of living unconsciously. They’re tired of being unhappy. They don’t want to spend the rest of their lives letting distractions be their main activity. Often they’re in an unhealthy situations. Or they’ve allowed themselves to stay too long on a track that doesn’t feed their passion. (This was the case with both the women above.)

These folks usually come in knowing they’re ready for change. They call it in. They say one of the most powerful prayers out there: “Bring it on.”

The key thing here is to be honest with yourself. If you know you’re on a dead-end path that’s filled with frustration and sadness, then at some point you’ll have to look within and ask yourself: What do I want? What is my intent in life? Who do I want to be?

Distance from the Desired Outcome

The second factor is distance. How far have you strayed from your center? How far are you from your intent? How long have you been ignoring that still small voice within?

I’m going to use my own life as an example in this one because for a period of about three years, I lived in a constant state of upheaval. I had intended health. I had intended a creative life as a writer and musician. I wanted to live authentically. I remember saying, “Bring it on” many times along this path.

However, I was miles from my desired outcome. Riddled with an eating disorder and a propensity for guilt and shame. Harboring a hope to be “rescued” from having to take any responsibility for my life. Self-esteem the size of a black bean. I had no idea of the amount of change I’d have to go through. In retrospect, I marvel at the size of the wrecking ball I created.

One by one, the structures that held up the little house that was my life began to crumble. Some of the changes were instigated by me — leaving a 4-year relationship, letting go of negative friends, quitting my first (and only) secure job, moving to another town, taking writing classes. Lots of the changes were instigated by whichever force heard me say, “Bring it on” – health issues, losing my apartment, getting dumped by the new person in my life, financial struggles.

You won’t necessarily know in advance just what changes will come about when you intend something different. This is scary for most people. Those who have been through it, however, say that they wouldn’t go back no matter what.

Awake in the Rubble

Many people who have experienced some kind of upheaval report that it was better to be going through it than to be living yet another day of numb existence.

I felt that same way. Even in my upheaval, the joy I felt was unmistakable. It was like the scene in Thelma & Louise when they’re driving through Monument Valley at night, and Gena Davis says, “I don’t remember ever feeling this awake. Everything looks different. You know what I mean? I know you know what I mean. Everything looks new. Do you feel like that? Like you’ve got something to look forward to?”

That feeling is what kept me going. Knowing that I was more alive than I ever had been. Upheaval was the right thing for me at the time. It was what I needed, and the deep changes have led me to create a life that – even with its challenges – is exactly what I intended.

So, is upheaval even a bad thing?

Anyone who has ever experienced deep healing from alternative healthcare knows that change and healing can often look bad before it gets better.

At the most recent retreat, one of the participants, an acupuncturist, talked about the process of healing. She said that Western medicine seeks to suppress symptoms, while acupuncture calls them up and out – while balancing the imbalances that cause those symptoms.

Our Western minds tend to think of any kind of symptom as “bad” and “to be alleviated.” This makes alternative health practices troublesome for many – as you sometimes have to deal with “healing responses” to treatment. This means that you can actually experience the very symptoms you’ve been trying to suppress before they can move up and out.

This requires trust, for sure. And it also requires a paradigm shift – where you move out of the belief that “Feeling bad is bad. Give me a pill to fix it.”

It’s the same with life changes and upheaval. Many people want growth and change and happiness – but they don’t want to go through the discomfort that awakening brings about. When you can recognize that the upheaval was brought on by your intent, and that things are moving “up and out,” then you don’t have to judge it or be frightened by it.

Your Life is Speaking to You

Here’s the thing. No matter how hard you try to pretend that you can avoid change and continue on a path that’s unconscious or inauthentic, eventually your authentic self has to speak up. Most people can’t avoid the voice of their soul.

You know when something’s not right. You know when you’re not happy. You know when you’re living on automatic pilot and going through the motions. And if you continue to ignore it, your life will start speaking to you. This is how Oprah puts it in the “Live Your Best Life” handbook:

“In little whispers…your intuition is telling you something. Did you not pay attention? The universe will speak to you a little louder – with a little tap on the shoulder. Then you get hit in the head by a brick. Still not paying attention? A brick wall falls on you. Still not hearing it? Then you experience a full blown earthquake!”

In other words, if you refuse to listen to your soul, eventually you’ll have no choice. Upheaval will come to you. You can then choose to grow from it, or suppress it even more.

I recently met a woman who was in a terrible car accident. It turned her whole life around. At one point in the conversation she said, “For three years prior to this event, I was ignoring my own intuition. I hated my job. I wanted to change my life. I wasn’t present at all. Looking back, it doesn’t surprise me that this happened.”

Is upheaval forever?

You might read this and think that your life will be in constant overhaul once you allow the upheaval to begin. This isn’t the case. Though I still go through changes and challenges, I no longer experience major upheaval.

My sense is that after you experience the upheavals and shifts that bring about a happier life, you become more tapped in to your intuition. You catch yourself moving off track more quickly. Numbness, distractedness, unconsciousness are no longer tolerable states. The changes you do experience are more about going through a little discomfort, and less about turning your life upside down.

These days, it feels more like I’m bumping into things when I’m off track. And it takes diligence and patience to make changes and go through scary shifts, but it’s not upheaval. It’s more fine tuned, more subtle.

However, there are people who get somewhat addicted to upheaval. It’s easy to get into the habit of letting things fall apart every time you go through a shift in life. It becomes kind of a paradigm. This doesn’t have to be the case.

A few years ago, I went through a shift in how I approached my career. I started to get very frightened, and think, “Oh my god, my life is falling apart.” I began down the upheaval road. Then, I questioned that belief. And I decided it didn’t have to “fall apart” to change. It has been a refreshing thing to observe myself go through a shift with grace and presence. I’m very aware that I didn’t have to fall into the path of upheaval simply because I was going through a life change. Neither do you.

The Bottom Line

I believe that each person decides how growth will happen in his/her life. But I don’t think big growth can happen without some level of discomfort and shift in behavior or action. It comes down to one of my favorite little sayings: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” Growth can be messy. But ask anyone who has gone through any kind of recovery — it’s much better than being stuck in an unhappy existence.

{27 comments ... read them below or add one}

Judy Dunn January 16, 2008 at 12:28 am

I have found that sometimes that shift from an unhappy state to a happy one can almost sneak up on you. One day, the thing you notice is the absence of being miserable, the absence of anger and frustration. In it’s place acceptance, and as you said, grace. The upheavel was there on the front end, but once things got in motion, the arrival to a more balanced and centered place was not so obvious and dramatic. Only in retrospect could it be seen.

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Joanne January 16, 2008 at 1:02 am

After two days of (intense) upheaval I now feel very reassured that I have made the right decision and listened to my soul. Thank you so much for this post, it was right on time and helped me understand what I have been going through. I like that “Bring IT On”!

P.S. Thelma was so right.

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Tammy Lenski January 16, 2008 at 6:57 am

Hi, Christine -

I was really drawn to your comment, “Our Western minds tend to think of any kind of symptom as ‘bad’ and ‘to be alleviated.’” That’s my experience with folks who seek out my help with conflict situations, too…the assumption that conflict is bad and needs a way to be neutralized or sent away. But the conflict’s only just a symptom and the possibility it presents can be a profound one.

When you mentioned the woman who’d had the terrible accident, I was reminded of talking to an adult student of mine years ago at a college I worked at. She’d been at a ropes course on a high-wire element and had broken the cardinal rule — she’d unsnapped the caribiner holding her securely in place before snapping in the second one. She’d fallen from the wire and broken her back. She wasn’t paralyzed but was in for many months in the hospital. She said to me, “This was actually a gift. What I did with the caribiners was just exactly how I’ve been living my life, moving too fast, not thinking before I acted, rushing around instead of pausing to get the most out of my experience. This was the universe’s way to MAKE me slow down. I think I’m lucky to have gotten that message while I could still live to do something with it.”

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Linda January 16, 2008 at 7:30 am

I think fear is what kept me from a major life change which was ending my marriage. I knew if I pushed and asked questions that my whole life would fall apart. Fear kept me quiet for ten years and then, despite it all, my marriage fell apart anyway. I don’t know if I can say that I wasted ten years but who knows what would have happened if I had moved forward?

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Diane January 16, 2008 at 8:13 am

Christine, you are always such an inspiration! Kind of like “leap and the net will appear” you are “read and a new wonderful perspective” will appear. Being born and raised in Texas I was brought up with the idea that a woman’s voice is suppose to be small. My life lessons have taught me how important it is to listen to my intuition and that voice (even when it is small). I like to think God speaks to us in that small voice that we hear when we really listen to our heart’s desire. So much of my life has simply been about avoiding pain…not really what makes me happy. Like you sang in “Right Outta Nowhere” – “Some choices hold you down…some chances set you free” Amen!

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Marilyn January 16, 2008 at 9:11 am

This is a beautifully wise post. I especially liked the bit about Western medicine trying to tamp down symptoms, since I believe the symptoms can be some of our biggest messages about the changes we need to make. It’s like killing the messenger instead of the ‘dis-ease.’ Great reminders here to pay attention to what our bodies and lives are trying to tell us. Maybe we’d be much better listeners with each other…if we learned to better listen to our own selves.

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themichellesmith January 16, 2008 at 9:47 am

Then after the upheaval and the launch of intention comes the part when we you get to practice having faith. You’ve launched your little boat away from the dock where you could no longer abide being tied. You’re sailing toward the land of your dream. And suddenly you find yourself surrounded by nothing but water. You can’t see the land you set out for. Your not sure in which direction it lies. That old familiar dock starts looking a little better than it did when you left it. But you don’t even have th option of turning back now, because that dock is gone, broken apart and hauled away. Now all you have is your boat and whatever wind you can call forth to fill your sails . You know now that you really are absolutely free to create your life. A world of options is sometimes scarier than two unappealing, familiar choices. Now you get to have faith, recall your vision, even refine it. You get to stay present, do the next right thing in front of you to do, and trust that your sign is on the way. It’s not here yet because you don’t really need it yet and wouldn’t know it if it did come now. But it’s on its way. You have faith. So you sail on.

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ChickiePam January 16, 2008 at 11:46 am

Hi Christine,
I’ve done a bit of upheaval in my life! I have likened it to waking up to find that all of my eggs have broken. (Um, I AM a chicken farmer, after all!) So then I have choices. I get to decide if I want scrambled eggs, cheesy eggs, an omelet, a soufflé’ or maybe plain old fried eggs! What I have found is it that what looks like a major upheaval can actually be just a series of baby steps. 10 years ago, I I broke all of my eggs. Even though at the time my life was filled with drama, I knew I was just taking the next right step for me. Most of the time I was OK with my broken eggs because I was busy chopping onions and peppers and mushrooms for a rocking kick butt omelet! And I have an awesome life to show for it.

A couple of years later when I was experiencing a pothole on the road of my life, I was whining to my good friend, Rudy. I had done all of this work and my life was great and why, why, WHY did I have to go through more crap! In his wisdom, he looked me lovingly in the eye and gently said “Because you are not dead yet, Pam”. And I got it. Life is about the process. If I were done, there would be no reason to be here. Thank you brother! So I’ve had even more crap since then, even a detour, but I’m continuing to take baby steps. I feel like I’ve moved through some major stuff just this past week when I walked on fire. I even wrote a blog about it. I’m thrilled to be riding on this nice stretch of wonderful road with this awesome community.

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Sue January 16, 2008 at 1:32 pm

Wow, your timing is incredible! I had a friend say to me just this morning that although she is sad for all the ‘reality’ and change I’ve been going through lately, that she can’t feel THAT bad because she knows this is the only way all the crap will move up and out so I can keep moving on. I agreed with her and told her that really at the moment I have to laugh. Like all my ‘upheaval’ cells are overworked but my humor cells are available! I am grateful for her and for you, and this way of communicating across the world that lets us know we’re so not alone. Thanks for being the root of that communication and sharing yourself in the way you do.

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Caren January 16, 2008 at 2:02 pm

I just found out I have to move – I didn’t have a lease, the landlord wants to do other things with the house – so, here we go! And even though I’m a *bit* stressed about having to find a new place, I’m mostly excited. I had just been wondering what retreat or workshop I was going to attend this Spring – well, it will be the retreat of Real Life and Change. It feels like the perfect thing to happen right now, even though I wouldn’t have chosen it consciously.

On Abraham-Hicks’ page this morning (http://www.abraham-hicks.com/ ) is the following: “You’re always, always, always going to be on your way to something more — always.” I need to remember that, because there is still a small part of me that believes when I’m in upheaval that I’m being punished, and will end up worse off than I am now. Just a teeny-tiny part now, because I have consistently bettered my life, but still there. If I can *know* I’m moving toward better things, even if it doesn’t look like it in the moment, I can move through with grace and gratitude.

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David Zinger January 16, 2008 at 2:18 pm

Christine:
This was a very well written piece on growth and development. I heard that about 93% of adults who are in adult education are there because of transitions. I think some disequilibrium is good for us in that it seems to be one of the major mechanisms to get people to be reflective…too often people can’t even tell you how they are when you ask them.
Thanks for the post.

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Christine Kane January 16, 2008 at 3:26 pm

Judy – Retrospect is the key word there! It’s such a gift to look back with gratitude – and notice that happiness has indeed “snuck up.”

thanks joanne! i wrote this post because of so many people in my e-Seminar working through upheaval as they shift and change their lives. It’s refreshing to witness, and I SO understand the fear!

Thank you Tammy. I can see the similar threads between conflict and upheaval. I never thought of it like that. I am one of those for whom conflict is massively uncomfortable!

Linda – AND you learn what you learn for going through it as you did. You’re that much wiser now. And you know to not let fear stop you in your tracks ever again!

Thank you Diane!

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Christine Kane January 16, 2008 at 3:31 pm

hi marilyn – i’ve gotten to where i look at my down or “depressed” days as symptoms. I simply no longer allow for the “this is how it is” approach. or the “this is BAD!” approach. And I think we would be better listeners to each other, you’re absolutely right there!

themichellesmith – yes yes yes indeed to that. faith is all you have when you’re in the midst of it! (and cool friends who tell you you’re doing great!)

as ever, chickiepam – thanks! i love reading your thoughts! congrats to you for walking on fire.

you’re welcome sue, and thanks right back. i’m glad the timing was good for you!

caren – i occasionally fall back into my old angry “god” who is punishing me for all my badness and wrongs – -mostly I’ve moved passed it. But i certainly understand those moments! good luck with the move. and good for you for having a great attitude about it!

thank you david!

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chris yale January 16, 2008 at 11:43 pm

Excellent post, Christine. Thank you.

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Helen January 17, 2008 at 7:23 am

Just what I needed to read today ! Thank you for this great piece.

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Elaine January 17, 2008 at 8:18 am

Just wanted to thank you for this inspiring post.

I have only recently become aware of how powerful I am with my intent and that hiding behind fear only ‘locks’ you into further unhappiness and living life untruthfully to yourself. Waking in the rubble and feeling uncomfortable is better than living unconsciously and inauthentically… I realise this now. Clarity of intent and faith are my oars to propel me across the water towards the new horizon! We’re back to the Zens: ‘Leap and the net will appear!’

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Joy Gardner January 17, 2008 at 9:50 am

As one who loves to cook, and also loves good wine, I’ve observed two things when it seems I’m “going through the mill”. Is wheat not crushed to make the flour for bread? Are the grapes not crushed and mashed before turning into wine? With yeast, it rises again, in a new form, something different, unexpected, glorious…I know I’m not into the “crushing” part, but I understand the process a lot more, so I fear it less. I push and pull the dough to make bread, it’s necessary, then I throw it into a hot oven for more than a comfortable time. And then it feeds, nurtures, different from the field, but brought in, changed, and the change is good…

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Dave Livingston January 17, 2008 at 10:46 am

Very interesting. Taking it for the wisdom it is can I ask:
1) how do you trigger change – maybe you have a “nagging” feeling but do you search out upheaval, what for it to come to you or sneak up on it ?
2) how/where is your center – that is what ground do you find to stand on ? Is it all “little voices”, can you work at it, e.g. readings, meditation, other work or is it all of the above sustained ?
3) how does one find the courage ?

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Colin January 17, 2008 at 10:55 am

Great sub-section “The Bottom Line” at the end of your post. I noticed a couple of readers appreciated the “western medicine” line, and I believe that the “if you always do what you’ve always done…” line is priceless. Life can be brutal sometimes, but at the end of the day, rarely complicated.

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Kay January 17, 2008 at 11:28 am

Another terrific post Christine. Thought I might interject that there are a few books by William Bridges on transition that might be helpful to those who have made the leap but have not yet landed in the “new place.” The two main ones are called “Transitions” and “The Way of Transition.”

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Christine Kane January 17, 2008 at 3:48 pm

Thank you Chris and Helen!

Elaine – You go girl!

Great metaphor, Joy!

Dave – #1 – I wonder if you’re really asking “how can I trigger change without going through too much discomfort?” If not, then all I can advise on this is that you begin by becoming aware of what is causing you to want to change? Since all things are connected, if you start focusing on that one area (i.e. career), then other things will start to fall in line. (Or fall apart, as the case may be!) I wouldn’t necessarily “seek out” upheaval. As to #2 – One of the things I advise in my e-Seminars is to immerse yourself in better perspectives. Audiobooks, books, seminars, etc – you need support. That’s for sure. Meditation and prayer and daily walks as well. #3 — I don’t believe that you can just “find” courage. As I’ve written about in this blog in so many posts – courage is not the absence of fear — and courage gets built by doing scary things and learning how brilliant you are in the process! (Or at least that you are resilient!)

Thanks Colin. You’re absolutely right there.

Hi Kay – and thanks for the suggestions!

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Susie Monday January 17, 2008 at 5:23 pm

I’m not sure upheaval is necessary, but in some situations, if you don’t make some bold changes, you stay stuck — as they say–rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. To affect change, you gotta be doing something different than what you’ve been doing, and we all only have the same 24 hours a day to fill. Upheaval serves to clear the time, force new choices. BUT, sometimes one can make dramatic progress in living a more authentic life in 15 minute increments. Just trying that something new for 15 minutes a day, “acting like.” Leaving a husband or a job can just be a dramatic choice that makes it feel like you’ve done something for yourself, but what you do after the upheaval is more important. I’ve seen people make some dramatic changes only to end up (like Thelma and Louise) driving off the side of a cliff, rather than doing the perhaps boring, little, day-by-day healing and self actualization that was really needed.

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Christine Kane January 17, 2008 at 5:28 pm

Very pertinent and insightful points Susie! Thanks!

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deb January 17, 2008 at 6:58 pm

I cannot begin to tell you how perfect this post is for me right now. It’s so dead-on that I’m amazed. I’ve been thrown into upheaval before. I’m in upheaval again, but on a less dramatic scale and of my own choosing. I’d forgotten these insights that you shared here. It’s good to be reminded.
Thank you!
All the best!
deb

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Michelle January 18, 2008 at 2:12 pm

What if something has been nagging at you as not quite right in a relaationship – a habit – ohhhh let’s say a little smoking habit – just feels so wrong to you. You went into the relationship knowing about it. It’s been 8 years and it still nags at you at the strangest times, “is this where I am supposed to be?” BUT the catch is everything else about the relationship is stellar. How do you know? We know we can’t change others….ahh your posts always make me reflect….thanks for that!

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Beth January 22, 2008 at 10:40 am

Thank you for sharing this! And to everyone who has left comments!! It underscores one of the things I share with others — we are all on a hero’s journey, and we will all have the choice to refuse to move toward our true calling, or to face the challenges and trials that show us where we need to grow, and gives us the practice to do the growing! *grin* Sure, it can be tough at times….been there many times myself. But that *is*, after all, what being a hero in our life’s story is all about.

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Christine Kane January 22, 2008 at 2:34 pm

thanks deb! i go through the same “oh yea!” process of being reminded, too. it even happens as i write a post like this…

michelle – this is totally going to be your own call. if it nags at you — then that’s the question “is your life speaking to you?” you can make a choice — i would just encourage that it be a conscious choice – not just letting it go on and nag you.

thanks for the additional thoughts beth!

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