Us expats are great at change, right? We do it all the time. Every couple of years–or months–we switch jobs, make new friends and change countries. On the surface, we’re capable, organized and likely have it down to a routine.
By week one, we’ve sourced our kitchen equipment from the market, bought fabric for custom-made curtains and are imagining what kind of local furniture would meet the criteria of comfort and aesthetics in all that open space. I know it’s not just me. But even if you prefer to watch satellite television while waiting for your sea freight to arrive, you’re still likely thinking to yourself, “I’m pretty good at this.”
On the surface, I think we’re right.
But I’m starting to wonder if our superb coping strategies–the ones that allow us to start making friends as soon as we land in a new post or explore new environments with dedicated adventurousness–aren’t masking something deeper. When I look, I see it’s harder for me to accept the constant pace of change my expat aid worker lifestyle involves than I first expect.
I’ve started to notice how my body reacts when I’m confronted by impermanence. I tense up, as if by bracing my body I can resist the inevitability of change. When I hear that a beloved friend is moving, my stomach drops and then clenches, or my hands go cold. As a big change approaches, it’s harder for me to fall back asleep, even though I know that letting my mind run in an endless loop does nothing to affect a positive outcome.
These are physical signs that I’m resisting change. The mental ones–like the clutch of anxiety–are harder to track, but I can make out their well-grooved pathways if I give myself the time and space.
There’s a lot of useless stress that goes into resisting impermanence. Entire spiritual traditions are built upon embracing the ebb and flow of life’s energies and patterns. As I look back at the last year and all the changes it’s brought, I want to be more resourced and resilient in facing the inevitable impermanence of our expat lifestyles in the year ahead.
I plan on doing that by taking more time for myself in the coming year–more time for yoga and vigorous exercise, which I find clears my mind and lifts my spirits, more time for meditation, which grounds me and sweetens my soul, and more time for exploring how to celebrate and flow with the changes life brings my way.
I hope you’ll join me.
I’d love to hear what you think about Expat Backup, so if you have feedback or suggestions, or just want to say hi, write to me at elie at expatbackup dot com.