Change: The Universal Constant - Acrux Fanzine

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Monday, 8 October 2018

Change: The Universal Constant

Five years ago I went through something of a health issue. One of the many side effects of the treatment that eventually resolved my problem was that it is a depressant that had me lose every ounce of muscle bulk I had, leaving me with only my fat reserves. Yeah, it would be nice if it were the other way around but the body doesn’t work that way. It was an eye-opener for me, giving me some small understanding of how much your health and mind-set can change your life but how, by making an effort to understand yourself and the world around you, you can change your life.

No, the L’Stok train hasn’t finally jumped the tracks! I’m not going to try to win you over to the church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. With both my physical and mental resources under attack I went down some pretty weird rabbit holes though  - well, have you tried to out-stare a salt shaker? - some of which ended up being interesting thought experiments. Like a real, laboratory experiment, we have to start off with an unbiased mindset and a set of observations which we test and from which we extrapolate general points.

Take, for example, the observation that change is inevitable. Disraeli said it but the concept is not new, it has been postulated by many famous minds. Fran├žois de La Rochefoucauld (left) said, “The only thing constant in life is change” but it goes all the way back to  the original 'grumpy old man', Heraclitus of Ephesus, “the only thing that is constant is change.”

It's not controversial. Millions of factors, physical and mental, affect our everyday life in different ways. Some are subtle and make fractional changes: "Every breath you take, every move you make"... Picture bush walking through beautiful clean air in the countryside as against a monotonous trudge through a pollution-laden environment. Each breath, each step, could be healing us or destroying us.

Change is not always negative. In general terms, whilst modern life is a minefield of things that can harm us, advances in society have increased the average lifespan and improved our quality of life. The plagues that culled the population in the past are no longer an automatic death sentence. Education and entertainment have been refined, making new opportunities for enjoying or partaking in arts, crafts and sports.

Taking your health as a primary concern, what are the overall factors that affect it? Looking at the broad picture, I see four overall influences...
  • TIME: we are all getting older! As a child we welcome ageing, but eventually we recognise it as a bridge to eternity, the reward for reaching an advanced age is a frail seniority, being imprisoned in a body that is slowing down to a stop. It is predictable and we accept it as inevitable
  • GENETICS – It’s not just being born short, tall, thin or fat, it is about being born with challenges like missing limbs, blindness, or one of the invisible health issues like diabetes or clinical depression. It could just be a statistically higher chance that you could force you to take one path rather than another.
  • INFECTION - You can be super fit, looking after your diet and exercise, but a disease could slip past your guard. Eating tainted food or drink, a careless sexual encounter… This is unpredictable, it could be anything at any time, just like…
  • ACCIDENT – As with infection, accidents are something that cannot be 100% guarded against and, whilst we do not like to think about it, one mistake - a fall, a drunk driver, a moment's inattention - could change us from a person in the prime of our lives to a vegetable in an instant.
Remember, these are just things that can affect your health and physical well-being. Just imagine the other countless  influences that can affect your career, your relationships, the things we write off as fate or bad luck. In fact that is one of the first observations that you can make about change: there are those who resist it, those who embrace it and those who are fatalistic and simply accept whatever happens (neutral).

Another thing that struck me was that of these four influences, two of them have ‘good’ and ‘bad’ manifestations. The ‘genetic lottery’ can have positive and negative aspects by passing on helpful or hindering aspects of health, strength, intellect or character. In the same way, if we think of accidents as things that are unplanned, 'good accidents' can be classed as serendipity.

The point is though that these are popularly perceived as things that happen to us, that change is most often the end result of things that we have little or no control over. Things at either extreme of fortune can be life-changing: debilitating ill-health, horrific accidents and assaults or, on the plus side, having a cast iron constitution, quick reflexes and keen senses. Some philosophies, some religions, advocate that it is impossible to fight fate, kismet, that life is predestined.

Modern western civilisation is obsessed with the idea that we are masters of our own destiny, that change need not be a game of chance which we win or loose at random. The modern cult of the individual hinges on our ability to engineer change in our lives with conscious effort using the raw materials available and to a large extent it has anecdotal evidence to back it up. Great artists are not just born, they are the result of developing a natural ability, cutting edge athletes can turn average physiques into winning performances and the path to knowledge is through study.

This is where we get into the question of whether we, as individuals, are the sum result of our natural abilities or our experiences. Whether we are shaped by nature or nurture. That road has been trodden many times but in the context of change, can what we experience change us (Empiricism) and if so, by how much?

The answer is obviously yes because, no matter what we think of predestination, our lives are always the sum total of our actions. Both of these seem to be aspects of change, perhaps it would be more to the point to change the question?  It all seems logical and straight forward, so why go to the bother of stating it? It’s because at the times of my deepest despair, I found it hard to believe that there could be any way out. Sure, my despair was chemically created, as I knew because I had been through it before, but it was real enough to me so hit back by asking, how could I turn this on it’s head? If change is inevitable and I can identify the factors that are causing the changes, it must be possible to mitigate the negative factors and introduce positive factors that can create a positive change. It might not get me where I want to go but at least I might avoid the worst pitfalls.

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