Why is it that joy and intense grief so often go together like mac & cheese? Maybe one thing they have in common is change. Joy often comes from change and so does grief. Change is a funny thing. We can’t live without it. From the day we are born we are changing. Right down to the cellular level. Red blood cells have a life of about four months. New things are constantly happening within us. And as much as we might like to remain stagnant at times, we cannot. Life brings twists and turns, bends in the road, and unexpected bumps to move us along. We can wonder what it would be like to live without change, but I’m not sure we can accurately imagine it – maybe like the movie “Groundhog Day”? Anyhow, change is always comin – like a freight train bearing down the tracks.
We are wired to recognize patterns and situations to avoid danger and to conserve energy. Change makes us use energy to learn a new pattern or situation. We are wired for memory. Change makes us consolidate new memories. So now we have to use our energy to see and do something different and we have to store and differentiate between the old and the new experience. And sometimes the difference is not even between what was, but what we imagined and what actually was or is.
So it is painful because it takes our energy and forces memory change. Why is it often accompanied by joy? New things can be exciting. New things can present options and choices. Newness can invite greater space for enjoyment, pleasure, and fulfillment in an area that had been lacking. As the old red blood cells die, new ones take their place. When we let go of an old paradigm, there is room for a more adaptive view to take its’ place – something that’s going to work better.
So, I think we just have to live with it. Joy and grief are inextricably linked. Most of the time we will have one with the other. If we can hold both and go back and forth flexibly and freely, then good for us! Enjoy the joy and grief that are part of life, my friends.