When I first looked for photos for adaptability, I saw a lot like the one below (Plan A/B). Having back-up plans is important, as certainty is the mother of all illusions. It's silly--and in some cases irresponsible--to not have multiple plans. But there's a profound difference between the idea of the chameleon, who can effortlessly change in order to protect himself, and the idea of having a back-up plan.
Then again, the chameleon is misunderstood as they change colors for a variety of reasons, including to regulate their body temperature and to communicate. But what most people think of when they think of even the word "chameleon" is what has come to be its definition: one who changes their opinion or behavior according to the situation.
What we don't know about chameleons, however, as we don't really know this about anyone else we cannot ask, is if there is any thought behind the adaptation. It seems automatic and unconscious.
For human beings, adaptability varies from person to person. Some people seem to be innately adaptable, while others need to cultivate adaptability. The good news is that adaptability can be learned.
You're Already Adaptable!
If you are reading this, you did some adapting since March of 2020. You bought masks and wore them. You washed your hands. A lot. You changed the way you socialized and bought groceries. Maybe you had to learn how to work differently. Maybe you had to learn how to exist in your home differently with other people.
This has been a year of adapting. I'm not talking about the Plan A or B kind of adapting, or the chameleon kind of adapting. I'm talking about the ability to notice that things around you have changed, and to realize you are going to have to learn how to integrate those changes and still find a way to move forward with what you need to do.
Celebrate Your Inner Resources and Build On Them
Have you ever heard anyone say, "Life begins at the end of your comfort zone?" I don't believe that as comfort zones have a protective function, kind of like avoidance. Instead of talking about comfort zones and growth zones, I'd like to talk about pendulation.
In mindfulness, you may know that we use pendulation to increase our capacity to handle discomfort of all kinds. It's a practice that reminds you of your inner resources and uses those resources to help decrease your own suffering. It's a resilience practice, and resilience is part of adaptability.
Never experienced pendulation? Let's do it right now:
1. Settle into a position that's comfortable and nourishing for you, and that supports wakefulness.
2. Use the Introduction to Anchors practice (the first Guided Meditation) to choose an anchor point if you don't already know about anchors. The anchor point has two main functions: it helps you train your attention, as you keep coming back to it when the attention wanders, AND . . . it's a point of refuge. This is the use that's important for pendulation.
3. When something disruptive, upsetting, or otherwise dysregulating occurs, meaning, your nervous system is reacting and you're becoming anxious or worried, go to your anchor point. Bringing your attention to your anchor point at this moment is touching on its ability (your ability) to resource you--to increase your capacity in the moment. This is why we call it a point of refuge: bringing your your attention to it at that moment relieves some of your suffering.
4. Here's the pendulation part. When you feel resourced, you bring your attention back to whatever upset you--the feeling in your body that was unpleasant--that was unwanted. Meet it with curious friendliness if you can, and if it gets upsetting again . . . move your attention back to your anchor point.
And that, my friends, is pendulation!
The practice of pendulation reminds you of your resources and increases your capacity to handle The Unwanted, in whatever form it presents itself. It builds the resilience necessary to optimize moments of adaptation. When things change, for some people, discomfort immediately arises. Increasing your ability to be with that discomfort helps you clearly see what your next best move is. It creates the internal environment necessary for conscious, intentional adaptation, rather than accidental, hasty reactivity.