The Sunday Magazine

Michael Enright embarks on a program of personal transformation

When you can't change the world, change yourself. The Sunday Edition's host Michael Enright does exactly that by swapping out his hangers and growing a beard.
When you can't change the world, change yourself. The Sunday Edition's host Michael Enright does exactly that, by swapping out his hangers and growing a beard. (Credit: Frank Faulk)

Nobody likes change. We may say we do, but we don't. Surveys have shown that. We would all like things just to stay the same, at least until we get our bearings in a world that is changing by the hour. There is not much we can do about the world as long as the people now in charge stay in charge.

So what to do? Well, the sages of the ages say that if you can't change the  world, at least you can change yourself. And you could do it through the marvel of transformation. Accordingly, I set out to try it in my own life. 

I felt as though I was embarking on a journey of discovery without having to worry about the ultimate destination; that would come naturally as a part of the process.

I had encountered transformative change when I gave up smoking, for instance, and when I finally decoded the right ingredients for a perfect martini. And of course when the kids were born. But that's the kind of change about which you have no choice. I decided if I were serious I would begin at the lodestar of all human intelligence — the Internet.

I clicked on the word itself, transformation and up popped a sentence that said "No more gutter cleaning."

Terrific. Not only is the advice timely, and labour saving, with all the leaves falling and everything, but it's a great first step in overall transformation. A simple thing perhaps but a start in the process. As I moused along further, I realized the message was not a transformational koan or mantra, it was an ad for something to clean your gutters. I'm very much in favour of clean gutters but I felt a bit downcast.

Undeterred, I pressed on. I looked for quotes about transformation. It was like hitting the Klondike Gold Rush. Hundreds of transformation tidbits guaranteed to move you along the journey to find as the sign says "Your inner greatness." 

One thing though. Many of the quotations are from Anonymous. Odd that. Are the authors of the quotations embarrassed because their work is so profound and germane or because it reads like something out of a fortune cookie? 

I decided that decoding the inner universe was too laborious and perhaps a bit frightening. I decided to begin with small things, tiny transformations over which I might exercise some kind of agency.

One weekend I replaced all my wire coat hangers with sturdy plastic ones. Not only was this a step up in sartorial accessorizing, it also meant I would no longer lose my mind trying to untangle the wire versions.

My next transformative accomplishment, switching from ordinary salt to sea salt. I don't know why I did this. It seemed  that suddenly one day every recipe, every restaurant menu was mentioning sea salt. I guess it is supposed to be, what, healthier, tastier? Or is it because of the bragging rights. "Oh no, here we use only salt from the purifying depths of Lake Baikal." 

As with every new endeavour, mistakes are made. In my search for transformation I slipped up a couple of times. For example, I grew a beard. Big Mistake. I looked like one of those historical photographs with the caption "Oldest veteran of  the Civil War." It was so scruffy and tangly, an old friend bought me a deluxe beard-trimming kit with dozens of attachments.

In a fit of something or other I quit reading The Toronto Sun, Canada's most hilarious newspaper. I loved The Sun. You could right through the newspaper never knowing when you might come across a front page story. After a few days, I realized I missed its stories about refugees slaughtering goats in hotel bathrooms.

Early in his great novel The Leopard, Giuseppe de Lampedusa has one of the main characters, Tancredi, intoned, "If you want things to stay the same, things will have to change."

It's a wonderful transformative sentiment. I have no idea what it means. But not to get discouraged, that's what life is — a process.

Click 'listen' above to hear Michael's essay. 


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