Wil Darcangelo, Spiritual Director at First Parish Unitarian Universalist.
Wil Darcangelo, Spiritual Director at First Parish Unitarian Universalist.

The word “inertia” has two different definitions, even though they really are the same. The first is a tendency to do nothing or to remain unchanged. The second is a physics definition, “a property of matter by which it continues in its existing state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line, unless that state is changed by an external force.”

More simply said, if you throw a ball without gravity or friction being present, it would keep going on forever. The friction of the air slows it down, and the gravity of Earth draws it in. Anything wishing to escape the gravity or friction of Earth and its atmosphere must have enough power to overcome them. It must be stronger than gravity and friction themselves.

But inertia also means to sit there and do nothing. It essentially states that any experience will continue without change, so long as nothing happens to it.

Are you content with your present state of inertia? Assuming you may be one of those who feel their life isn’t going anywhere, or perhaps is going too fast, what would you like to do to throw off the curve? Or start one?

I learned yesterday that one of the strategies that might be employed to push off course an asteroid that threatens Earth is to spray it with paint. It would utilize a phenomenon called the Yarkovsky effect. Different colors have the ability to alter the amount of radiation an asteroid can absorb as it gets closer to the sun, ultimately changing its speed and trajectory. At least, that’s the theory.

I’m very fond of the notion that all it needs is a bit of redecorating to make it a little less destructive. A nice coat of yellow would cheer that asteroid right up.

Friction through the air would seem a small thing for those of us who move within it all our lives. But consider how hot a spacecraft becomes when moving at 25,000 miles per hour as it propels itself away. Or that a meteorite burns up long before ever reaching Earth. That’s friction at work.

And gravity is a multidimensional force unto itself, appearing so basic on one end and a host of scientific mysteries on the other. It embraces us as it restrains.

What are the forces of gravity and friction in your life? What burns you up if you move too quickly through it, or holds you when you try to run away? What must we do to create — as well as survive — change?

Thankfully, the news here is good. But it is the opposite of what we often think is best. The first thing to do is to assume that the use of force is not the only act that accomplishes anything. Subtlety and finesse are what alter a trajectory, or a mood, or an environment. That’s how change happens most reliably, and most comfortably.

My grandfather gave me the best advice about driving on slick New England roads: Remember to pump the brakes. Pumping the brakes is finesse. It’s not aggressively trying to shock inertia into changing course at the speed of our desire. Reality is an asteroid. It must be nudged gently and without overt disruption. Just like my car needs to be coaxed into slowing on a slippery road. If I jam on the brakes, disaster will be the only result. But if I gently pump the brakes, the car gradually reduces its speed and power of inertia.

Is there something in this for us? Of course. It means opportunities exist to work smarter not harder toward creating the change in our lives that we desperately want but are rightfully afraid of.

We are terrified of disruption in general. Unnaturally so, considering the amount of change we are typically used to experiencing on a daily basis. But I also remember how I felt when my favorite flavor of Ben & Jerry’s was discontinued. It has been years, and I still look for it. (It was Crème Brûlée, in case you’re wondering.)

Using this as a lens through which we can look at our present state in society, it reveals that the world is not falling apart so much as it is subtly and slowly changing. These changes have consequences, but they are not the same thing as a devastation.

More personally, if you find yourself dissatisfied with life, change is necessary. It’s calling to you. Start with a fresh coat of paint. Literally. Do it intentionally, believing in at least the metaphor of the Yarkovsky effect to change, however subtly, your trajectory. If color truly affects mood, as studies have suggested, how could that not make a literal impact on the type of decisions you make?

But even if you do it purely symbolically, adorning yourself or your environment with intentionality is finesse at work. It will allow you to move through a frictional environment with greater ease. It will allow you to fly in the presence of gravity.

But most importantly, subtle change is easier to take. Drastic change is difficult, and sometimes unavoidable. But when possible, direct your attention to any subtle change that might make a difference down the road. That day will come one way or another. Who will you be when it arrives?

Go easy on yourself. Decide where you want to be, and then take a step toward it. Even if no one notices. Who cares how old you are? Who cares how fat you are? Who cares how uncreative you think you are? You are likely wrong. We are made of creativity itself. Our attachment to the source of all creativity is secure. Tap into it. Pray to see your path illuminated before you. Ask for signs. Or paint them yourself. Tell yourself what you would have you know.

This car is yours. Drive it with finesse.

Wil Darcangelo, M.Div., is the minister at First Parish UU Church of Fitchburg and of First Church of Christ Unitarian in Lancaster. He is also the Founding Director of the Tribe Mentorship Project. Email wildarcangelo@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @wildarcangelo. His weekly column and blog on optimistic spirituality in the Information Age, Hopeful Thinking, can be found at www.hopefulthinkingworld.blogspot.com.