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Being with Change is a Skill

“Change is everywhere!” – is a truth, which many of us will comprehend on a conceptual level, but have a hard time being with, once it becomes a lived experience.

Reading the discourses of the Buddha, we find regular reminders to be aware of the changing and fluctuating nature of all experience. Maybe he repeated it this often to counterbalance the natural tendency of the mind to assume that things will last, stay the same and continue.

A tendency of the mind which we actually need to respect and honor. The heart-mind holds on to this illusion for good reason. The idea of consistency helps us to orientate and feel safe in a world which might otherwise feel overwhelmingly complex, complicated and unpredictable. Whenever we are confronted with our unpredictable and fragile existence too harshly and are lacking the skills to handle that truth, we end up overwhelmed and might feel frightened, depressed or find ourselves reacting out of anxiety.

This is why I like to think of waking up to the truth of aniccā (changeability) as a gentle, and compassionate path, a gradual awakening rather than a rude wakeup call. If we do not want to be overwhelmed by it, we need to integrate it step by step into our ways of looking and consciously meet the painful emotions, thoughts, beliefs and behavioral patterns which most likely will arise with it.

Luckily, there is enough change and unpredictability in the small every day life, for us to make it a regular practice of being awake and aware of it. Days which don’t go according to our meticulously plans, friendships and relationships which change in their closeness and quality, our own moods and somatic experience, which do not change only by the day, but by the hour, the minute…

This practice continuously keeps asking one question: What resources, thus what embodied qualities, attitudes, conscious changes of perspectives, adaptions of focus, etc. do I need and can I train in order to accommodate change not “better” but with less suffering (dukkha, which is basically our entire experience of stress, discontent, fear, unease, etc.)?

Over a lifetime, minor and major changes will have a deep impact on us. Yet the tools to meet them stay much the same:

  • Our capacity to grief in healthy ways, 
  • to meet the nature of what it means to be human with compassion, 
  • to gain perspective and accommodate experience (upekkhā – equanimity), 
  • the wisdom to differentiate between what we need to accept for the moment and what needs our wise effort and energy, 
  • and our ability to accommodate the paradox of co-existence of both the nourishing and the unsatisfying, the beautiful and the ugly, the kindness and the reactivity, the harmonious and the less-than-perfect in ourselves, others, the entire world of experience.

This is a lifetimes work, which we are all confronted with. It is possible to ignore this work and live with the illusion of permanence for a while, but the dynamics of life tend to give us regular wakeup calls. Out of compassion for ourselves (and others), it might be wise to shift the perspective every now and then and meet the brisk winds of inconsistency. And then learn what we need to meet them with dignity, grace and wisdom, which are the foundations of the noble life, the Buddha was talking about.

Join Ulla’s LIVE Day of Practice on November 4, 2023 here!