Everything will change. But that doesn’t mean it will get worse. It doesn’t mean it will change back into something we’ve known before.
The Buddhist idea of impermanence—change is inevitable and that is the nature of all things—can be deep comfort to us when we are facing hard times. When things really suck, it’s a major relief if we believe that it will end. That it must end. The hard part then becomes bearing it until its inevitable end comes.
But what about when times are good? The good times are subject to this same law of nature (in Buddhist thinking). But we like the good times and we want them to stick around even when we know that difficult moments hold lessons for us and ultimately move us forward. This desire to let the good times roll on and on is called “clinging” in the Buddhist world and ultimately leads to our deep “attachment” to emotional states, to people, to things, to ourselves (ego). When the inevitable changes comes, suffering comes too.
When I sat my first 10 day Vipassana Meditation Retreat in January, we were instructed to sit in silence, be grounded in the breath, and observe the sensations happening in our body. Sitting for nearly 11 hours each day, sensations could include intense pain, pressure, pulsating, itching, tingling, numbness, etc. We weren’t just to observe or identify our sensations though, we were asked to do so with equanimity.
Equanimity can seem like an abstract idea and the nuance of my practice with it on this retreat is a little difficult to explain. The best I can say is that I sat at first with all kinds of irritation, agitation and suffering. But as I practiced more, I was able to maintain equanimity even with the burning pain in my shoulder and constant ache in my knees. I was in pain, but I wasn’t suffering.
Since I’ve been back in the “real world”, I’ve been thinking about this idea of impermanence and grappling with what it means for the good times. Then I realized my previously hidden assumption that change means “bad changes to better” and “good changes to worse.” Ah ha!
The idea that change can and will happen can stimulate comfort or fear when we begin to assume the quality of change that will occur. After all bad things do sometimes get worse (even when we think they can’t possibly!) and when we’re ecstatic and think things are the best they’ve ever been, they can get still better. Or there could be a nuance change that is basically neutral and even undetectable (this is what is happening every second with our physical bodies and aging).
It is easier to practice equanimity with the changes in our lives when we can catch ourselves assuming the quality of change that will occur or the exact impact it will have. Instead of: “Things are bad and I can’t possible see how they can get any better.“ Try: “Things are bad right now. But let’s see what happens. Who knows what will come up next?”
Instead of, “Things are so great. I hope it never ends!” Try “Things are so great. I relish these moments of happiness/joy/peace/calm/ease. Who knows what will come up next?”
**Stay tuned this week for a special guest post!**