Dealing with change.

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!**

Making the most of it.

Last weekend I was at the World Domination Summit in Portland, Oregon. I bought my ticket last fall– one of the lucky 3000.

WDS is comprised of main stage speakers, workshops, film screenings and unofficial meet ups that try to answer this question: “How do we live a remarkable life in a conventional world?”

Since it was only three days long, there was a temptation to pack in as much as possible. At events like this it’s common to hear, “I want to make the most of it.”

It got me thinking about what it means to make the most of my time.

Usually when we say that we want to “make the most of it,” we mean that we want to do the most— meet the most people, attend the most sessions, hit the most bars up at the pub crawl. I’ve tried this technique many, many times. It seems logical that by doing the most, we make the most of our time. But it’s never seemed to work all that well for me.

I came to WDS with a desire to experiment with making the most of my time here by figuring out how to be the most (present) rather than to do the most.

This new approach had me sitting in the basement of the hostel typing this post before I sat to meditate and then walked to the grocery store instead of socializing and bar hopping with my fellow attendees. I’ll admit I’m suffered a little from FMS (fear of missing something), but the message I got after checking in with myself after the final speaker of the day was: shower, eat and then re-evaluate. Upon evaluation, the message was write, meditate, groceries.

I worked actively with trusting that I’d still have maximum fun and cross paths with those I’m meant to meet. In taking care of myself, I was also more present to recognize the magic and participate in the events. For example, I had no idea where I was going to stay the days following the conference. One rad gal I met at the very last session of the summit offered me up a place to stay a few days while I get my bearings in Portland!

In the concrete the practice looked like this:

At every break I take a moment to check in with myself. Closed eyes and several seconds of reflections. How do I feel? What do I want or need? How’s my energy?

When I’m feeling distracted or bored or tuned-out in any way I check in again: What’s going on? What do I need? How do I get that for myself?

Making friends with Unknown

Unknown and I have been friends for a while.

She was always hanging around like a kid sister, wanting attention. But she was pretty quiet about it and I didn’t really take notice of her until about five years ago.

She’s a loyal friend to me, but, to be totally honest, I’m a fair-weather friend to her.

Sometimes she’s exciting to be around. Then I’m totally on her side. She’s my bestie and together we blaze new trails up mountains and skip hand in hand down colorful neighborhoods in unexplored cities.

Sometimes, though, she’s downright scary to be around, I know it’s not her fault, but I blame her. Sometimes I lash out and cry and throw a fit. Sometimes I recoil and try to ignore her.

She just sticks around with a wise smile and waits for me to get it together.

My favorite thing about her are the surprises. Man she’s come up with some amazing surprises! I’ve been blindsided with bliss at some of the things she’s arranged for me.

One time she led me to a farm in the desert! We ate lots of chard and beets and carrots and hiked around on slickrock. There were a bunch of kindhearted people that became new friends there, too.

Another time she took me to Idaho. She pulls this kind of thing a lot.

“Idaho?!” I asked with a cocked brow. “Seriously?” I was really skeptical about this journey.

“Trust me.” She said, sweet but firm. (How does she never get irritated with me?)

So I did.

Of course more magic awaited that I never could have anticipated. (Have you been to Idaho?) She guided me to the most serene place I’ve been. It started from the outside; sitting watching those majestic Sawtooth Mountains brought me instant peace. Eventually the feeling seeped in through my pores, entered with each inhalation, and stayed with me internally.

The thing is that she’s always doing stuff like this. She loves it. It feels like a gift to me, but the truth is that it’s just how she is. She’ll do it for you, too. That’s just her thing.

Knowing her tremendous capacity to give, I’m not sure why I keep resisting her. She does get a kick out of that cocked eyebrow and all my skepticism and hesitancy. But, like all good friends, she sees the best in me.

She beckons my boldness. Whether I like it or not, she challenges me. I know she’d never lead me into something I can’t handle (even though at the time I can’t always see how). In that way she sorta knows me better than I know myself.

I learn a lot from her, too.

I admire her sense of adventure and play. She’s the kind of gal who walks smilingly through the rain and opens any unlocked door (they’re always unlocked!).

“What’s in here? What’s over here?” she asks constantly. She always wants to talk to strangers—“Just friends you haven’t met yet” she says—and try new things.

Comfortable is uncomfortable to her. When the days start looking too similar, she suggests we go on an adventure or call someone we haven’t talked to in a while.

“I know!” she’ll exclaim, “Let’s go to the library and pick a book at random to read. Maybe we’ll get to learn about covered wagons or Jewish history or bird calls!”

Again, my skeptical raised eyebrow appears. But with her by my side, I know I’ll learn something relevant—bird calls and all are just metaphors for life. She’s always pointing that kind of stuff out.

Her wonder and wisdom astound me. That’s why despite the rough patches, I think Unknown and I will be friends for life.