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!**

Let go. Notice more. Use Everything.

“Let go.
Notice more.
Use everything.
…since each of these phrases is also an action, you could start practicing now without even getting into specifics. In the very next conversation you have, you could let go of trying to control the outcome, devote more attention to what other people say or make an effort to use anything that happens to feed the flow of the conversation—including interruptions, disagreements or misunderstandings that you might normally ignore. A small shift perhaps, but one that, if taken to heart, can create a big difference.
The advantage of this simple practice is that you have less to remember. It relieves the pressure of keeping up with the explosion of new ideas that abound in the management literature (or the self-help books). You can exchange the restless search or a quick fix for the quiet patience of a practice. Whatever happens, you can go back to the same simple, familiar ideas and apply them again. Over time you deepen and internalize your understanding, so that you can bring these ideas to bear quickly and easily, without even thinking about them consciously.”

A longtime believer in the power of practices (as opposed to changing behavior through sheer willpower or “step” systems) and a newcomer to the world of improvisational theater, I nearly cheered aloud when I read this passage from Robert Poynton’s Everything’s An Offer: How To Do More with Less , a book on using improvisational theater in everyday life.

I started to think of my big 3 practices for life in a new light. Less to remember! Bypass information glut! Yay!

My guiding practices are:

Nonviolent communication. (Practicing mostly informally for about 3 years.) It helps me with authentic participation and connection.
Improv. (Practicing for 3 weeks.) It further supports this by helping me practice non-judgment and acceptance (saying yes).
And Vipassana Meditation (practicing for 7 months) forms a solid foundation with perhaps the most general and seriously useful practice of equanimity (seeing things as they are and not blindly reacting).

Do you have practices that you find you keep coming back to?

Away

My dear readers!
I’m off to serve (volunteer) for 2 weeks at a Vipassana meditation course in the pacific northwest. I got to sit the course back in January and I’ve been itchin’ to give back. Now is the time.

There won’t be any internet there or opportunity to write but rest assured that the time will prime my mind for more material when I’m back. It’s gonna be good.

In the meantime, remember these?
Superhero mind powers. Or, what’s the best that could happen?

Love your weird.

Look out! Rearview Mirror Syndrome