In my teens and 20s I lived in a spiritual community where days and nights of ordered living, rules, and obedience made it seem like change was something that happened somewhere else, to other people. For us, life felt unchanging, certain, solid. And then a scandal flamed through the group like a fire through a tinder-dry forest. In a flash, one identity ended, and my new life began.
I had no choice but to open up to the kaleidoscope of possibilities inherent in every moment. And it was one heck of a ride. I started working in the arts as a producer, creator, and performer. And I finally knew who I was. Or at least, I thought I knew who I was, and then that changed, too, as everything does. Nothing sticks around. Nothing stays the same. How many versions of us come and go over the days, the months, the years? The child gives way to the adolescent. The adult ripens and rots.
Change brings us face to face with impermanence. This awareness could easily breed anxiety or terror or rage.
How can you plan for your future if you don’t know what it will be, what you will be or, even worse, if you will be? Most of us react to this groundlessness by trying to stop things from changing. But how far do we really get with that?
Even change for the better can feel unpleasant. You get a new job, with more money, and then worry starts to bloom. What if things don’t work out? What if they realize I’m a fraud and I actually have no clue what I’m doing?
But the truth is we don’t know much about what “will be.” All we can really know is what is right now.
Endings and beginnings happen all the time whether or not we notice. As you read this your skin cells are dying and regenerating. The air you breathe is different with each inhalation. Even the dye on the lush, green plastic ivy I’d planted to bring winter cheer is fading. Change is the only thing that remains evergreen.
We are, by definition, creatures of evolution. We are here because of our ability to adapt to changing circumstances. Ironically, we evolve through fresh experience yet often cringe when it comes our way.
Instead of seeking out some elusive solid ground, we can become curious about what is here, now. What is this in front of me? What do I notice about its shape, sound, color, texture, and smell? Allow yourself to take in the raw data coming through your senses. If you stay close to what you’re experiencing, you can’t help but ride the waves of change. Instead of trying to peer around the corner in hopes of seeing what’s coming, move in for an intimate look at what’s happening right now. Recognize your preferences, but learn to hold them lightly, knowing that even what you think you want is subject to change.
Instead of trying to peer around the corner in hopes of seeing what’s coming, move in for an intimate look at what’s happening right now. Recognize your preferences, but learn to hold them lightly, knowing that even what you think you want is subject to change.
Developing an appetite for the unknown might initially feel like a reckless act. But being with change is not haphazard. It’s an intentional practice that takes courage. It invites us to stand up and explore our lives with vigor, knowing we will never experience this moment again. As corny as it sounds, everything really is only here for now. It’s all ephemeral. When we realize this, we can open our eyes to what’s in front of us and be present to what is coming and going. You don’t have to want what’s coming. But you can always smile knowing that, whatever it is, it too shall pass.
This column appeared in the December 2017 issue of Mindful magazine.