Change: How do we embrace the inevitable?

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Most of us have very mixed feelings about change. We both want it, sometimes desperately, and resist it, even the change we supposedly want. Change is a given. There is nothing static about life and even those aspects of our lives that appear to remain the same and which, in the appearance of consistency, either frustrate or reassure us, are ever-changing. So, given the inevitability of change, what kind of attitude towards it is most helpful to us?

Typically, we take one of two approaches to change: we try to force it or we resist it. Neither approach ultimately serves us well. Life is like a river, ever flowing, ever changing, effortlessly adapting to the forms and conditions around it. But when it comes to our personal lives, we are often afraid to relax into the flow. We don’t feel safe with this level of surrender. The mind becomes anxious because it wants to know things will be okay. So from this level of mind, we start to exert effort hoping to get rid of things we perceive as obstacles to our happiness and to bring in things we perceive will contribute to our happiness. In both cases, we have a tendency to act from a motive of resistance. “This thing, this part of my life, should not be this way. Because of it, I am unhappy.” Or, “The absence of this thing that I want is causing me unhappiness. I must go get it so that I can be happy.” Either way, the point of origin is often a lack of acceptance for the way things are and a perception that a little effort might create a more acceptable situation.

 

Imagine that you are a boater on a river. The river is moving quickly and you’re not sure where it’s going, so you begin to paddle backwards or sideways, or you try to bring the boat to a stop so you can get your bearings. Your efforts will give you something to do, but you will not stop the current or succeed in going anywhere other than the river’s natural direction. You will be frustrated and/or exhausted. If the river is moving more slowly than you’d like, you can try to paddle faster, but you may exhaust yourself and you will likely discover that you exerted a lot of energy getting somewhere you would have arrived at anyway and with greater ease if you had trusted the river.

The secret to effective change is a combination of awareness and acceptance. The awareness comes when we cultivate ways to step out of our habitual ways of looking at things. Awareness is perception that is detached. To be aware of something necessarily means that we are not that which we are aware of. There is the observer, the observing and the observed. Much of the time, we confuse our identity with what we are experiencing. We forget about ourselves as observer and become the observed. For example, if I am experiencing depression, I may be inclined to say ‘I am depressed’. However, there’s a danger in using such vocabulary because using the phrase ‘I am’ equates me with the depression. Naturally, I don’t want to be depression and so I may set about trying to get rid of it in order to feel better about myself. I begin to resist what is and, in that resistance, I actually strengthen what I am resisting. It’s counter-productive. The more we fight something we don’t like, such as depression, the more we experience it.

In Gaelic, prepositions are used to express relationships to feelings. There is not even a way, linguistically, to identify oneself with a feeling.

 
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