Embracing Change and Suffering
I woke up this morning in a bad mood. Some people call it getting up on the wrong side of the bed, but today, there wasn’t a right side. It was all about the time change. I know it’s petty, it’s only one hour and there are so many more serious things in the world to be
upset about, but I resent anything getting in the way of a comfortable routine I created around time and experience that makes me feel safe.
I know change is supposed to be good for me. It’s supposed to wake me up, exercise my brain and give me a new outlook on life. It’s supposed to alter a kind of rigidity that often sets in when we live alone and even when we don’t. It’s supposed to teach me how to be more flexible, go with the flow, let go and let God, surrender to what is, and some other pertinent clichés. But I still don’t like change.
Most of us humans don’t, even though change is one of the few things we can count on. It feels like I’m always scrambling around, looking for solid ground in a world that is perpetually spinning through space. I don’t like discomfort, unpredictability and I don’t like things to end when I’m happy with them just the way they are.
But what remains true, what I can always be sure about, is the fact that there are things that I can’t change, no matter how hard I try. It’s the serenity prayer from AA, about changing the things I can and accepting what I can’t. But it’s not so easy. It’s a dilemma I can’t quite unravel. How can I be at peace when life is giving me what I don’t want and not giving me what I do want? It brings me back to the idea that I have to make my choices and lead my life accordingly. If it doesn’t work out, I can make a different choice next time.
I’m reminded of a story in which a young monk is meditating by a river bed. He’s trying to stay focused but the water is hitting some large stones and making a distracting sound. He gets annoyed and decides to move the rocks. They’re heavy and awkward to move, he
huffs and puffs, he slips and falls into the water, soaks his robes, stubs his toe and twists his knee. Finally, he’s finished rearranging the stones and he sits back down to meditate in peace. But his robes are wet and cold, his knee and his toe are throbbing, the water is splashing against the stones louder than before and his suffering is much worse.
The moral of the story: You can’t change what’s outside of you. You can only change what’s inside of you.
Teacher Pema Chodrom says that when we resist change, it’s called suffering.
But when we can let go and not struggle against it, it’s called enlightenment.
I’ve come to understand that the
idea is not about getting rid of suffering. It’s part of the human condition. It’s not about resisting change. That only causes more suffering. Instead, let’s learn to accept what we can’t change and stop trying to push it away like the stones in the river. Let’s learn to soften enough to accept the present moment in all if its truth and rawness and remember that the difficult stuff changes too.
I do my best. I expect you do, too. I try not to fight the tides, to ride the horse in the direction it’s going and find some peace to lessen my suffering. The fact of our shifting changing emotions is something we will always feel, so why rage against it? It doesn’t
matter how angry we get, it’ll still be there. It doesn’t matter how sly we become. We can’t hide from it. It doesn’t matter how many times we rearrange the stones. The distractions won’t go away. I try to accept all these things as best I can, but you know what?
I still don’t like change.