Change Is Fantastic! Reframing Unexpected Surprises, Detours, and Obstacles October 30, 2023 18:15
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I was driving in the car, headed to a dental appointment a few weeks ago. I was half-listening to an NPR interview with a scientist. I was taking an alternate route due to a massive construction project on I-465 and was laser-beam focused on driving. However, I heard a phrase that made me stop, literally, and pay attention.
The scientist being interviewed said, “Change is fantastic!”
My first thought was, that would make an excellent mantra! What a wonderful way to reframe unexpected surprises, detours, and obstacles.
Hearing this woman’s words changed (for the better) the rest of my commute. I was no longer thinking about the extra time that this alternate route was taking. Instead, I was able to appreciate the light traffic and fall scenery. My trip felt more like an adventure and an exploration than an inconvenience.
Not only did I arrive a few minutes early for my appointment, but I also discovered a new route in the process.
Most of us find change to be an unnerving, annoying inconvenience—sometimes, change can even seem terrifying. We often have a negative reaction to change, especially if we have expectations or attachments connected to the situation.
We leave for work only to discover our car has a flat tire.
We spill coffee on our laptop.
The power goes out in the middle of our Zoom meeting.
These unexpected twists and turns can, and do, happen at times, but humans are resilient. We are designed to adapt because we live in a world where change is a constant, unpredictable companion.
The good news is, the more we practice reframing unexpected changes with the mantra, “Change is fantastic!” the more effectively we can navigate even more serious changes like illness, death, natural disasters, and war.
The natural world is a beautiful reminder of the perpetual and cyclic nature of change.
At this time of year, deciduous trees in my town are bursting with color, and I love watching their leaves flutter to the ground. Soon, the air will be cold, and their branches will be bare—there is beauty in bare branches, too.
Change is Fantastic!
Flocks of birds are migrating south. Collectively, they undulate in waves across darkening skies streaked with the bold colors of autumn sunsets.
Change is Fantastic!
The squirrels in my yard are busy collecting and hiding acorns for the upcoming winter months. They, too, are preparing for fantastic changes.
Granted, some changes are easier to appreciate than others.
Celebrating birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, and graduations are just a few examples. It’s easy to recognize and rejoice the fantastic nature of these milestones.
I’ve worked in a high school setting for over three decades, and while most seniors look forward to graduation at the end of the school year, each year there are a few who dread it. These students have grown attached and accustomed to school life—the structure, the expectations, the routines and schedules. Even though they may complain about the workload (or the food in the cafeteria), school for them is predictable, familiar, and safe.
Some students are so resistant to change that they sabotage their own future success by failing key classes so they can’t graduate. For them, moving forward into new situations, opportunities, and circumstances is too uncomfortable or frightening. They believe that if they don’t graduate, their lives won’t have to change. Self-sabotage and stubborn stagnation are not effective coping mechanisms for navigating growth and progress. Unfortunately, these heart-breaking strategies aren’t just limited to seniors in high school.
Life is change!
While some changes are more comfortable to experience than others, even the lessons that devastating changes bring can be meaningful and profound.
Changes such as dealing with an illness, a sudden death, violent crime, war, or a devastating earthquake, flood, or wildfire—these are truly fantastic changes—but they don’t feel very fantastic. Instead, they can be overwhelming and traumatic.
These larger-than-life changes are formidable reminders of the importance of compassion and interdependence. Often, during profoundly difficult times, people come together to offer aid, support, and comfort. This interconnection enables us to see that what we do matters, and that our actions ripple and reach, creating an intricate tapestry of connections.
Such dramatic and jarring changes can also lead to equally dramatic realizations, understanding, and the motivation to act and respond in resourceful, beneficial ways. Big changes help us to see the bigger picture and the longer view.
Human beings are both fragile and resilient—vulnerable and strong. By accepting that change will be our constant companion throughout our lives, and by welcoming small changes with a light-hearted, open-minded attitude, these strategies can help us enjoy our current journey and prepare for bigger obstacles that may lie ahead.
As I was walking from the parking lot into school this morning, I noticed that the temperature had dropped by twenty degrees during my commute. The jacket that I was wearing wasn’t quite warm enough for this environmental change. However, the walk from my car to the front door was a short one, and I had a mantra that was just perfect for this situation: “Change is fantastic!”
Thank you for reading or listening to this month's offering. If you would like to embrace the upcoming, fantastic changes in your life with the help of a new mala, feel free to visit the latest MMM collection while you're here. I've added several new designs since Wellbeing Fest.
Impermanence is a Process: A Daily Practice Can Help Process Change February 25, 2023 17:39
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I've been thinking a lot about impermanence lately. It's one thing to contemplate the idea of impermanence--to recognize and be aware of it in an intellectual sense--but it's quite a different practice to experience it--to feel the full weight of it when it pushes into your life and then leaves you, overwhelmed and confused.
A couple of weeks ago, my neighbor, Paula, called me in the evening. She was in a panic, and her voice wavered as she struggled to control it.
"I hope I'm not bothering you," she began.
I knew it was something serious--and she had no need to qualify her news or apologize.
"An ambulance just pulled into our driveway, and we're taking David to the hospital," she said.
I could hear and feel the uncertainty and concern in her voice. Her husband, who recently underwent major heart surgery, was having difficulty breathing and was experiencing severe pain.
My heart went out to both Paula and David. They had been through so much in the last few months. After a serious bout with COVID, David's health continued to deteriorate, leading to a heart valve replacement in December. He had been home for a couple of weeks, and his surgeon was happy with his recovery--until now.
Nothing is permanent. Nothing is fixed or lasts forever. We age, grow old, and die. No one is exempt.
Comprehending this on a superficial level and realizing it in a deep, real, and profound way are very different degrees of understanding.
I whispered, "Oh, honey--I'm so sorry. Please know that we are thinking of you."
I looked out the kitchen window and watched the ambulance's lights flashing in the darkness. We hung up, and I held onto the edge of the counter until the ambulance pulled out of their driveway. When my own breathing steadied, I took my seat and practiced, dedicating the merit of the practice to the both of them.
We don't realize how attached we are to this life...or to the people and things of this life...until we are confronted with the harsh reality of loss.
Our tendency to grip and cling to those we love becomes such a firmly ingrained habit. We don't even think about impermanence, until someone we love dies or leaves.
In The Four Foundations of Mindfulness in Plain English, Bhante Gunaratana states, "When we do not cling, we do not suffer."
We cling out of habit. We expect those we love will always be there for us...with us. We take them for granted instead of taking responsibility for our own deluded state of mind.
"Life is as impermanent as a water bubble."
This is one of the lines that stands out to me in the Chenrezig sadhana. Every day, when I read this line, I pause to take it in.
Being responsible means knowing how to respond with skill, wisdom, and awareness.
Understanding impermanence is a process--sometimes we can prepare in advance for an upcoming change--like planning a wedding, a graduation party, or a move.
Sometimes, however, the changes occur suddenly--but they aren't necessarily unpleasant. My daughter's dog, Kevin, was a stray who literally jumped into her arms as she was stepping out of her car one evening. Kevin has been a source of joy for her and her husband ever since.
Pleasant changes and gradual changes are easier to manage, but the sudden, life-changing surprises can be like sucker punches to the gut.
The truth is, we're changing constantly. In our own bodies, on a cellular level, millions of cells die and many more replace them every day.
Today is Saturday--but I am not the same person that I was last Saturday. I may look the same, but on a cellular level, I am different--I have changed.
Change is a powerful teacher. It nudges us (sometimes gently, and sometimes forcefully) to pay attention, to be mindful of where we are, what we are thinking, doing, saying, and who's around us.
This moment will never come again--our next breath is not guaranteed--and the more we can appreciate and be present with what is, the more open we can be and more accepting we can be when changes inevitably come.
This is where a daily meditation practice really comes in handy. Daily practice can help prepare for and cope with loss and change.
Taking a few minutes each day to connect to my breath or to recite a few rounds of mantra with a mala can help prevent me from spiraling into worry or grief when the universe pulls the rug out from under me.
A daily practice also bolsters my courage. I have friends who avoid watching the news, for example. They can't handle it emotionally--it's too overwhelming and depressing for them.
Just this month, hearing stories about devastating events such as the toxic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, that resulted in hazardous chemicals seeping into the soil and water--polluting the air, and causing devastating effects for the residents and wildlife in the surrounding areas--this is suffering, this is painful, especially upon learning that accidents like this are totally preventable.
Sometimes, they can't be prevented. On an international level, the powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake, followed by a series of aftershocks devastated parts of Syria and Turkey, killing more than 44,000 people and displacing more than five million from their destroyed homes.
Facing change and suffering is not easy--and ignoring it doesn't make it go away or make it easier to handle, either.
Change can be sudden...change can be devastating...Having the courage to face impermanence, and having the compassion to reach out to others who have been directly impacted, are crucial to recovery and healing.
Speaking of recovery and healing, I have some good news. David, our neighbor, was released from the hospital recently and is recovering at home. I stopped by a few days ago to deliver a vase of tulips and to offer to help with anything they may need. It was good to see them both smiling and happy.
Change is inevitable. Nothing is permanent. All changes aren't devastating. However, a daily meditation practice can help prepare for the uncertain and bolster the compassion and wisdom required for managing the aftermath, whether the changes are positive, negative, or neutral.
Daily practice offers solace, steadiness, and familiarity during ever-changing times. May your daily practice be of benefit to you...and may it help you to be a source of strength and support for others.
By the way, the Middle Moon Malas collection is also always changing. I have added several new one-of-a-kind malas and quarter malas to the online shop. If you would like a new mala to support your own practice, or if you'd like to give a beautiful mala to a friend or loved one, please visit middlemoonmalas.com.
(photo credit: Angelica Vaihel via Pixabay)