We think of change as something we “have to deal with” in our lives. That we need to constantly figure out how to adapt to life’s ever-changing situations (ups and downs). It could be that we have been diagnosed with a terminal illness, we were relieved from our job, our partner left us, etc. Forgetting for a moment about the seemingly “big changes” that could abruptly show up in our lives, we get irritated even with the small everyday things like the weather. We let the weather determine our moods and behaviors. Mark Twain once quipped, everyone seems to talk about the weather, but no one does anything about it. We don’t think twice before having thoughts like, “It better not rain/snow tomorrow, as it’s my birthday/wedding, etc.” or “That person better show up with what I want them to do, or else….”
Whatever the case may be, we perceive change (big or small) anywhere from a scale of somewhat inconvenient to difficult that must be overcome, not the least of which is because we allow ourselves to be easily bothered/disturbed/affected by people and/or situations in our lives. Then, we talk about having “grit/courage/resilience” as a way to “bounce back” from what we perceive to be an adverse event to begin with, but more on this later.
We spend our lives either trying to make our life be a certain way OR we spend it trying to keep it that way. Resistance ensues. While it’s true that we have to deal with change in our lives, why then do we resist it?! Why do we expect things to stay the same despite knowing the fleeting nature of everything around us (including ourselves)?! Our resistance to change comes from the fact that we want things to remain the same, so we don’t have to keep figuring them out again (why fix if it ain’t broke, right?!), lest we forget life is not about getting what we want, and keeping it that way. What we resist, persists. The reason we find it difficult to adapt to our ever-changing circumstances is, because we have decided in advance that we want our life to be a certain way (trouble-free, for instance), and when it ceases to remain that way, resistance ensues in its various forms.
Change is the only constant there is. That’s not bad news, but good news, because it releases us from having/wanting experiences (people and/or situations) in our life to be a certain (limited) way. It frees us from having any preconceived notions or expectations of any kind, so we get to enjoy the experience that presents itself to us for what it is rather than hoping/wanting it to be different. Because we get fixated on what we want to happen, we lose out on the experience as a whole. As Joseph Campbell said, no one goes surfing hope to ride the same wave twice. When we don’t have to decide in advance as to which wave to ride on, it frees us to enjoy the wave that appears in front of us. That’s acceptance.
Acceptance is the way, because resistance is futile. Acceptance is not about giving up, rather it’s surrendering to our resistance to life. It means we accept people and situations in our lives willingly for who and what they are. That’s not to say we don’t do anything about them. But, we need to let go of any personal reaction before we are ready to deal with our situations objectively. “Resilience/courage/grit” are moot in the face of acceptance. When there is acceptance of everything, there is nothing to bounce back from. We don’t have to be “strong”, but wise.
As Heraclitus, Greek philosopher has said:
No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.
The journey is the point. We are only ever entitled to being (and doing) our best, which is the reward in and off itself. A wise one is never afraid or worried that he might not get what he wants OR he might get what he doesn’t want. He simply shows up and responds appropriately, because he knows he is only ever entitled to his actions, and never to the outcomes.
Coming back to our earlier weather example, it is irrelevant what happens outside. All we have to do is respond appropriately. When it rains, we use the umbrella, when it’s cold, we put on warmer clothes, when it’s hot, we wear fewer clothes, etc. We do these anyway, so it makes little sense to waste our attention complaining about it. We can apply this idea to every aspect of our lives.
As I alluded in the piece on choice, it’s not about having the best hand in life. What matters is how best do we play the hand we have been given. We get upset/bothered/disturbed from our actions than our situations. Despite what we might believe, no one has the ability to bother us. The truth is everything in life is wonderful (because it is!). This isn’t about having “toxic positivity” as claimed by some, rather, it’s the only rational thing to do, which is to enjoy each moment while we are here on this planet (which is spinning in the middle of nowhere) for a short while.
Life’s ups and downs (change) can best be navigated by staying equanimous. For instance, never let success get to your head, and never take failures to heart. All we do is show up to be our best, because that’s all we can do. If we think everything in our life has to be okay before we’re okay, we’ll never be okay. It’s not a matter of if, but when we need to deal with things. In any case, the question isn’t what we need to deal with, but how we decide to deal with anything that comes our way. How we live matters more than what we do. When we focus on living/being, the “doing” will take care of itself.
When we know change is the only constant there is, all we have to do is ride the wave that presents itself to us the best we can. We don’t have to “do anything” to force things to be a certain way. All we have to do is stay open to the experience that unfolds in front of us, and be (and do) our best with it. In any situation, our response matters more than the people and/or situation itself. It’s the only thing that matters. No situation can cause us distress despite what we might believe. The moment in front of us is perfect as long as we don’t make it personal, because it’s not.
We don’t get to decide which wave to ride on (which is good news!), but we do get to decide how we are going to ride the wave in front of us. It would be unwise to wish to ride the same wave twice. All we have to do is stay open to the experience and be (and do) our best. Life is not about getting what we want. It’s there simply to be experienced (enjoyed) in the way it unfolds. The fact that the world keeps on changing is good news, because that frees us from the pressure of having things to be a certain way. When there is no expectation of any kind, there is contentment with everything. It’s the only natural (joyful and sustainable) way to live.