Ideas on yoga, meditation, health and fitness
We long for permanence and as a result we suffer, for we find none” - Steven Hagen, Buddhism Plain and Simple
The phrase “everything is temporary” used to incite feelings of sadness, angst, frustration and often-times anger within me. Twenty-something year old me (ok, who am I kidding, until sometime very recently, thirty-something year old me) never wanted anything to change. I can recall from a very young age, wishing I could freeze time exactly how it was in any moment of elation, joy, or even contentment. An amazing summer, an especially good year at school, a blissful relationship - I wanted to live in that moment forever. I’d always been incredibly nostalgic and very unhappy when it was time for things to end. Last days of school were particularly upsetting (even the pretend ones in the movies and on TV). I had a hard time understanding how everyone could just accept that we weren’t going to walk down the same halls the next day, or have the same friendships? How could everyone just move on to different people and circumstances? People moving was also major trigger for me and don’t even get me started on relationships. Growing up as a hopeless romantic, I definitely believed in forever. When a very serious boyfriend told me that everything was temporary and alluded to the fact that we may not be in love with each other until the day we died, I took it as a personal affront. I felt that this philosophy undermined the unyielding and never ending power of true love. For me, my aversion to change was mostly about people leaving me.
Because of this fear of impermanence and change, as many of us have, I spent most of my life in a state of self-imposed suffering. My contentment with the status-quo was all I could see and my thinking was small and unimaginative. I couldn’t see past the present moment and what I considered to be comfort and stability. And although, being present is a wonderful and necessary tool, I grabbed onto that present moment and put it in a chokehold and tried to keep it hostage. Needless to say, this was as effective as attempting to grab hold of air. And as always, the harder I tried to hold on to people, moments or things, the more they all seemed to slip through my fingers. The unknown quality of change was far too unimaginable and scary for me and the chance that change could bring happier or better times into my life was a risk I wasn’t willing to take. Too many of us live our lives in this state of manic fear, grasping at air. But we don’t have to stay this way.
What we must realize - what we must see - is that change is inevitable. Everything is changing all of the time. As I was writing that sentence, cells in my body changed to an unrecognizable state, a butterfly emerged from the caterpillar’s cocoon, a teenager graduated from high school and decided to move to a different state for college, a young couple fell out of love, and an old man passed away. Change takes place on a physical, mental, and spiritual level. And although change is what brings endings and death, it is also what brings beginnings and life. It takes place whether we can see it or not and it happens whether we welcome it or not. So knowing this, why don’t we stop fighting the inevitable?
The impermanence of life, circumstances and things should be viewed as a gift. Change is an opportunity for growth, learning and something new. It brings with it something better than you could ever imagine in your current comfortable state. So, it's all about perspective. Approached with the wrong perspective, impermanence can sound downright terrifying. We as humans often fear the unknown instead of looking forward to the excitement of undiscovered possibilities, new paths, new loves. To really revel in the joyful feeling of impermanence, you have to master the art of letting go. And that starts with letting go of fear. When I stated that change brings about endings and death did this incite some form of fear or negative reaction within you? If so, you my friend need a perspective shift. Let change bring about the death of fear. Let it bring about the end of an unhealthy job or relationship. Let it bring an end to that deep hole you may be in currently. Your new awareness of the positive nature of impermanence can be used to pull yourself out of any negative frame of mind or any bad situation. Simply knowing that whatever you are going through is not permanent - and is only temporary - can impact your life exponentially, which in turn can assist you to find the means to change your situation.
But in order to shift your perspective of change and impermanence, you must first set out to discover what is causing your aversion to change and impermanence in the first place. After some deep soul searching, I finally realized that what really bothered me about the notion of impermanence was that it highlighted my lack of control. It reminded me just how human and insignificant I am in that I have no control to make situations, things or people not change. Change IS the nature of life. There’s no way to stop it and why would you want to? Think of all the beauty and innovation that has come from change and impermanence. Would you have it any other way? Think of all the past situations in which you fought against change and tried with all your might to make permanent, yet you are now counting your lucky stars that things didn’t go your way.
When you view the world through a temporary lens, you open yourself up to a multitude of wonderful possibilities for your life. In the inverse, when you attempt to stifle change, you create unnecessary suffering because you will never achieve your goal. So like Elsa said so eloquently in that now immortal song - LET IT GO. Nothing is permanent and there’s nothing you can do to change that fact. Do not fear the unknown or the inevitability of change, instead, use your awareness of impermanence as a tool to accept what is and what may be. We can’t possibly know what wonderful things lay in wait for us around the corner if we just trust, but we have to start with accepting that everything is temporary. How exciting.
Life can spin us off-course sometimes. Maybe it’s an off day, or maybe you’ve been trudging down a path for a while that, deep down inside, you know is causing you to sacrifice your happiness. All of us have this feeling at one point or another: questioning if we’re at the right job, in the right relationship, or behaving in ways that are good for us. It’s healthy to question our current state; it helps us rearrange our lives when needed. The important thing to do when we realize this is to not beat ourselves up, or start self-criticizing our decisions. Simply tune into your internal compass — the little voice that softly whispers what you know to be right. I call this voice your values compass.
Oftentimes, fear driven by past experiences ends up guiding us down a path that isn’t right for us. We choose to play it safe because our fears of what may happen are keeping us bound in an unhealthy routine. The risk of failure is scary — and it is often what keeps us tethered to thoughts, behaviors, people, or situations which are detrimental to our happiness. Fears of being alone, being broke, being judged are all common and human, but it is when they impede us from living a full life that we need to begin to loosen the ties. Evaluating our behaviors through introspection is important — we can’t expect to figure out what is wrong if we never take time to be with ourselves and ask the important questions. Practices like meditation, yoga, journaling, or talking with a therapist help us look inward and question our current practices.
Start by making a list of what you want to embody as a human being, or what we’ll call your values. What characteristics are important for you to cultivate? An easy (and slightly morbid) way to answer this question is asking yourself, “if it were my funeral, and someone was reading my eulogy, what would I like them to say about the way I lived my life?”
Would you like people to say you were loving? What about compassionate? Maybe you place importance on motivation, honesty, or being spontaneous. The answer is uniquely yours, and everything is valid. Once you have a list of your values, you can use this as a roadmap to guide you towards a more genuine life. Look at your list and ask yourself which of these values are low on the scale, meaning you practice them very little. Maybe you value honesty, but find yourself lying a lot. Whatever the reason is that pushes you to lie, you likely don’t feel very good after you do it. Why? Because it is taking you away from your values, and when we deviate from our values, it always feels wrong. Take the time to think about why you engage in behaviors that are the opposite of your values (e.g. lying, violence, laziness). Was it a practice implemented long ago as a reaction to something? Maybe at one point it was a way to defend or protect yourself. It is likely that the negative habit came from a useful place, but after years of being practiced as an inappropriate response, it has stopped being useful. It may even be hurting you.
Once you investigate where these habits came from, you can have a better understanding of when they will come up. This understanding will facilitate awareness, which is the first step in changing any behavior. Being able to notice when you engage in a negative behavior, what triggers it, and even what happens in your physical body when it comes up, is important in beginning to turn the ship in another, more positive and valuable direction.
Being aware of fear-based behaviors, and noticing when and why they come up, can start us off on a productive journey towards change. Make daily decisions to live by your values, and challenge yourself to step away from negative patterns. This is when we can turn ourselves back on course. Point yourself in the direction you know to be better, more fulfilling, and more in-line with who you truly are. Start investing in decisions that cultivate a life that feels more right. It’s never too late (or too early) to point yourself back onto that genuine path — your very own, unique true north.