Most of us get a bit anxious when things change. I thought this post seemed topical because, as you may know, Nagarjuna Centre has just bought a new building and is in the (rather drawn-out) process of moving home. This is a truly wonderful change… but sometimes even changes for the better can make us uncomfortable. We cling onto the familiar, even when the familiar is not that great.
It is this clinging that causes anxiety, rather than the change itself. So to overcome the anxiety, we need to learn to accept the inevitability of change.
Buddha said, ‘The end of collection is dispersion.’ Everything we know is impermanent. This is like the scientific law of entropy – which, if you simplify it to my level, boils down to ‘everything falls apart.’ You might think I’m getting a bit depressing now – but actually, impermanence is a wonderful thing. Imagine if we were fixed exactly the way we are now: ok, we wouldn’t get any older, but we also wouldn’t get any wiser or happier. Change is opportunity, creativity – the opportunity to create and recreate ourselves. Change is challenging, yes; but without challenges, would we take the opportunity to really grow as people?
It is very helpful to meditate on impermanence: on our own mortality, on the gradual decay of all physical things, on the temporary nature of our relationships. Buddha also said, ‘This world is as impermanent as autumn clouds.’ If we meditate in this way, then instead of panicking when things slip away from us we will develop an acceptance: of course I’m losing my hair, this is just the nature of things. Of course my washing machine has broken, it was only ever temporary. Of course my entire life has been turned upside-down: that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
When we can accept change, we can make it meaningful. We can view the constant rising and falling of things as like the entrance and exit of actors on a stage, not getting caught up in the play. And, more importantly, we can start to take control of the changes within our own mind. Change is inevitable: our mind is changing constantly, even if we’re not trying to change it. If we do not direct that change in a positive direction, then that process of change will just exaggerate our present mental habits. If we get grumpy now, what will we be like when we’re eighty years old and stuck in front of the TV all day in a nursing home? If, instead of fighting against change, we learn to embrace it, then in every moment we can recognise that we have the opportunity to shape the next moment: our mind will be different, so what do we want it to be?