Monday, January 31, 2011

Rapid Change

Most of us acknowledge that changes are the nature of our life. And yet we seem to have a hard time when the changes occur rapidly, unexpectedly.

There is an ice and snow storm this afternoon, a forecast I heard only this morning. It is expected to continue through tomorrow and possibly another day. Despite knowing what winter weather can be like here in the Midwest, another one on top of the many snow and ice storms in recent weeks has led to all sorts of complaints that I hear from others; I even notice these appearing in my mind chatter.  Some reactions are particularly vehement.

In a way these weather changes, which we usually do not take personally, are easy compared to changes in people’s conditions, physical and mental. How is it when there is a rapid appearance of a cancer diagnosis? What is our reaction the first time we hear it – even for someone else? And when it is someone close? What about for our self? What are reactions, habitual reactions? 

What about when death occurs without the precursor of evident illness or old age, how are we? What is it that the precursors of illness and old age do?

What do we do when there are major changes in the behaviors or plans of others to whom we are close? Have you faced the consequences of the collapse of a business?  What waves in lives do the changes create and how are we in the midst of the waves on the ocean of our life? Or is our life something else – do we expect to be an island in the midst of an ocean?  

It is interesting that after the initial shock to beliefs, expectations, to images of what is - after the almost automatic reactions of anger, sadness, grief - somehow after a little while we include the new changed circumstances into the old habits of functioning. For many of us the initial reactive habit of sadness or anger dissipates and then…what? Are we in the midst of ongoing change, or do we incorporate the events into a new “permanence”?

How is it with distant events – how have the recent Tucson shootings or protests in Egypt led to reactions for you? Whom or what has been a target for blame, for speaking of faults and putting down? Are we reminded of our interconnected nature, of the interbeing of life, or do we take it as another way to justify dualistic thinking and judgment?

Buddhist teaching states that our life is arising and passing away more than six billion times a day; about 70,000 times a second we are born and die. Also, the Heart Sutra states, "not born, not destroyed" - no arising, no passing. These may be interesting to some, but for most of us they are just theories, maybe confusing and contradictory theories. Few of us appreciate these teachings or live our life actualizing them.

Despite knowing that conditions are constantly changing, our habit of expecting them to stay the same, or at least almost the same with only minor and maybe predictable changes, results in many things being a potential for harmful reactions and suffering, stress. Do we see what to do, how to respond skillfully, when the habits of reactions from fear, greed or anger seem take over our life, whether momentarily or for longer periods? Can this broaden our capacity to live compassionately in the midst of change rather than keep grabbing for fixed permanence?

Do we see when we are blown by the winds of the changing life we are, how easily or not so easily we react out of habits with behaviors and attitudes that lead to more suffering and stress?

Aren’t we humans such interesting beings?

(c) 2011 Elihu Genmyo Smith