Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is a neuropsychologist and author of Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence (from Random House in October ...Read More
Let Things Change
Lately I’ve been writing about the fifth of my personal Top 5 practices (all tied for first place): open out, by which I mean relaxing into a growing sense of connection, even oneness, with all things. (The other four are be mindful, love, take in the good, and go green.)
“Opening out” can sound kind of airy-fairy or flakey, but I mean it in very down-to-earth ways. Here, I’m focusing on relaxing and opening into the fact that things keep changing, and not fighting it.
For example, thinking of things large and small: I’m aging, friends are getting cancer, our children are leaving home, and the San Francisco 49-ers don’t look as good as they did last year. I don’t like these changes! But if I add resistance to them, if I go to war with change itself, that just makes me feel worse, and sometimes fires me up to act badly.
Pick something specific, like your body getting older (sagging here, graying there), or your neighborhood altering, or things shifting in an important relationship. If you sense inside that you are fighting change, how does it feel? For me, it feels tense, contracted, uneasy. Alternately, if you can accept the sheer truth change, like it or not, how does it feel? Probably a lot better.
Remember that you can accept the reality of change while also doing what you can to help things change for the better. Nothing about opening to the changing nature of both internal experiences and external conditions means that we should pursue wholesome ends with wholesome means any less wholeheartedly.
Think about something that’s changing – or has changed – which you’ve been struggling with, but you can’t stop the changes. Certain things naturally deteriorate; organized systems tend toward disorder; rust never sleeps. For instance, our sweet cat is growing infirm, ideas I had a few years ago that were once fresh and shiny are becoming clichéd and passé, and some old friends and I are growing apart. Or consider a change that you have been overlooking or even denying. Personally, I’ve tried to ignore the fact that my aging body can no longer stumble through life without exercise, and the cost to me of this denial is rising.
Try saying to yourself statements like: Things change . . . things are changing and I can’t stop it . . . I accept the reality of change . . . even as things change I will do what I can to help them go well . . . Also be specific about the particular thing – I’ll call it X here – that is changing, saying to yourself: X is changing . . . I wish it weren’t but it is . . . multiple factors are leading X to change . . . so far I haven’t been able to stop the change . . . I can still do whatever I think is appropriate about X . . . meanwhile, I can be giving toward myself and others . . .
As you say these things, try to relax, soften, and calm. Try to widen your view to see the whole picture, recognizing that countless other people are dealing with the same kinds of changes that you are. Feel how it would be a gift to yourself to let things change.
Also consider how what may have seemed to be a change for the worse might perhaps be in some ways a change for the better. This is not to paper over the worsenings but to see as well the new opportunities.
Most intimately, see if you can be aware of and increasingly comfortable with the fleeting passing of each moment of experience. A remarkable fact is eternally present right under our noses: each moment disappears utterly as another one arises.
Try taking a single breath during which you continually let sensations and thoughts pass away over the course of the inhalation and exhalation. So many endings in a single breath. It can be a little frightening to face the vanishings in each instant of experience. Yet meanwhile there are also so many beginnings, endlessly renewed; seeing this can help you be confident that it is alright to let go so profoundly.
Paradoxically, by letting your experience keep changing, you will gain an enduring peace.