It’s true: nothing is certain except death and taxes. It also used to be a good bet that team GB would lose everything, but even that seems less dependable lately.
So where does that leave us with finding the joy in life?
Well oddly enough, it’s exactly in the knowledge that everything changes, all the time, that we can take some comfort, and ultimately find freedom and bliss.
One of the core foundations of Buddhist philosophy is impermanence. The theory goes that as everything is assembled from components, at some stage it must fall apart again. Some things disassemble pretty quickly, like the mayflies whose adult life does not even last 24 hours, whilst things like mountain ranges take millions of years to break up, but they too will eventually erode into the sea bed. We see this in relation to our own concept of time and in terms of human life spans, but that’s only one viewpoint.
Also, to take this further, because we are assembled from atoms like carbon and hydrogen, and fed by a food system that starts with sun and rain, and housed in fired clay, etc., we are not really independent, but just a lump in the general soup of life. So we’re all connected and inter-dependent. And we wouldn’t be here if the distribution of the soup’s ingredients wasn’t changing all the time.
Lots of change takes place without us appreciating it too. Like the tens of thousands of red blood cells in our bodies that die and are replaced every second. In fact all our body parts get entirely replaced, at different rates, and none longer than seven years. If you took a microscope to your house, you’d see the walls crumbling, ever so slightly.
Yet most of the time we live as if we, and the other people and things around us, were pretty much fixed. So when something goes wrong, like getting cancer, or losing our job, or the pension scheme going belly-up, we get a shock.
In fact most of our stress and worry comes from either not wanting things to change, yet they do, or from wanting things to change in a particular way, yet they don’t. We’re either clinging on for dear life, or trying to avoid what we fear. This takes up energy and can lead to bad behaviours, like greed and hatred.
If everything is going really well for you just now, that’s great, but don’t get smug; it won’t last.
So before you all take hemlock, I better move on to why this is good news.
Well first of all there’s the opposite scenario to the smug one; if everything is in turmoil and going pear-shaped, that too will change. Sometimes people need to hit rock bottom before they can start to re-build their life. We learn most about life when things go wrong. And even if we’re just a bit depressed and stuck, it’s inevitable that it will change. Nothing, absolutely nothing, can stay the same.
Well, actually one thing does not change. And that’s the potential for change. Out of that soup of life, there are unlimited permutations. Just about anything can happen. When we tap into that potentiality, we flourish. I believe that the really great people we know (not just the public figures but people we most admire), the people who seem supercharged and amazingly creative, or especially kind, can only do what they do by tapping into that unlimited potentiality.
Corporate coach Jamie Smart helps executives tune-in to this deeper intelligence:
‘‘..many of the most desirable qualities people struggle to ‘develop’ (such as intuition, resilience, creativity, motivation, confidence and even leadership) are actually innate, emergent properties of an uncluttered mind.’’
We have a choice in our lives: stay small and stuck because we’re fearful of change, or embrace it fully and see where it takes us. If you’re honest, where are you on this spectrum? Nelson Mandela, quoting Marianne Williamson, had this to say about it:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I, to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world.”
When we meditate, and stay mindfully attentive, we get to see how we are driven by all kinds of fear of change. We can also begin to drop those fears, because we get to experience the underlying creative and joyful energy that is our birthright. Our practice is to gradually gain more confidence in this aspect of human capacity, and to gradually lose our fear of change. Our lives can become more meaningful, more exciting, and we can give more back.