Changes and Choices

Us humans have been long conditioned to fear change and everything that it might bring. Our unwillingness to accept changes in our lives keeps us stuck in reactive and habitual patterns. We constantly try to keep things the way that they are or the way that we think they “should” be, unwilling to accept the most universal of laws – that everything does, and must, change and that nothing in our lives is permanent.

Yet everyone has a choice – to stay where they are, or to change their situation, even if it’s changing your view of the situation. Let me give you some examples from my own life.

I spent many years in the corporate world of family entertainment and marketing. My job was very much my identity for many years. It was who I was, what I was. And that was fine but somewhere, deep down, I knew that this wasn’t “me”. This deep recognition stuck with me, and I somehow knew that I had to make changes in my life. But knowing that you must change and embracing and allowing change are two different things.

Here was my struggle – my comfortable lifestyle in Amsterdam, traveling the world with my job, staying in the best hotels, eating the best meals (all on the company) simply had too much of a hold on me. What I didn’t realise at the time was that my clinging to all these things which made up my self-identity, made the possibility of letting go of them pretty impossible. I recognized my unhappiness in the situation I was in, but simply couldn’t face the changes that doing something about this unhappiness would bring. Little did I know at the time, but I was exacerbating my suffering by just hanging onto my job and my identity with my entire being. I was literally hanging onto the security, permanence, and stability that I felt was so important to me at the time, and was resisting change.

You know the story and I’m sure you’ve heard it a hundred times from friends, colleagues, or family. “I need to keep this job because I have to pay my mortgage/need to build up a pension/have to feed my family/need to provide for the future”. As Buddhist writer Anam Thubten writes: “We’re so afraid of losing our lives that we never truly live. We allow our desire for security to become a prison”. I was living in fear of the unknown that change brings. Living in fear for a future that very rarely happens the way that we think it will.

During this period, these illusions of stability, identity and permanence were, one by one, shattered. The pension that I had built up for this “future” life, literally disappeared overnight in the 2008 crash – a reflection of the impermanence of the markets and fiat currencies. The illusion that my job would always remain as it was, went quickly out the window when the company made acquisitions that both increased my workload and simultaneously decreased my motivation.

How did I handle all of this? I simply made a choice to accept that things change, that everything I built my worldview on was really an illusion and was totally out of my control. I came to realise that the only thing I could control, was my response. I could sink with it, passively accept my “lot”, wallow in my own misery and continue the path I was on. Or I could let go of what I was grasping onto and allow myself to move on. Without really knowing it, I was practicing mindful acceptance in my own way.

Somewhere, deep in my being (as well as a very encouraging and understanding wife!), there was something which told me to embrace the “unknown” that is part and parcel of our lives, even if we try to avoid it. And what I realise now, all that I was really doing was embracing – really, really embracing – the present moment, and coming to terms with things as they were, instead of how I thought they “should” have been. And, without realising it, I was taking my first tentative step on my mindfulness journey that brings me to this first blog piece on my own website. I’ll write more about that journey later.

At the end of the day, our lives are literally “groundless”. The solidity and permanence that we think is there is just an illusion. Holding onto everything we think is solid, dependable, reliable, and secure turns out to be as elusive as trying to catch the wind.

So how do we make changes in our lives? The trick is to embrace this groundlessness and try to experience it as a joyful release into a freedom that we didn’t know was possible. Because by resisting change, we are resisting how the world actually works.

The great Buddhist master Chogyam Trungpa once famously said; “The bad news is you are falling through the air, nothing to hang on to, no parachute. The good news is there is no ground.” How liberating is that?

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