Change as Chosen, Change as Given

Change as Chosen, Change as Given

A recent discussion in my neurodharma group about change – how we understand-respond to-value-initiate-cope with the lack of – change in our lives, how we accept change as essential to the nature of existence, or don’t – made clear to me how much I have lived my entire life a dedicated servant to the idea of change as progress. An upward spiral of learning, growing, changing, transforming.

To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating one’s self endlessly. – Henri Bergson

Maybe from my immigrant grandparents leaving the old country, working hard for a chance at a better life. Maybe from living out my parents’ dream, the American dream, of moving up from working class to university educated professional. Maybe from being a psychotherapist for 30+ years, working very hard to help other people – discouraged or feeling broken – find their way to a better life. Even my email signature, for years, has been …and the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was greater than the risk to blossom. – Anais Nin

I do explore the possibilities, even the responsibility to choose change, in my very last major workshop on The Resilience Mindset at the Cape Cod Institute, July 3-7, 2023.  I did recently record a very good enough podcast on resilience for The Relationship Show that somewhat previews what I’ll be teaching the week at the Cape. 

But now that I’m no longer hinging my self-worth on working so hard to achieve a better me, or a better life, or a better world for others, my relationship to change is changing, too. 

I arise in the morning torn between a desire to save the world and a desire to savor the world.  This makes it hard to plan the day. – E.B. White

Rather than a linear, deliberate, persevering progression toward self-improvement, or anyone else’s improvement, even society’s improvement, I’ve been deepening my spiritual practice into a much more embodied understanding of being rather than so much doing. And bumping into the paradox I first heard twenty years ago –  

Wisdom tells me I am nothing.

Love tells me I am everything.

Between the two, my life flows.

-Sri Nisargadatta

My practice these days is to anchor in Being, (there’s an exercise below from Bouncing Back that introduces a practice to do that)  and from there let life flow through me. The practice really is to trust that life flowing through me will allow me to embrace-tolerate-deal with any change, any experience of life with equanimity, grace and contentment. 

Then, with a much more relaxed, much gentler engagement with the world, I ask myself what I learned to ask from Frank Ostaseski, co-founder of the Zen Hospice Project in San Francisco, “What would love have me do today.”  That seems to be an excellent prescription for creating change in myself, in others, in the world. And it becomes a given, that positive change will happen from there. 

Exercise: Dropping into Un-Conditioned Being; Dissolving the Self into the Sacred

1. Sit comfortably. Allow your eyes to gently close. Focus your awareness on your breathing, gently in and out. As you follow your breathing, notice your own awareness of your breathing. Awareness allowing you to know that you are breathing. 

2. When that awareness of your breathing is steady, begin to notice the breathing of any people around you, or that you can imagine around you. No need to do anything; just noticing or imagining other people breathing as you are breathing, and noticing your awareness of that. Notice what you are aware of in your own simply being as you rest in this awareness of Awareness.

3. Staying anchored in an awareness of your own breathing, expand your awareness to include more people you know, who are not necessarily around you in this moment, yet you can know they are breathing in this moment, too. Notice your awareness of your awareness of everyone breathing. Notice your awareness of your own simply being as you remain aware. 

4. Still anchored in an awareness of your own breathing, expand your awareness further to include people you don’t know, outside the building you are in, perhaps elsewhere in the neighborhood, throughout the city, across the region. Become aware of all of them breathing, breathing together. Notice your awareness of your awareness, you are simply being, being aware. 

5. Anchoring in awareness of your own breathing as you proceed through the rest of the exercise, continue to expand your awareness to include people all over the country, all over the planet, all breathing. Expand your awareness to include all living creatures breathing, breathing in the parks, the forests, underground, in the lakes and rivers, in the oceans, the sky. All sentient beings breathing, breathing together. And notice your awareness of your awareness of existence, and your awareness of simply being. 

6. Expand your awareness to include all forms of existence, some breathing, some not. And notice your awareness of your awareness of the breathing, and your awareness of simply being. 

7. Expand your awareness even further, beyond our planet to other planets, other stars, other galaxies, and the space between the planets and stars and galaxies. Expand your awareness out as far as you can possibly imagine; and notice your awareness of your awareness expanding. Rest comfortably, safely, in this vast spacious awareness, in this vast simply being, for as long as you choose. Take your time. 

6. This is the spaciousness where new insights, new aha!s, can occur spontaneously, out of the blue. Or they may not. But we are creating the conditions for revelation in this vast open awareness of the un-conditioned.

7. As you are ready, gently bring your awareness back to your awareness of sitting in the room you are sitting in, in this moment, breathing. Focus your awareness on simply breathing. Take a moment to shift gears, and reflect more fully on your experience of simply being. You may experience a lightness, a spaciousness, an openness in your being.

We can reliably access this de-focused, diffuse mode of consciousness through awareness practice, and we can re-group our focused attention on the specifics of a situation in an instant. On the human plane it’s essential, it’s resilient to be able to do that. As the spiritual teacher Ram Dass cautioned, “Even in a bliss state, don’t forget your zip code.”