Do you struggle with handling change in your life?
Many of us do. Up until a few years ago, I wasn’t great at handling change. I’d resist it and when it did happen (the involuntary kind), I’d experience stress.
I have improved my fortitude for handling change quite a bit since then. This post offers two key attitudes/practices from Buddhism that have helped me in handling change in life.
Voluntary versus involuntary change
Obviously voluntary changes are somewhat easier to deal with than the ones that are forced! But you can use those occasions where change is thrust upon you to be better at welcoming change in general.
Making voluntary changes is valuable for self-knowledge and growth. We do ourselves a disservice by putting change off. For example, inertia can stop you from:
- Changing jobs or careers.
- Spending some time travelling.
- Ending or starting relationships.
What about some unexpected changes? I am sure you don’t need examples but:
- Losing your job.
- Losing a person close to you.
- A relationship ending, but not by our decision.
It’s helpful to see these kinds of changes as exercises in delayed gratification. They feel crappy when they happen, but once you are through the worst of it, often they offer good opportunities to reflect on life and reassess your values.
On to the two mind training techniques from Buddhism that have helped me in handling change.
1. Learning to value positive and negative experiences equally (‘Equanimity’)
Learning to value positive and negative experiences equally is among the most empowering things you can do.
In Buddhism, this is the practice of equanimity and it means maintaining a certain level-headedness. It starts with practicing mindfulness and then acceptance. (Click on the links for in-depth guides to both of those).
When something happens in our experience that we don’t like, non-acceptance is generally our default state. Not accepting something can look like anger, frustration, impatience, and other kinds of emotional resistance conditions. Basically there is a sense of struggle.
And we aren’t much better at accepting the positive experiences in life! For a lot of us, happy events can trigger anxiety of loss. It is useful, whenever you are in the throes of a really awesome experience, to remind yourself that nothing stays the same. Not good things, or bad things.
Initially this seems like this is not a very comforting thought and even a bit negative. But I have found it to be a liberating shift.
2. Nothing we have is ours to keep (‘Non attachment’)
This is a specific mind training you can do when you feel yourself becoming attached to things being, or staying a certain way. The practice is called non-attachment or detachment. I wrote about it in the context of better managing desires here.
Non-attachment is often misunderstood. It is not to do with remaining distant to ‘protect yourself’. It is an attitude you adopt internally which helps you to appreciate and value the good in your life.
In practicing non-attachment, you are carrying in your awareness the ephemeral nature of things, which helps to ease anxiety and integrate the reality that happiness is a decision you make, and not based on your external circumstances.
As with everything, it is our inner resources that will carry us through tough times of change, rather than anything external that we can attain to ally our fears. That’s why these practices – which are essentially forms of mental training – are such great investments.
I have found the two practices I discuss above – equanimity training and non-attachment training – the most useful for handling the emotions I feel during transition times.
Doing these means handling change can and does get easier.