Diving into Michael Harris’ The End of Absence, a book covering the Internet generation and how absence in our lives is slipping away, it became clear to me that change will always be an area where we struggle. We, as human beings, look to control so many factors in our lives to maintain equilibrium. Avoiding change as much as possible with the perceived benefit that life is easier; more comfortable. Comfortable because we know that there are emotions and feelings associated with change and we may fear those emotions and feelings. Change is a big factor in mindfulness practice. Recognizing our aversions to change and how we respond both physically and mentally. Sitting with these uncomfortable feelings and working towards the ability to simply accept change for what it is.
As life unfolds and change is inevitable it is our own internal dialogue and reaction to change that becomes problematic. It was therefore interesting to see these thoughts spring up in Seneca’s own philosophy without any apparent influence from Eastern practices. In Letter CVII he regards the person who struggles with change:
“They should assume that whatever happens was bound to happen and refrain from railing at nature. One can do nothing better than endure what cannot be cured and attend uncomplainingly the God at whose instance all things come about.”
Accepting what happens as nature taking its course and not the idea that nature is trying to offend ones’ sensibilities. When we focus on the breath in meditation, do we become frustrated that every breath is different from the next? If we are able to accept each breath as a form of change we can begin to apply that feeling to other moments in our life where change doesn’t feel acceptable. Where we may apply our own emotions and feelings to events vs. the simplicity of the breath. Practice leads us down this path and is one of the reasons why we focus on the breath in moments where emotions begin to flare up. If a new emotion represents a lack of control, or change, then the breath becomes a point of steadiness to ground our thought and allow us to turn towards the emotion with a calm mind.
Yet that breath is change; it’s a dilemma for sure. As uncomfortable as it may sound we are never really in control. We accept change at every level in our lives but at a certain point it becomes noticeable to us and we tie feelings and emotion to it. We recognize the breath is always changing, but we are comfortable accepting those changes. We don’t tie any emotion to the breath and so our goal is to grow from a place of steadiness and begin to apply that perception to other areas of change that become more difficult. Take this simple example. Your alarm goes off, you hear it, and in that moment you turn it off and accidentally fall asleep. You awake with a start 30 minutes later and how do you feel? If you are like me there is a sense of panic associated with getting up late. The series of steps that have become comfortable in my morning routine are now disrupted and those negative emotions begin to flare up. I’m not going to be able to meditate. I won’t have time to shave, make my lunch, etc. These cascading emotions can set the course of your entire day so it’s important that we work to look at how we respond to situations like this and apply those same feelings we associate with the breath. We accept the breath, why can’t we accept this new situation?
Change is ever present in Michael Harris’ book and he opens with the unsettling feeling that many of us, me included, have felt as technology advances beyond our comprehension and comfort level:
“I think that within the mess of changes we’re experiencing, there’s a single difference that we feel most keenly; and it’s also the difference that future generations will find hardest to grasp. That is the end of absence – the loss of lack. The daydreaming silences in our lives are filled; the burning solitudes are extinguished.”
It is perhaps one of the reasons why many people turn to practices such as mindfulness. To reconnect with those absences and simply be with ourselves. Without the distraction of life and technology, we can observe our own lives for a few moments. Being present really is a way to recognize the moments in our lives, including silence, to their fullest. Change at the grand scale is technology evolving. Recognizing what our lives once were before, and seeing how they are influenced now. Seeing how younger generations embrace technology and feeling as though they are lacking a critical piece of their life. Perhaps our own perceptions on what life should be is another form of change that we must accept.
Seneca refers to this as adopting a noble spirit. Not being affected by the changing world around us but adopt a spirit that relishes in this change:
“What we can do is adopt a noble spirit, such a spirit as befits a good man, so that we may bear up bravely under all that fortune sends us and bring our wills into tune with nature’s; reversals, after all, are the means by which nature regulates this visible realm of hers: clear skies follow cloudy; after the calm comes the storm; the winds take turns to blow; day succeeds night; while part of the heavens is in the ascendant, another is sinking. It is by means of opposites that eternity endures.”
The out-breath follows the in-breath. Simple yet constantly in flux. We can choose to accept change or we can “rail against it” as Seneca would note. What areas in your life do you find change the most difficult? Many of us may not even consider the rapid advance of technology as something to be concerned about but perhaps you have your own area of life that change creates fear. Consider the ever changing breath that we readily accept and build from there. If anything else, see what kind of emotions and feelings you attach to change because even recognizing those emotions and feelings is progress. Seeing these types of emotions repeat can help us realize that it’s our own reactions to change that can be problematic and not the change itself.