Three Things We Can Do to Prepare for Life Changes
How do we live well knowing that things are going to change?
Posted Apr 27, 2015
Once a quarter, I go up to Santa Barbara to a beautiful retreat center. I go there to rejuvenate and just have a very peaceful and quiet weekend. Well, the last time I was there they had signs posted everywhere and they told us in person that there is a severe drought in Santa Barbara so we have to be very careful not to use too much water.
I’ve been going to Santa Barbara for decades so I asked them, 'I thought that Santa Barbara built a desalinization plant?' They said they did but when the water shortage wasn’t such a crisis anymore they stopped building it. Now of course they’re building it again because they need the water, however it is delayed and will take a few more years to finish. By the time they get close to finishing it, the water shortage maybe gone again. Now, we can laugh at this and say, “Silly Santa Barbarians! Why are you guys doing this? You know that there’s a water shortage, why don’t you just prepare, finish what you build and get it done?” Seem simple, doesn’t it? But we don’t do that either, unfortunately. We expect things to stay the same and I don’t want to pick on Santa Barbara too much either because governments around the world do this kind of thing all the time. When they have lots of money, they spend it, and the second they don’t have any money they enter panic mode and there are always times when they don’t have enough money and so we cycle over and over and over again.
It really is a course of life and nature that things change, and unfortunately we’re very seldom prepared for them. What happens is governments around the world get into panic mode when a crisis strikes, and try all that is required to adjust the situation. Then, when it becomes good again, they relax and very seldom did they prepare for the change. Countries come and go, civilizations come and go, people come and go, life is replete with change, and yet we’re not often very prepared for it.
What happens? What’s going on here? I know I’m using governments as an example but everywhere this happens. We get stuck because we think everything’s going to stay the same; whatever’s going on now is going to be consistent. We especially think this when things are going well, then when things are going well, of course it’s going to stay this way forever. I mean, we all know that it won’t. Why do we think that things will stay the same when we absolutely, positively know they won’t? Why? It really comes down to a very simple concept, the concept is attachment. We want things when things are going well to stay the same, we don’t want them to change, but life does change even though we wanted it to stay the same. Life continues to change no matter how wonderful it’s going. So how do we live in this life of impermanence? How do we live well knowing that things are going to change?
There are three things we can do to live well with impermanence; first, we can accept that life is impermanent, accept that things are going to change to help us prepare for the change when it comes. The second thing is to prepare for the change because it is going to change. If we think things are going to stay the same we’re being a little silly and we’re going to suffer because of that silliness. So if we prepare for change when it comes we’ll be ready for that. Third, when the change comes we can deal with it in the moment and not create stories just to deal with it, and then we can move on.
Let me use an example to illustrate this. Recently I had a special deal to go horseback riding with my children. I’m not a horse expert but I grew up riding horses and my children had ridden a little bit too, so we are all very excited. When we got there the woman who was our guide had already got our horses settled and we climbed onto them and she gave us some instructions. As we started riding, after a little while my kids were feeling uncomfortable. She asked if we wanted go a little faster, so we said “Sure.” We were going up a pretty steep embankment and there were rocks all over the road. We started thriving up the hill and going faster and faster, and all of the sudden my saddle twisted off to the side and off I went from the horse to the ground, falling on my back. I landed on two very sharp rocks that dug into my back and I rolled over and just lay there. I was in so much pain I couldn’t move; the only thing I could do was breathe. So I breathed deeply and in about three minutes I started to be able to move. I got up and I got back on my horse and we finished off the ride. I was in a lot of pain, of course. I did a lot of stretching and slowly my back got a little bit better, but I did want to finish the ride so we did. When I got home the pain continued so the next morning I went to urgent care where they took some x-rays and found nothing was broken. They gave me painkillers so that I could sleep at night and for about three days I took those painkillers and they helped me.
So, let’s go over together the three points of dealing with impermanence. The first is accepting life is full of change. That day when I got on the horse I wasn’t expecting to fall off and be in excruciating pain but I know if I live long enough sometimes that’s going to happen, sometimes I’m going to get hurt, really hurt. Thankfully I didn’t break my back or hit my head, but I was in a lot of pain and I dealt with that pain, realizing that this does happen. I didn’t create stories like, 'Why did this happen to me? Why didn’t the lady didn’t put the saddle on tight enough?' All I could do was deal with the pain, breathe and then get back on the horse. So the first thing we have to do is accept that life does change and sometimes that change is quite unpleasant. I mean, really it was quite unpleasant. I barely slept the first night and in the second night, I had to sleep in the lounge chair in order to sleep even with painkillers. Life sometimes isn’t very pleasant and it’s going to change, but we don’t have to suffer because of that change.
The second part is preparing for a change. Here’s the part that I didn’t do: even though I had my kids wearing helmets, I wasn’t wearing a helmet. If my head had landed just a few inches in a different place I wouldn’t be writing this right now. I know we make mistakes sometimes and we can’t prepare for everything. Sometimes we do silly things. I was doing a silly thing by not wearing a helmet. So we can prepare but we can’t prepare for everything.
The next thing we have to do is deal with it. In my situation, when I was in excruciating pain I had to just focus on the pain rather than focus on why this happened to me. The latter is actually the suffering part of it. The suffering part is the story we create about what’s happening. I was just in pain, I was just breathing to make that pain get less so I could get up and that’s all it took. I’ve learned over the years that if I breathe very deeply slowly the pain subsides, and it did thankfully.
So we ended up riding for about another hour and I watched my pain and really enjoyed myself. I did a lot of stretching but I was really enjoying myself still and later that day, I was still in quite a bit of pain, but I made some phone calls and was determined that I should go to urgent care the next day and get some x-rays. I did that in the morning and they found that nothing was broken; I just had some bruising. I knew I’d be getting better with time. I made some appointments with a chiropractor and since that time I’ve been getting better without creating any stories or beating myself up for falling off the horse or not preparing well enough or not checking the saddle. I mean, these are the mere things that we can do when life doesn’t go the way we wanted to.
So let’s review. We have this thing we have to deal with, it’s guaranteed we have to deal with it. It’s called impermanence. Life is going to change if we fight it; we’ll suffer because it’s going to change no matter what. You think we’ll change it, but it will change us. We can accept that life is going to change. I know it might seem silly, but just accepting that it will change will make us feel we can prepare for it better.
Next, we can think about how everything we have, such as our loved ones, our health and money, whatever we really hang onto, can change. If we are prepared for a fact that it may be taken from us someday, if or when it is we can be ready for it. We have to be willful of that change to be prepared for it because it will probably happen. I mean, we are all going to die. Life is going to change and accepting impermanence makes life go better. The best way we can prepare for it is to sometimes write down things you’re attached to and say, 'boy, when you’ve taken the milk away for me I’ll be really sad' and then see it taken away from us. Of course we don’t want this to happen but it may happen and if it happens then we’re prepared. Of course we can’t prepare for everything but overall if we prepare for what we can see, those things that we know we’re attached to and realize may go away, then we’re better prepared.
The last point was to deal with the circumstances instead of creating stories around them, such as 'it shouldn’t have been this way', 'it shouldn’t have happened to me.' Is it better that other people suffer and we don’t? We may want that but we may suffer sometimes too. We are going to go through painful events and need to deal with them, heal from them, and move forward so we will be better. One of the great things about just dealing with things when they happen is that we realize that this may not be a big deal and we don’t have to spend so much energy focusing on it. When we go through a tragedy or experience suffering, we tend to give a lot of attention to it and we don’t have to do that. Remember, on my horseback ride I got back on the horse and continued the ride. The ride had just started so I kept going. Yes, I was sore but there were a lot of interesting things going on that I actually enjoyed and my life was horrible since I hurt my back but I pretty much enjoyed life. When the pain arises I just deal with it.
One of the things I have taught in my blogs is to realize there is always something beautiful to be with and what our mind focuses on is what we’re going be with so why not be with something else besides the physical pain or the suffering that we’re going through? When we’re distracted we will feel better. We don’t always have to be with what we’re suffering with; there’s always something else we can be with. Even a prisoner has things he can focus on, even a person in the hospital can focus on other things, even if we’re going through divorce we’re not going to think about the divorce all the time. We can do many other things and we’ll realize with time as we get better that we’re not thinking about that loss anymore. That’s actually how we get better: we stop thinking about it and start being present and loving what is right now.
So again just a recap. Life is impermanent, it’s going to change. There are three ways we can deal with it. One: accept that life is impermanent. Two: prepare for that impermanence. Three: when it happens deal with it, and deal with it well.