At the heart of Buddhist philosophy lies the observation that ‘change is the only constant’. It’s a truth that we can see on all levels of life, from the way a daffodil blooms in spring and then swiftly retreats into itself again for another year, to the perennial cycle of the Earth orbiting the Sun. Nothing stands still.
There’s enough evidence in the world to underline this fact of universal impermanence. Having said this, we can still hold out hope that some things are unchanging, such as love, and depending on your beliefs, God, and the soul perhaps.
While there may well be a handful of constants, the transient nature of life means it’s inevitable that we’re going to be thrown curveballs. We just never know what the future might hold. Take COVID-19, for example. Who could’ve foreseen the world going into lockdown this time last year?
Even on a less global scale, life is incredibly unpredictable. This can make it really tough, especially when it affects our relationships, and we have to deal with the turmoil that the loss of a loved one or a break-up might cause.
If you like to plan ahead, the mercurial nature of the world can feel like a huge headache, and it can feel as though you’re not in control of your life.
However, the unpredictability of life is also part of what makes it so beautiful. If everything always went exactly as we thought it would, then we would get bored pretty soon. Just think about all those movies where you can guess the entire plot, and think about how dull they are.
By contrast, think of one of the truly great films - say, Anchorman, or Anchorman 2, perhaps - where there are twists and turns and you watch the entire thing not quite sure what’s going to happen. I mean who could’ve guessed the shark thing, right?
Seriously though, my poor taste in films aside, while unpredictability is the cause of a lot of suffering, it also adds a lot of colour to our lives. The Dalai Lama makes the interesting point about relationships, and how a couple can panic if the passion isn’t as strong as it was at the start, or if the dynamic just changes over time, and they can often break up as a result.
But any kind of relationship is always going to evolve, simply because it’s situated in this world where everything changes. And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Think of that Friends episode where Monica freaks out because Phoebe and her new boyfriend are all over each other, while her and Chandler aren’t anymore.
But Chandler makes the really good point that where they are now in their relationship is, in a way, more exciting, because it’s getting deeper and more meaningful. As usual, it’s all about perspective.
During lockdown, I’ve really fallen in love with Kenny Chesney’s music, mainly because it’s so laid-back and summery. It’s usually just a simple, mellow guitar wrapped around a ‘carpe-diem’ cri-de-coeur, and in times like these where there’s a lot of uncertainty flying around, it’s really relaxing to listen to his melodies about making the most of the here and now.
“I ain't lonely, but I spend a lot of time alone, more than I'd like to, but I’m okay with staying home.”
‘Better Boat’ is one of my favourites, and I think it’s perfect for today’s teaching. It almost feels as if he wrote it directly about the world of quarantine and self-isolation that we’re experiencing, but the song was released back in 2018, and it’s a cover of Travis Meadows’ 2017 track of the same name.
“My how the last few months have changed, I’m smiling more despite the pain”
‘My how the last few months have changed’ - I mean, yeah, you could say that again, Kenny! But for me it’s inspiring how he contrasts this feeling of shock at how everything has turned upside down, with the peaceful defiance of ‘I’m smiling more despite the pain’.
“I breathe in, I breathe out. Got friends to call who let me talk about, what ain't working, what’s still hurting, all the things I feel like cussing out”
This song is ideal for meditation, because it starts by taking a moment, as you do when meditating, to just focus on your breath. He then goes into another very poignant line for modern times, by singing about how we’re having to rely heavily on calling friends and unloading our worries about the global situation.
“Now and then I let it go, I ride the waves I can't control, I’m learning how to build a better boat”
This is the key line for today’s principle of embracing change, and I think it’s a really beautiful analogy. The significance of the changes we experience will inevitably vary depending on what it is that’s changing - take your favourite magazine using a new font versus your beloved dog becoming ill, for example. Unless you have a secret Garamond fetish, the latter is always going to mean more.
So I think the analogy of change coming in waves is really apt, because often it won’t be too impactful, but every now and then a really big one will just come and smack you right in the face, leaving you momentarily feeling lost. Also, people suffering from anxiety often talk about the feeling of worry coming in waves.
We can’t change the fact that the waves are there (unless you’re Moses, I guess). But we can try and alter how we react to them. The metaphor of building a better boat that is more resilient to what’s being thrown at it symbolises how we can train our mind to cope with change more effectively, through accepting that we can’t control the waves.
“I think I'm stronger than I was, I let God do what He does”
Again, there’s this overwhelming sense of acceptance that has been a vital theme in the past couple of posts. If we accept what is outside of our control, then that rules out a lot of things that we would normally worry about. There’s nothing we can do about them, so just ride the waves, build as strong a boat as possible, and sail off into the sunset with an ice cold beer and a Kenny Chesney song.