This excerpt has been adapted from Tricycle’s online course, “Embracing Impermanence and Imperfection: Bringing Compassion to Life,” with Martine Batchelor, Laura Bridgman, and Gavin Milne. Learn more about the course and enroll at learn.tricycle.org.
Often, we carry the impression that things are exactly the same. We may even feel that we are exactly the same. But we are not—we’re actually constantly changing. Our bodies and moods change all the time, even if we are not aware of it. Through meditation and practice, we want to understand change as liberation and see how it can make a difference in our lives.
Imagine that you’re sitting in meditation, and suddenly you feel an itch on your face. It’s so itchy that it feels like the sensation will last forever. But then it stops, and you think, “It was so there, and now it’s so gone.” To me, this is liberation from itching. You were going to scratch at that spot a lot when, actually, you just needed to let it go. Another example is if there is pain somewhere in the body. If I have a pain somewhere, I go to the pain and I notice that it’s not actually fixed or solid, and generally the pain changes within itself.
So how is change a liberating factor?
If we know change, if we experience change, then we can make the decision to do something different. In life, we have reactive habits and patterns, which can often be painful for ourselves and others. You may notice mental patterns during meditation—how our thoughts are relatively repetitive. We also have emotional patterns. You may say to yourself, “I’m always angry, I’m always anxious, I’m always jealous,” or whatever it may be. While you may have a tendency toward these things, you’re not experiencing them all the time to the same degree. For me, knowing that there is change within these patterns is liberating.
We also have relational patterns—the way we are with others. When COVID-19 and stay-at-home measures began in March 2020, I saw how the practice of noticing change could help me, and also how I could choose to behave differently, especially in relationships. One of the things I decided to do was to not nitpick. I was not going to nag. If somebody made a mistake, a little error, I wouldn’t say anything about it. I just let it be. Everybody makes mistakes, but we often go on and on, asking “Why did you do this?” I decided not to do this, and so now I no longer nitpick. When I notice that someone makes a mistake, I’ll catch myself thinking, “You could have gone on and picked it up, but actually, what would be the point?” I changed!
In this way, when you recognize a pattern, you can realize, “I don’t need to do this. Although I seem to have a repetitive, automatic reaction, I am not like that all the time.” Meditation gives us the courage to change, to transform. It helps open us to our creative potential and we can be liberated from our fixed habits.
There are also different types of change, and understanding that can help us. I think of change as light, repetitive, or intense. Change on a light level might be somebody making a mistake—something that can happen often. But if we grasp at this and think that the person makes mistakes all the time, then the change feels intense. With the help of meditation, we can see, “Oh, this is light. I don’t need to do anything about it.” So one of the questions I bring to any situation, feeling, thought, or sensation is, “Is this light?” I ask, “How long is this going to last?” If it just lasts a few minutes, then I don’t need to do anything, and change actually happens by itself—because things change. That’s the way life goes.
Then we can notice if there is repetitive change, in which you don’t always react, but there is a tendency to react in a certain way within certain conditions. So you may have a tendency to feel anger, but you’re not angry 24/7. Meditation helps us look at the condition and the change. When is it that you are angry? When is it that you are not? What are the factors that seem to make your anger worse? Maybe it’s worse if you don’t sleep well, if you’re busy or stressed. How would change invite us to explore, recognize, and transform conditions, so that we are not so reactive? By understanding what triggers us, we can find a creative way to engage.
What I call intense change is when we’re fine in one moment, and then the next moment something shocking occurs. We may lose someone, or we may have an accident. Something happens that is shocking to our entire system, so we need to ask, “How can we be with intensity without amplifying it?” Practicing meditation can help. You don’t meditate to stop the intensity. You meditate to bring a little change into the intensity, to bring a little space. You come back to the breath, back to the sound, and back to the body as a means of bringing a little space. And when the intensity comes back, you accept this is what’s going on now. Even within that intensity, there is change. And then again, we can come back to the breath, to the body, and to the sound as a means of bringing a little space so that we don’t amplify that new intensity. Then, over time, it will pass.
This is the gift of change, to know that although it is difficult right now, this too shall pass.
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