Shunryu Suzuki-roshi when asked to express the heart of Buddhism in a few words replied, “Everything changes.”
That’s an apt description of our lives.
That change is generally a positive thing for children. They continue to grow and learn something new every day. Their future holds newness and promise. They look forward to new opportunities and abilities.
Remember when you were a child and you beamed when someone noticed the changes in you? “My how you’ve grown!”
As our lives progress, change can become a source of misery. Relationships change and end. Friends move away. Loved ones die. We lose our jobs and sometimes our dreams.
We have accidents and suffer illness. We experience pain or lose abilities we took for granted.
Our bodies change – due to age, overuse, sunshine and gravity.
And we certainly don’t beam if someone else notices the changes in us. Who wants to hear, “My how big you’ve become!” or “Didn’t you have more hair the last time I saw you?”
Though we all can grasp the concept that everything – including our bodies – changes, we get by day to day by ignoring it. For a time, the denial of change keeps us from worrying about it.
That denial can be so powerful that it can create the delusion of permanence. We expect to stay young and don’t put a thought towards future disability or death. We assume our friends and loved ones will always be with us and our relationships will stay the same.
When we notice the telltale signs of aging (sometime after age 30), many of us struggle to maintain our youth or at least the appearance of it. Cosmetic medicine has flourished over the past decade partly because of Botox, fillers and lasers but largely due to society’s emphasis on youth.
Sometimes the changes in life are completely unexpected and catastrophic. Through accident or illness, we can lose our loved ones or we can become disabled. When this happens, we struggle to make sense of our lives and to start over again.
We can never be fully prepared for the disasters in life. Yet we can value the people in our lives even more by realizing that we are all mortal. This makes each of our lives and our relationships all the more precious, and it can enhance how we relate.
If this was your last day with someone you love, would you be less critical and more caring? What would you say? Would you behave differently?
Change is inevitable. Accidents happen. We can become ill. We are all aging. Each of us will die.
Let us accept these cold hard truths, and live accordingly.
Change is inevitable, but we can continue to learn and to grow.
Change is inevitable, but we can all be agents of positive change – with our health, in our relationships and through our community.
Next: Becoming an agent of positive change.