Change is in the Air

Sometimes we crave change. Other times we dread it. Either way, we can’t escape it. Here’s how to live with it—and learn from it.

By Chris Colin
Separate Your Feelings

Once you’ve accepted your utter lack of control, it can still take some doing to accept the emotions that often accompany a sudden unraveling of your expectations. Even minor setbacks challenge us. Take Frank Jude Boccio’s experience of returning to his Hudson Valley home after time away; the famous fall colors had just faded. “I was really disappointed,” he says. “I found myself wishing I could change it back, or have come home earlier. And that wasn’t right.”

By that, Boccio doesn’t mean that his disappointment was unjustified—that he should learn to see winter’s colors as just as pretty as autumn’s. His idea is more nuanced: you can be disappointed with certain changes, but you accept that disappointment the same way you’d accept delight.

What does that mean? Surely you can’t be expected to rate disappointment the same as delight. No, says Boccio, but you can separate your feelings from your response to them.

As for Erik, while he’s nervous about impending parenthood, he’s accepting his nervousness instead of worrying about how he’ll pay the bills or getting angry about having to leave his program.

By distinguishing your core emotions from those that pile on afterward, you don’t limit your emotional life; on the contrary, you unclutter it. As Boccio says, it’s the clutter that leads you away from your true experience and into murkier territory.

Mitra Somerville, a teacher at the Integral Yoga Institute of New York in Manhattan, looks at major life changes and their constellations of angst in terms of what is, and isn’t, permanent. Your duty, he says, is to recognize that in the midst of radical transformations, the Self remains stable. If you can come to an understanding of this—through asana, breathwork, meditation—you can soothe the discomfort brought on by external changes. “The yogic thinking is that there’s part of us that’s unchanging—the spiritual part of us that has peace and joy and love,” he says. “The nature of the world, however, is in flux.”
Tap Into Wisdom

Learning to make peace with life’s calamities—lost jobs, romances, dreams—does not mean you have to be passive.

“Sometimes we try to provoke change in our lives,” Boccio says. “Rather than just be with sadness, anxiety, or anger, we want to change it. And that inability to sit with what’s happening is duhkha, suffering.”

But does that always mean choosing inaction? What about when there are wars to resist, house fires to flee? Are you meant to be sanguine about any old change of plans that comes along? “If we listen to our hearts, in that deepest silence we will be guided toward the appropriate action,” says Pelle, who agrees that certain events require out-and-out protest—and that yoga helps you know which ones.

“We practice so that we can be guided from within,” says Somerville. In stilling your thoughts, you free up a more reliable inner wisdom. “The more peaceful your mind is, the clearer and stronger your intuition is, and the better able you are to make the proper decision.”

As Melissa’s due date approached, Erik was clearly at peace with the inevitable maelstrom ahead, despite upending everything in order to go to school, and then tearing that plan up as well. “It’s funny. The more time I had with this newest change—the one that took me away from the original change—the more I came to accept it,” he says. He still intends to pursue an architecture degree, but he’s clearer about that intention. “I came to see that I’ll transfer to another school [near home], or we’ll head back to Philly if we have to, or maybe just that I’ll get to it someday.”

A deeper realization about change had come to him, one that saw a kind of balance of permanence and impermanence in daily life. No matter how much the circumstances of his life turn upside down or sideways, he can be in touch with a core that’s always right side up—the essence of his being. Being in touch with this core, in turn, provides the clarity to navigate life’s loops with calmness.

“It’s good to change things now and then,” Erik says. “Not because change is inherently good, but because changing something about your life makes you realize that other things won’t change.”
Expect the Unexpected

Prepare for life’s ups and downs with a daily practice. Frank Jude Boccio offers some ideas for a change-friendly inner life.

Accept Impermanence Every morning, I repeat a gatha (mindfulness verse): “Great is the matter of birth and death; impermanence surrounds us. Be awake each moment; do not waste your life.” Much of my practice has to do with aligning myself with that. Then, ideally, my action comes from the situation, rather than from a false perception of what’s happening.

Practice Mindfulness Come back to the present moment. The Buddha points out that you can be happy in a pleasant situation, but then it’s all too easy to lose yourself in the pleasure.

Take a Breath When faced with a change, pleasant or otherwise, I try to tune in to my breath, and how I’m feeling in my body. Tuning into the breath gives me time to respond better to an unpleasant situation.