God grant me the serenity
Change is good for us. I believe that when we learn to let go of our attachment to not changing; changing can benefit us in so many ways.
Due to our big snow in February, our school day has become longer. As an elementary teacher, I must adapt to the change. Therefore, all of our classes during the weekdays will move to 5:30 p.m. We will compensate by having a Sunday afternoon class for beginners and intermediates at 2:30. Saturday mornings our yoga practice offers two different time frames. One is Sunrise Yoga at 7:00 a.m., and the other is at 9:00 a.m. for Yoga + Pilates.
I apologize for the change, but I know that life brings events that often change us as we learn to accept the inevitability that nothing is permanent.
So, how is it that when life is spun around by circumstances, benign or otherwise, some people flail, while others sail? Why do some of us wallow in that place where we're so shocked and unhappy about an unexpected turn of events that we resist reality and find ourselves mired in bitterness or fear or hopelessness? Instead of accepting change with grace, we dig in our heels and suffer through each day of things not being what we think they should be. What's the secret to riding each new wave gracefully—regardless of whether it deposits you gently on the beach or wallops you down to the seafloor?
"I hear a lot of people say that change is exciting, but they mean a specific kind of change," says the Reverend Frank Jude Boccio, an interfaith minister and yoga therapist in New York, who is the author of Mindfulness Yoga (Wisdom, 2004). "We all have an aversion to change that we'd rather not have. Certain change is appreciated, and some is not."
The funny thing is that as a culture, we seem determined to celebrate change. "Change is good," we tell each other, and, "Everything happens for a reason." Thoreau himself volunteered, "All change is a miracle to contemplate." Yes, we praise the virtues of change religiously—until some unwanted, unscripted change occurs. Then, mostly, we long for permanence. For all our professed faith in the benefits of transformation, we are a species that falls to pieces upon learning that something we want is sold out. Generally, we cement where possible and panic where not. The smallest nudging of our routine can send us into a tizzy, while big disruptions send us into therapy.
How can you learn to accept change with equanimity, absorbing each phase in stride and learning from each new experience? The answer may come from dealing with change in these stages.
Loosen Your Grip
When any unscripted change comes down the pike, there's an overwhelming feeling of losing control, and that's perfectly normal—and also perfectly delusional, says Herdis Pelle, a teacher at the Berkeley Yoga Center in Berkeley, California. "We're moving into unknown territory," she says. "Deep down, we're never in control."
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.
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, you, yourself remain stable. If you can come to an understanding of this—through asana (yoga posture), 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."
"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."
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.
Every morning, I repeat a 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.
Come back to the present moment. Great teaching 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. Chris Colin
Hope to see you at 5:30 or soon after for yoga practice on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and/or Friday evenings.