(First posted 4/1/2009)
Well, we have made it to another year: the world is still here… and so are we. Some things don’t change, or do they? We are told the world has changed hugely since last year (dare I say credit crunch?), and as for ourselves, perhaps we feel different this side of Christmas, possibly bigger or a lot more worried about things now that we cannot trust the banks with our money!
Plus ca change, as the French are prone to saying, or “a change is as good as a rest”, others might say. “The world is changing so fast these days”, some people are heard saying.
The point here is that change is all around us, yet a part of us holds onto stability and the hope that things will not change. It gives us that sense of safety and security that we crave and want. It means less worry, or does it? The more we have, the more we worry.
One of the most profound teachings to have originated on the Indian sub-continent is the Buddha’s teaching of impermanence. His simple lesson goes very deep: he stated that “everything is impermanent”.
And this teaching did not have any escape clauses. Everything is impermanent. All things change.
The realisation that everything is impermanent is meant to be a liberating experience, not a reason for panic. It can be scary to think that the things we hold onto could change. But this teaching asks one to realise that if all things change, then we can change, we can adapt to these changes, and we can allow the change to happen without being alarmed or ruined. We can accept impermanence.
The Buddha, who walked this Earth in the 6th century BC, was born in northern India and practised yoga for many years, before developing his own strand of teaching that became known worldwide as Buddhism.
His message was intended to cause people to look at their own experiences, and to see for themselves if his teaching was true for themselves. And over the centuries, his profound teachings have influenced millions of people throughout the world.
As we start a new year, and there is a sense of “out with the old and in with the new”, I believe it is a suitable time to reflect upon impermanence.
How everything changes: be it our lifestyle, our family life, our emotional life. Everything will change.
And this includes our yoga practice. You might feel that before Christmas you were doing very well, but a few weeks of indulgence has left you feeling rundown and overweight, stiff and lethargic. That is impermanence in action. The question is: how do you respond?
By knowing how everything will change, you can take hold of this state and do something about it. You can guide this changing world, changing body, or changing life, in a direction of your choosing.
This is where the teaching of impermanence can be so liberating: the knowledge that all things will change means that it’s self-empowering – that you can influence that change, perhaps as not as much as you would like, but you can make a difference (on a micro level or macro level). I am not speaking of changing the world, but making changes to our life. It could be changing our health (hopefully we want to be healthier not unhealthier!), or changing work, or it could be changing our emotional life. Sometimes feeling down and sad can feel like a rock that will not budge, but this too will pass, perhaps slowly, but with yoga practice and wisdom, you can hasten the departure of this sadness.
It’s can be relief to know that if one is feeling depressed, it will pass. All forms of depression have fluctuations in their intensity, which reveals its changing nature. So taking hold of this state of mind, one can move out of depression, using the tools of yoga – from physical exercises to meditation – one can help remove or reduce one’s depression.
Change can also mean that the highs are replaced be lows. Your Christmas was wonderful, and now it’s a dull cold January and the world is horrible. One learns through yoga to understand and adapt to these waves of change.
The first line of the yoga sutras refers to yoga being the “cessation of the fluctuations of the mind”. Reducing the depth of the wave between highs and lows, happiness or sadness.
This does not mean one loses the joy of the party, it means one enjoys the experience of the party even more, because you know it will not last, it will change. It will pass. Seize the moment.
Yet, when it comes to negative states, be it a mild sense of boredom or an intense state depression, we cling onto this, not believing that it will ever change. Yoga can teach you how to unlock this crippling negative state. To let it flow once again more freely.
And this is the message of this teaching, and my New Year message, that everything changes. And you can direct its course through awareness and clarity. Impermanence gives space to allow new things to come into our lives, and hopefully better things.
So welcome the change all around and enjoy your life.