“Change is the only constant in life.” – Heraclitus, Greek philosopher
Everything changes. Geopolitics. Economies. Climate. Weather systems. Bodies. Emotions. Thoughts. Relationships. Jobs. Life circumstances. Housing. It’s a fact of life. We best get used to it.
The good news: Change is good for the brain. As noted in Cultivating a Healthy Brain at Any Age, purpose, learning, and discovery provide stimulus for the brain that increase the density of neurons, synapses, and dendrites. Brain networks that operate with greater efficiency, complexity, and reserves are less susceptible to disruption or decline. When we break out of habitual patterns, our brains step up to the challenge and adapt and grow in response.
The bad news: Change can be uncomfortable, sorrowful, stressful, unwelcome. We may face an uncertain future that calls into question our sense of stability and calm. We may worry about our ability to come out the other end whole. And we may lose a lot of sleep while in its grasp.
I find myself in the midst of a big change. The lovely home in which I’ve shared so many wonderful times with family and friends goes up for sale tomorrow. My husband and I have realized that it’s just too much house and too much yard. In addition, we face the realistic possibility of a relocation to another part of the country to be close to family as we enter the next chapter of our lives. My heart tightens as I gaze into my verdant backyard and watch the squirrels, bunnies, and birds pay their daily respects. I grieve the potential loss of a community in which I have very deep roots. And I dread all the work that it’ll take to downsize and pack all the while hoping that the things we will no longer need might be repurposed.
I’m leaning into my mindfulness training to cope with this turn of events. The practice of R.A.I.N. helps me bring an interested attention to what is going on with body and mind. In particular:
- Recognize: I’m paying attention to grief as it arises rather than stuff it down.
- Allow: I’m letting those sensations just be without judging them. It’s OK to feel sad. That’s part of the human experience. And it’s OK to just sit with that sadness. Resistance would only increase and prolong suffering.
- Investigate: I’m bring an interested attention to the experience. I try to locate where I’m feeling grief in my body and see how it changes over time. I’m naming the other feelings that go along with grief – fear, anxiety, trepidation, anger. I’m exploring the assumptions that undergird the feelings as well as the stories I might be telling myself about it. (My worrying mind can spin quite a yarn about what the future holds!) I can say to myself: “Oh, those are just thoughts or feelings or sensations.”
- Nurture: From the wisest and most compassionate part of myself, I can serve up love and support.
It’s a simple practice yet surprisingly powerful. It acknowledges and provides attentive care for the difficult circumstance without getting ensnared by it. As I sit with whatever arises, I notice that the sensations don’t last very long. They come and go like waves in the ocean. And with a little bit of distance, I can simply observe their movements.
Mindfulness also teaches me to live my life moment-to-moment – to simply take in the experience of life through the sensory doors. As such, I needn’t spend much time grasping for a former existence that has seen its glory days. I needn’t fixate on what is yet to come. I can experience this day, right now and meet new challenges and opportunities as they arise. I’ve been down this road before. I know that I can handle it.
I’m still not wild about change – even if it’s good for my brain. But I’ll confess to having a bit of excitement over what new adventures lie on the horizon.