Last year when the pandemic first became an inescapable reality, I wrote about impermanence. Here we are again with the Delta variant and for most of us, it feels like a CoViD close-in is happening.
For a few months, it started to feel like we were moving towards “normalcy” and putting pandemic fears behind us, but alas…that was also impermanent.
Another big difference between the beginning of the pandemic and now is the amount of anger and fierce divide over differing opinions on the vaccine, masks, and what precautions we should be taking to not spread the virus.
So, what do we do? Relax.
I know what you’re thinking…
But seriously, relaxing into the present moment, including what feels hopeless, will automatically start to alleviate the tension and resistance that is felt when we are refusing to accept the things we can not control. Everything is changing all the time and staying focused on your desired outcome blocks you from being able to see the good or opportunities in other realities.
I love this expert from Pema Chödrön’s book When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times
As human beings, not only do we seek resolution, but we also feel that we deserve resolution. However, not only do we not deserve resolution, we suffer from resolution. We don’t deserve resolution; we deserve something better than that. We deserve our birthright, which is the middle way, an open state of mind that can relax with paradox and ambiguity.
Our world and our experience in this life are filled with paradoxes. Most of what we hear, including and especially through all media, is ambiguous. Even the science we are presented with isn’t typically inclusive of research nuances.
You get to choose how you respond to this perspective. It can ramp you up or settle you down, you choose. You can seek certainty and live in exasperation, or you can embrace the human experience during your jaunt on this earth.
Concern during these hard times is understandable, but a heavy heart leads to a closed mind. If you want a light heart and open mind, get curious about how you can relax and lean into uncertainty.
How do we lean into uncertainty and impermanence to reduce suffering and angst?
As much as I would love to give you a bunch of tips and tricks, I think it will be more helpful to illustrate specific scenarios.
I will say that one way to work on this practice is to start small by acknowledging the impermanence of things that do not have an emotional charge.
- The seasons
- Plants, particularly the ones you eat and go bad in your fridge
- Our pets, okay this one is emotional, but it’s one that we easily accept.
Scenarios we struggle with:
Wanting our bodies to look a certain way (typically smaller and wrinkle-free) rather than embracing how beautiful it is that we GET TO age! So how can we make the best of our time?
I also put things in perspective by thinking how much my older self would be pissed at me for not seeing the beauty in my current state of youth.
Aging Family Members
The frustration of cognitive decline in our parents or grandparents. What if we find the beauty in their current lives rather than struggling against who they once were?
When I worked in assisted living as an activities director, I never knew who the residents were prior to living in our facility so I easily embraced them for who they were each day. I try to keep that in mind when getting frustrated with my aging mother-in-law.
Loved Ones with Declining Health
We so easily start grieving before our loved ones are even gone, but what if we celebrated each moment we have and appreciate the beauty of what we’ve already shared?
Imposter syndrome and procrastination because we fear disappointing performance on our end. What if we appreciate our opportunities and recognize that all we can really do is our best and show gratitude for the time we have to work on things.
Lack of Control
Frustration when things don’t go according to plan. The only thing we can do is our best to pivot, accept that things are forever changing, and lean into unpredictability.
Fear and disappointment over the state of the planet and environmental changes. Do your part, in whatever capacity you can. Reduce your intake of plastics, compost or drop foods off at a compost center if that is available, be mindful of how much water and power you use, and say a loving-kindness meditation (or prayer) for the planet and those who are less aware. Then celebrate each day we have.
This list could go on but you get the picture. What you focus on matters and life can still be hard without suffering.
If you choose to focus on what sucks, you will unconsciously seek out evidence for things that suck. Without realizing it, you have ignited your reticular activating system. This is the part of your brain that acts as a filter for information. As soon as your brain recognizes something of interest it sees it everywhere.
A commonly used example of this is a car. If you decide you want a white Toyota Prius, you start to see them everywhere. The same is true for negative or positive circumstances.
Here is a fun video that explains more about the reticular activating system and how to brainwash yourself for success.
Also, back at the beginning of the pandemic, I shared this diagram and it feels appropriate to share it again. The acceptance and growth stages show what it looks like to focus on the things you can control and how you can lean into impermanence without resistance.
I hope you feel seen and understood by this article and I hope it offers you the perspective needed to shift out of survival or fear and into acceptance and appreciation.