“Nothing remains the same for two consecutive moments. Heraclitus said we can never bathe twice in the same river. Confucius, while looking at a stream, said, “It is always flowing, day and night.” The Buddha implored us not just to talk about impermanence, but to use it as an instrument to help us penetrate deeply into reality and obtain liberating insight. We may be tempted to say that because things are impermanent, there is suffering. But the Buddha encouraged us to look again. Without impermanence, life is not possible. How can we transform our suffering if things are not impermanent? How can our daughter grow up into a beautiful young lady? How can the situation in the world improve? We need impermanence for social justice and for hope.
If you suffer, it is not because things are impermanent. It is because you believe things are permanent. When a flower dies, you don’t suffer much, because you understand that flowers are impermanent. But you cannot accept the impermanence of your beloved one, and you suffer deeply when she passes away.
If you look deeply into impermanence, you will do your best to make her happy right now. Aware of impermanence, you become positive, loving and wise. Impermanence is good news. Without impermanence, nothing would be possible. With impermanence, every door is open for change. Impermanence is an instrument for our liberation.”
You cannot stay the way you are and change the way you are. Every living organism has to change if it is to grow. That’s true for individual human beings, couples, teams, organizations or even entire societies. But what is it about the growth process that differentiates it from other kinds of processes?
Essentially, change means the letting go of the old and encouraging something new to develop. Something will become something else. We do not end up where we started. The end result is very different or completely different from what we started with.
The implications of change
Each of us has hopes and aspirations. We want to be happier, have a better job or relationship, be free from fear, have nicer things. We all have an agenda.
However, consider that change can also mean that our aims can change. The aims and aspirations you have now belong to the “you” you are now. So, if you change into a new you, that new person might not have the same aspirations or goals.
Of course, this means that if you hold onto those same aspirations and goals, you’ll be the same person. And that means no change, no transformation, no expansion and no growth.
If you honestly want to grow, you must be willing to become somebody who has different thoughts, ideas, beliefs, and experiences. You cannot stay the way you are and change the way you are. To change the way you are you have to become a different kind of creature.
Giving up “me”
Change means being willing to allow the old ideas and beliefs to die. You cannot change and still be the same.
One of my spiritual teachers uses the process of change that results in a butterfly to illustrate the notion of true and real change. The following is his take. I think it makes sense.
There are several stages in the growth of a butterfly. One of them is a larva which eventually develops and becomes a butterfly. This larva (you) small, big, yellow, black, whatever, says, “I want to grow,” and in your mind, growing means becoming a bigger, happier, more colorful larva.
You don’t think, “I’m going to be something totally different.” You don’t want to be something totally different. You want to be a bigger, more beautiful, more loving larva. It never occurs to you to be something other than a larva. The concept of butterfly never enters your head.
Here’s the problem. If the larva continues to be a larva as it grows, it will feel constricted. It’s getting bigger, it’s growing, but there is something definitely wrong. It keeps complaining, it goes to a therapist. The therapist helps it change a little here, a little there: “No, don’t eat those maple leaves. They will make your indigestion worse.”
It tries one doctor after another. It goes to a chiropractor to get its spine straightened. It goes to a masseuse to help it relax. But it never occurs to the larva that it’s not going to feel better as long as it continues to be a larva.
That’s how everybody actually thinks. Nobody thinks: “I’m a larva who’s going to be something else, something that I have no idea about at all now, and I can’t even think or say what this might be.” A larva can only think of larvae. A larva doesn’t think of butterflies. It sees butterflies around and thinks, “What interesting creatures. Where could they have come from?”
You have your preconceptions, and set of beliefs about change. Maybe you believe that if you grow, if you change, you’ll be more intelligent and have fewer problems and make more money and your stomach won’t hurt as much. Or maybe you believe that growth and change means you’ll be married and have two children, and two cats. And it will be perfect if you and your husband each have a dog. That’s the optimal growth.
So, this person starts working on herself, and after a while, she starts to see that having all those things might not be what growth is really about. So she says, “Okay, one cat, not two. One cat, two dogs, a husband and two children.” And, of course, a house someplace in the country and two vacations a year and continuous love from a few specified people.
If she works on herself for a while, she might be willing to let go of the two dogs. If she is seriously engaged, change she might eventually come to feel the love and security within her own self (essence), viewing the external “goodies” as desirable but not necessary to her contentment.
For your particular larva, changing might mean accepting two cats and a dog but no house in the country. Or you might find out that two cats and one dog won’t do, and you believe that to change you need to have three birds instead. These are examples of how we approach the wish for change with fixed ideas in our heads about what change means.
Perhaps as a child you were interested in machines. Eventually, you graduate from college with a degree in mechanical engineering and find work as an engineer. Maybe after a number of years working as an engineer, you need to become something else in order to grow. Maybe the best thing for you is to be a gardener.
But you say, “No, I have to grow and change and be a mechanical engineer at the same time. I am not going to let go of any of my cats. I’m going to continue to be a mechanical engineer with my two cats and my dog, and with my house, and everything else. Otherwise, I’m not interested.”
So, we see that the most elementary, most external requirement for growth is the willingness to let go of what you believe should happen, what you believe things should be, what you believe will make you happy. Because when you do change, you are no longer the person who thought you knew what you would change into. You will be a different person.
What a butterfly eats is not the same as what a larva eats. The needs of a larva are not the same as the needs of the butterfly. Maybe a larva needs two cats and a dog, and a butterfly does not. So there is a need for an attitude of allowing – allowing things to emerge, to transform – without anticipating how it should happen.
You can direct things only according to the way you are now. You can conceive of the future only according to the blueprints you already know. But real change means that the blueprint will change. The only thing you can do is to be open and allow things just to happen, to allow the butterfly to emerge inside you out of the larva and be a different being.
You might be amazed, saying, “Oh, all this time I thought I had to crawl faster. I didn’t know it was possible to fly.” It is possible to fly, but if you just want to remain a larva, you can learn to crawl a little faster. You can even learn to crawl sideways. But it will never occur to you that you can fly. You see things flying around, but don’t think of flying, because you haven’t got wings.
Usually the particular things you want and the ways you want to experience yourself, are determined by your self-image. Regardless of what you think the image is that you want for yourself or the way of life that you want, what it really means ultimately, if you look at it closely, is that you want particular things because they will give you certain inner sensations, feelings, or perceptions.
The “inside” experience
From the perspective of the inner experience, you want certain stimuli and inner sensations. You may think that you want a house, a dog and a cat, a particular job, so that you can feel a certain way – probably secure or comfortable or fulfilled. You want the inner experiences of the larva – inner stimulation and assurances that you recognize and that you see as a kind of nourishment.
But to allow transformation, you need to be open to the possibility that even what you want in terms of inner stimuli and sensations will change. The kinds of pleasure you valued so much before will not necessarily be relevant to the butterfly.
You might not know about this it happens. You might say, “If I’m going to change, I will feel loving. I will feel love and happiness.”
But maybe the love and happiness you want are not the same love and happiness that a butterfly would feel. Maybe the love and happiness of a butterfly are totally different from what your ideas are about it now.
So in order to change, you need to be willing to change everything about yourself – from your self-image and dreams of what you want all the way through to the things you value and your inner stimuli. Otherwise you’ll stop growing.
And you will discover after a while, after a long process of growth, that some of the deepest and most cherished inner sensations that you can have are the experiences of being yourself, the experience of your true identity.
Eliminating the barriers
The most important step in allowing the process of growth is to acknowledge that anything can happen. You don’t know what it will be. There is no way for you to know the next step. If you try to direct it in any way, you’re just going to stop it. You can only be what you are now and allow the next thing. After all, the core of life is a mystery.
When you experience change, don’t try to hold on to the experience or determine what direction it will take. You just experience it fully and that’s it. Your mind is open for anything to happen.
Of course, this requires a certain trust – a trust that there is such a thing as transformation, that it will be good, that it will be the best thing. Any pre-conceived ideas of how things are going to be will only act as a boundary. The way things are and the way our true nature works cannot be bounded that way.
This trust is not about trusting in anybody; it is not trusting any theory; it is not trusting any authority; it is trusting reality – trusting trust itself. And it will take time for this trust to mature and deepen because when we have more fear we tend not to trust, we tend to stick within our walls. But the more free from fear you become, the more willing you are to let go of those walls.
Learning to trust, embracing the attitude of “allowing”, is central to the process of development and growth. You can allow any possibility. Allowing has no restriction. It is the greatest freedom. It is a freedom that does not say it wants to be free from anything. It is a freedom that is just freedom, whether there is a wall or no wall.